By Josephus Moses Gray (Email: [email protected])
The rapid pace of globalization to cut across geographic, cultural and political lines has been inconceivable, so too does the gender inequality that accompanies it from one continent to another and region to the other; from Africa to Asia, South America to North America, Western Europe to Eastern Europe, Middle East to Australia and the Oceania and Caribbean regions. But we must ask ourselves: What are the gender discrimination issues that shamelessly hurt women’s chances in the society and present major threats to their progress in the male dominated political system like Liberia?
There are at least two theories about women in politics: according to one, in policy there is a special women’s style, which is characterized by great attention to human and social issues. It is believed that a woman’s style is more peaceful, because women do not tend to solve problems by force, launch wars and conflicts. The second view is that the style of the policy does not depend on the individual’s gender, but on the psychological characteristics of the policy, because there are men who are peaceful and attentive to the individual’s personality, and there are also women who are pugnacious and are not careful people.
This article is my way of paying tribute in recognition of the non-violent posture of our mothers and sisters around the world in the wake of the recent observance of the International Women’s Day.
This article also looks into causes of the vulnerability of women and girls in Liberia and the factors that drive women into wanted prostitution in the country. It further digs into issues that affect women and also analyzes the inequality that women encounter almost every minute across the world. It discusses the history of Woman’s Day, facts of women in politics and critically reviews gender discrimination issues that particularly hurt women in Liberia.
But women’s new phenomenon has taken another fascinating shift, which if given appropriate and full rights, could counter-balance a male-dominated world which is characterized by hostility in attitudes and thoughts, not to mention war. Unfortunately, their predominance goes with pain and sacrifices. They paid countless prices to reach this new level of phenomenon in the male governance political system.
However, they are caregivers in society, child protection, health care, education, social security and moral values; they are less aggressive than their male counterparts. But women are starting to stand up for themselves thus challenging gender inequality and other discrimination that serve as barriers to their progress in the society.
International Women’s Day is a global day celebrating the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women. It also marks a call to action for accelerating gender parity. International Women’s Day is annually held to celebrate women’s achievements throughout history and across nations. It is also known as the United Nations (UN) Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace, International Women’s Day, and was only adopted by the United Nations in 1975. In different regions the focus of the celebrations ranges from general celebration of respect to appreciation and love towards women for their economic, political and social achievements, including women from the past, in the present and the future.
An article in the New York Times discloses that in some places like China, Russia, Vietnam and Bulgaria, it is observed as a national holiday with an outpouring of support for women’s equality and empowerment while in other regions it is given a low profile with no appropriate celebrations to suit the occasion. But how was the occasion celebrated in Liberia, a tiny West African Republic that is headed by a female President?
Outside the borders of Liberia, millions of women marched in major cities including New York, Paris, London, Beijing, Tokyo, Rome, Moscow, Jakarta, Beirut and the US state of California. These have been described as the largest of dozens of demonstrations in various cities to protest discrimination, wage inequality and violence against women, wearing pink boas, waving placards and chanting slogans.
The Day sees thousands of conferences, gatherings, rallies, exhibitions, festivals and speeches with tributes, praises and actions in recognition of the roles and actions of great women in the fight against gender inequality and unfair treatment. The Day commemorates the struggle for women’s rights and celebrates the political, social, economic and cultural achievements of women throughout history.
While millions of women across the world celebrated in appropriately outstanding fashion, the impact of the occasion was different from other cities including Monrovia. Liberian women gathered for the occasion at the Samuel K. Doe Sports Complex in Paynesville City to give the occasion the befitting essences and flavor. In her statement, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf said Liberian women have made tremendous progress – with its impact not only felt in Liberia but also around the world, with women advancing everywhere and every day.
It was celebrated under the International Women’s Colloquium, which was first launched in Liberia in March 2009 with current and past women leaders from around the world attending. But this year’s occasion was less enthusiastic as compared to the one in 2009. Unlike this year’s festival, the 2009 festivities were remarkable well organized and appropriately observed—bringing together high profile female leaders, including past and present outstanding women.
Special credit goes to the former Minister of Foreign Affairs, Mrs. Olubanke King Akerele, one of the main brains behind the 2009 International Women’s Colloquium fiesta. I have worked with her in the capacity of Assistant Foreign Minister for Public Affairs for three years before going into the Foreign Service in France. It was rewarding working with Madam Akerele, a great Liberian woman with reservoirs of knowledge and expertise.
Despite women being at the top of power and decision-making in the country, the proportion of gender inequality and sexual violence against women remain excessive. In Liberia, sexual predation during the civil war was “normal.” One major survey found that 75 percent of women had been raped, mostly gang-raped, with many suffering internal injuries. It has been argued that in Liberia one in five women will be physically assaulted by their husband or a boyfriend in her lifetime. While men also are victims of family violence, women overwhelmingly are the targets.
Meanwhile numerous issues still exist in all areas, ranging from the cultural, political to the economic. For example, women often work an equal share of time like their male counterparts, but are paid less on the job. In once conflict prone regions like Liberia and Sierra Leone, women were violated, harassed, beaten, raped, abused and stripped of their pride. Others were obliged to give themselves to the fighters to survive.
According to studies conducted in 150 countries across the world, about one in three women is a victim of gender-related violence, from military sexual assault, to domestic violence, to rape on school campuses and workplaces. The report further revealed that women and girls in violent relationships are at heightened risk of experiencing psychological and behavioral problems, including depression, nervousness, low self-esteem, and traumatic stress disorder.
A new report found that children under the age of ten to 15 were among those sexually attacked last year in Liberia, where the vast majority of documented rape victims are minors. Despite more than 800 reported rapes, only 34 convictions were made for the crime in 2015, with officials warning that the assaults are vastly underreported due to widespread stigma and discrimination against victims.
The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the Office of the High Commissioner for Human Rights (OHCHR) said rape has become the second-most reported serious crime in Liberia. An unauthenticated report revealed that between 61 percent and 77 percent of all women and girls in Liberia were raped during the conflict.
But there has been no criminal accountability for perpetrators of war crimes in Liberia, the UN said, with cultural and patriarchal attitudes additionally hampering investigations into sex attacks. Survey data from 2013 found that 19-26 percent of women and girls in Liberia have reported having been raped by a stranger, and that 70-73 percent of married women have been sexually assaulted by their husbands, as detailed by Nicola Jones, a research fellow at the ODI.
Another study on Liberia has shown that gender discrimination affects girls and women throughout their lifetime; and women and teenagers are often the ones that suffer the most poverty. A further study conducted in seven of the 15 counties in Liberia also revealed that women produce about 65 to 70 percent of the food in the home, and are responsible for the running of households.
In Liberia, girls drop out of school to help their mothers with these tasks. Women manage households and care for family members, which often limits their mobility and increases their vulnerability to sudden challenges. According to a UN report, the international community has fallen far short of its commitments to empower women and achieve gender equality, and that only eight out of 188 member states had certain global agreements for this. It was also pointed out that women continue to be deprived of basic and fundamental rights because of measures imposed in certain countries.
According to the report, some were even opposed to moving forward on such important issues, such as the Holy See (the Vatican), Nicaragua, Sudan and Libya and sometimes Iraq and various other nations on particular issues such as reproductive rights, even freedom of expression. The Vatican, Iran, Nigeria and some other states, the UN report said, even wanted to delete references to sexual and reproductive rights and health in the Current Challenges section of the review document.
The report further estimates that each year more than half a million women—roughly one woman every minute—die as a result of pregnancy complications and childbirth,” 99 percent of which occur in developing countries. Yet “many of these women’s lives could be saved if they had access to basic health care services,” noting that many older women are plunged into poverty at a time of life when they are very vulnerable.
For instance, teenagers in Liberia are resorting to sex work because they cannot afford food, expensive watering and other essential basic needs, according to a study that suggests hardship in the country in spite of the numerous natural riches and low population. Nowadays girls are “selling their bodies to have “sex for money” as a strategy to make ends meet while others desperate for materials things are said to go to extremes such as stealing and making false claims against their male counterparts as a means of forcibly getting cash out of them.
Recently, a teenager made an astonishing revelation when she told a story of some girls exchanging sexual favors with men far above their ages or stripping for money in abandoned houses, motels, hotels and old vehicles and on street corners.
A 22-year old girl said she knew a friend who dropped out of school to make money for the family to have a meal for the day and pay their rental fees. She further narrates that these girls were betrothed into illicit sex against their wills, but they felt the need to step up and started selling their bodies.
Another girl, 26, dropped out of 9th grade to work in the sex trade in Monrovia, while other girls in similar circumstances, according to information, are seen during the night hours around entertainment centers and places to advertise their services. In some communities across the city with the highest poverty rates, illicit sexuality has become widespread.
In conclusion, let the brains behind the recent organization of the International Women’s Colloquium in Liberia and those women with the economic power and influence in the country see reason to rescue these vulnerable girls from their current unwarranted ailments. They too desire better lives and status in the society. I have no doubt that the Ministry of Gender, Development and Social Protection and other women’s actuates and institutions will timely intervene and find the amicable solution to the shameful acts of these vulnerable girls.
If given the much needed support, the possibility of some of these girls becoming great leaders like Germany’s Chancellor Angela Merkel, Liberia’s Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Argentina’s President Cristina Fernandez de Kirchner, Taiwan’s president Tsai Ing-wen, Bangladeshi Prime Minister Sheikh Hasina Wajed, Lithuania’s President Dalia Grybauskaite, Trinidad and Tobago’s Prime Minister Kamla Persad-Bissessar, Brazil’s former President Dilma Rousseff, Kosovo’s President Atifete Jahjaga, Denmark’s Prime Minister Helle Thorning-Schmidt, Jamaica’s Prime Minister Portia Simpson Miller, Slovenia’s Prime Minister Alenka Bratusek, Norway’s Prime Minister Erna Solberg, Latvia’s Prime Minister Laimdota Straujuma, Central African Republic’s President Catherine Samba-Panza, President of Mauritius, Ameenah Gurib, or Hillary Clinton.