Stepping from men’s shadow: Women Now Lead their Own Destinies

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Women have been kept in the back or kitchens for too long with few, like President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other prominent women, braving the storm to match-up with their male counterparts. But since the President’s ascendency, there have been a crusade for women’s social, political and most especially economic empowerments.

This, however, hasn’t been on the scale that will bring about significant improvement in the lives of women across the country because the impact from what has been practiced in the society for centuries cannot just be removed or erased in ten or twenty years. This not only takes time, but a lot of negotiations and sacrifices.

African women have lived in the shadows of their husbands for centuries, but twenty-five year old Rebecca (not her real name) thinks this shouldn’t be the case anymore. “Because it is like we are in slavery. We don’t do anything on our own. They dictate our lives, telling us how and what to and not do. They practically control our lives,” she said.

Rebecca feels sorrow for her mother, grandmothers and other women who had to live their entire lives through servitude. “Some of us are blessed that we who are seeing the light at an early stage do not see it this way anymore. We can say that we are blessed and I thank God for Red Cross and its partners who initiated this program. We will now work to lead our own life and not be dictated to by anymore, but negotiated with now,” she added.

She was one of 198 females from West Point who received certificates in several trainings ranging from catering, cosmetology, tailoring and others, at a well-attended ceremony in that township.

The initiative is the 5th cycle graduation exercise of the Liberia National Red Cross Society’s Women Training and Integration (WIN) project. The project was established in 2008 for the purpose of developing war affected women (associated with conflict trauma and vulnerabilities), who are victims of social and economic exclusion.

Rebecca, like many of her peers, is a victim of abuses. In spite of her young age, she has lived in an abusive home with a drunkard, who is also a drug addict, adding, “When you can make your own money nobody can take you for anything as it has been in the past.”

She noted that she had been constrained to live in her home because she had no skills to fend for herself and her two kids.

But with her newly acquired cosmetology skills Rebecca has already begun to make little money for herself and is deciding on finding a place to move with her kids. “I’m so grateful to Red Cross for this initiative. I was in this West Point doing nothing for myself and only depending
on my husband every day. He abuses me every day when even giving food money,” she said.

Rebecca is just one of the many women who undergo humiliation on a daily basis because they can’t fend for themselves. Most of them are either totally illiterate or semi-literate.

What appeared to be the slogan of the training exercises, “Women don’t sit there; do your hands something positive with,” reverberated across the hall—invoking consciousness in women to go beyond their limits and rebuild their lives.

“We hope that this training will help us to contribute not just to our individual homes, but our communities and country,” another graduate, Patience Doe, said.

She believes no society or nation can strive without the meaningful contribution of women. “Nobody can build this country for us; we have to do it ourselves. Therefore any little way we can help, we will,” Ms. Doe said.

Serving as guest speaker was UN Women Program Manager Ramon Garway. He urged the graduates to use their acquired skills to benefit society as well as to achieve gender equality.

Garway said women and girls are important actors of change for national development in Liberia and should play a key role in the decision-making processes to ensure inclusion, while also committing his entity to providing financial assistances to the graduates.

Red Cross Director of Program Ambullai Perry lauded the graduates for their patience throughout the exercise and noted that the Red Cross is proud of them.

“We are happy that we are supporting women. The Red Cross is here to help communities and the Government of Liberia and we are happy for that mandate given us. Today we are happy for the people of West Point that have given their fullest,” Perry said.

The WIN project is a socially inclusive intervention that aims to restore the dignity and values of vulnerable and marginalized women in Montserrado. Since its inception 900 plus women have benefitted. It targets women and girls 13-45 years with eight key criteria for selection.

These include single mother/self-supported, economically vulnerable, commercial sex workers, rape/ domestic violence victims and others.”

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