by Musa A Kabbah, Global Outreach Fellow, Liberia
Liberia is located on the west coast of Africa bordering Guinea, Ivory Coast, Sierra Leone and the Atlantic Ocean. Women in Liberia, like women from many other African countries, have been victims of traditional and cultural activities such as female genital mutilation (FGM), compulsory marriage, rape, low social status, etc.
According to a UN report, 35% of women have experienced physical violence from a partner and two thirds of women have undergone FGM. In 2011, 60% of girls completed primary education, compared to 70% of boys; just over a third of women aged 15 to 24 are literate, compared with 64% of men of the same age. Women only hold 11% of seats in Liberia’s national parliament – a fall from 13 per cent in 2010. Liberia has one of the world’s highest maternal mortality rates – with one in 24 women dying during pregnancy or childbirth (Sources: UN Women 2011-2012, UNICEF 2013, UNESCO 2011, Liberia Women Media Action Committee and Womankind.org.uk).
The long standing traditional role of women as caregivers to young, sick, and elderly people increases their burden and risk of exposure to viruses and diseases. Women’s issues and challenges are not fully addressed in Liberia. Violence against women and girls are common as perpetrators are not given the proper punishment they deserve.
Most Liberian girls are forced to marry at an early age to men twice older than they are which ruins their chances of completing high school or even going to college. I interviewed some Liberian women and girls about their experiences and challenges growing up in Liberia.
Garmai Gayflor is a 17 year old girl from Zorzor, a town in the northern part of Liberia. Here is what she has to say:
Musa: How do you feel about growing up as a girl in Liberia?
Garmai: Liberians today are very eager to be educated . Both men and women seek education but sincerely, man are leading in every direction, work learning, positions and so on. Some women like me are trying very hard and put all their energy into education while others women are there frustrating our efforts by having children twice a Year. Becoming only a housewife is like a slave who is not allowed to go anywhere but always sit and wait for commands.
Hawa is 18 years of age she lives in a rural place in Liberia called Gbarmah and is attending a public school in her town.
Musa: What are challenges facing women like you in Liberia?
Hawa: Hmmmm...I feel like, we are mostly sexually and mentally abuse especially by men, we often drop from school by getting pregnant, I feel very excited about being a housewife because that is every woman's dream but not without education. Issues like hard labor, women taking care of their children and husband. Women selling just to provide for the family while men are the consumer.
Catherine is a woman living in Monrovia, the capital and most populous city in Liberia. She experienced teenage pregnancy when she was in the 9th grade but she still managed to finish high school.
Musa: How do you feel about women being considered housewife?
Catherine: As a woman growing in my own land, I feed good because there is nowhere like home. Some challenges faced by women like us in Liberia are as follows: violence against women, rape, early marriage moreover teenage pregnancy at the higher level.
As a boy with two younger sisters who has seen lots of girls abused and exploited, I feel like women need more support and equal opportunity but unfortunately this is not the case in Liberia. I think the best way to help women with challenges facing them is to educate them and give them the freedom of choice and decision making. Educating women has a great impact on every society. Here are just a few benefits educating women has had on Liberian society.
Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first woman African head of state, the proportion of female journalists in the Liberian media increased from 13% in 2010 to 22% in 2014. Over 200 women have taken part in community forums reviewing the National Constitution; women hold 31% of top ministerial posts, 29% of Deputy Minister positions and 25% of Assistant Minister posts (emansion.org.gov).
The people not on the femme spectrum in supporting and creating an environment that will be safe for women and girls is a major factor in women's rights. Since Liberia is a patriarchal country, men can stop forcing their daughters to marry at an early age and give them independence about their choices. Men can stop sexually harassing, discriminating, raping and committing violence against women. If all the men support women’s rights it will be a great turning point in the lives of Liberian women. This way they will not be alone in their plight.
I know that I can be a great help by highlighting and making their voices heard all around the world. That’s why I’m taking the initiative to write about their struggles and challenges. I’m organizing a community outreach project to help thousands of women who experience some form of abuse everyday. I want to be an agent of the change I would like to see in the future. I have and will continue supporting women’s issues in Liberia and everywhere else in the world so femmes can get the support and help they need. To fulfill this dream, I will need support of any kind and form. Peace be on you all. I hope together we can help our mothers, sisters, aunts, etc. achieve true equality.
Musa A Kabbah is an 18 year old from Liberia. Born in neighboring Guinea, his parents were refugees due to the civil war in Liberia. Musa attended elementary school in a refugee school built and sponsored by the International Rescue Committee in Guinea. Presently, Musa attends Alpena High School in Alpena City, Michigan as an exchange student for the 2015-2016 academic year.