‘Women Are Frontliners During Humanitarian Response’

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Members of the Liberian Women Humanitarian Network at the confab.

-Says Tulay-solanke

The executive director of Community Healthcare Initiatives (CHI), Naomi Tulay-Solanke, said Liberian women were not recognized at the end of the Ebola crisis in Liberia, but men, international organizations and individuals.

Mrs. Tulay-Solanke made the assertion recently at the Liberian Women Humanitarian Network (LWHN) 2018 Summit under the theme, “Advancing Women Led Humanitarian Preparedness and Response,” held in Margibi County from September 6-9, 2018.

The summit brought together 30 organizations, including women’s rights organizations, leaders, activists, representatives of INGOs with women’s rights interest.

“Women are always the frontliners during humanitarian response, but their roles are not usually recognized. We were never given recognition at the end of the Ebola crisis despite the role played as front-liners respondents during the outbreak,” she observed.

True, there were no gender-specific recognitions given concerning those who joined the fight against the deadly Ebola virus disease.  Yet, while many of those who were recognized happened to be male, the cadre of Ebola heroes included some notable Liberian female personalities.

One of the shining female stars rising out of the Ebola epidemic was the then 22 year-old Fatu Kerkula, who cared for four of her family members who contracted the disease. She kept three of them alive without infecting herself, using ordinary plastic bags to protect herself. Though she was not named among the Time Magazine persons of the year 2014, Kerkula’s heroic efforts did not go unnoticed. The Time article however named another Liberian woman, Salome Karwah, then 26, caregiver at the Doctors Without Borders/Médecins Sans Frontières (MSF) clinic in Monrovia.  An aspiring nurse, Fatu cared for her father, mother, sister and cousin, single-handily feeding them, cleaning them and giving them medications. A senior year nursing student, Ms. Kerkula’s efforts, earned her a 50% scholarship at Emory University’s School of Nursing in the US to complete her nursing studies.

According to Mrs. Tulay-Solanke, LWHN will focus on the needs of women and marginalized people or groups in society, including sexual minorities, people living with HIV/aids, and others.

“Liberian women are always passionate about the change they want to see in their communities and change in humanitarian response. We are at the heart of the community and know the issues happening because we live with it. We are better placed to respond as group when there is crisis,” she said.

She said LWHN remains hopeful of becoming the new voice as it relates to humanitarian responses in Liberia, and globally, adding: “We are passionate about it and can do it.”

Among other issues in the humanitarian sector, the gathering discussed the current humanitarian environment in Liberia, its impact on women’s rights advancement and protection.

The summit also focused on exploring ways that guarantee women voices and for their interventions to be recognized as a sustainable approach for change within the Humanitarian space.

ActionAid Liberia Country Director, Lakshmi Moore, who also served as lead facilitator, said LWHN remains cardinal and will consolidate the collective efforts of its members building on the different examples on how Liberian women have responded to crises, including Ebola.

Mrs. Moore said her organization’s support to the network serves as an opportunity to ensure that localization agenda is shifted towards examples of women-led responses that sustain action and support communities’ resilience to withstand future shocks.

“It is a way of highlighting the examples of women’s ability to shift and transform their communities through individual and collective actions” Mrs. Moore added.

Africare Country Director, Faith Okovi-Cooper, recognized the level of commitment from the LWHN members and encouraged the network to tell the stories of Liberian women as first responders to humanitarian crisis, including the 2014 Ebola outbreak.

Madam Cooper however described the network’s activities as a great initiative and that serve as a way of ensuring that women led approaches to humanitarian assistance is critically important.

Mrs. Okovi-Cooper shared her experiences as a humanitarian activist and her journey working in the field of humanitarian assistance and disaster response.

She called on LWHN to ensure that objectives of the Network be put out across various communities.

The president of the National Union Organizations of Persons with Disabilities in Liberia, Naomi Harris said her participation in the summit shows inclusiveness and reinforces the fact that disability issues are cross-cutting, therefore, persons with disability must be heard at all levels.

“When disasters come, the first group of people to always be affected is the disabled. Being a disabled woman and a first responder is very much important,” Madam Harris said.

One of the organizers of the network and summit, Brenda B. Moore, the Executive Director of KEEP Liberia said that she is supporting the network also as a way of reinforcing and pushing the localization agenda.

She said local actors are best suited to respond to humanitarian crisis in a country, with the case of Liberia being very evident.

She indicated that it was local actors who first responded to the Ebola outbreak and were successful in playing a major role in the turning of the tide before the international community started to come in.

“We will also use this network as a space to start to push for the actualization of the commitment of the signatories to the Grand Bargain, which came out of the World Humanitarian Summit in 2016 where it was agreed that by 2020, 25% of all humanitarian funding will be directly channeled to local actors for speedy response,” she said.

The Liberian Women Humanitarian Network consists of heads of women-led local NGOs and individuals that are impassioned about humanitarian work.

Over the period of two years, these institutions and individuals have collectively responded to humanitarian crises internationally (Haiti Earthquake and Sierra Leone mudslide victims) and locally (the Monkey Pox and Lassa Fever outbreaks in Liberia).

The summit highlights Liberian women who shared their experiences as first responders, especially during the Ebola crisis.

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