Twenty-two Presidential Aspirants Silent On ‘Gender Issues’


By: Ekena Wesley

The Perspective
Atlanta, Georgia
October 4, 2005


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Throughout the presidential debate there has been complete lack of clarity within the purview of ‘gender issues’ among leaders who are desperately harnessing every effort to secure the mandate of the Liberian people despite the significant number of women voters.

Gender, women’s empowerment and development are indeed cardinal and critical policy matters that no would-be leader so overwhelmed with capturing state power can afford to ignore. But this has been the case with our 22 presidential candidates vying for the nation’s top job.

Yes, our people need to have electricity and water supply restored, our educational system revamped, and the infrastructure reinvigorated to infuse sanity to the much talked about and often misused ‘sovereignty’. These are serious and pressing social services that need not be over-emphasized.

Gender issues, simply cannot be viewed from the perspective of partisan lens. The moment that is projected, we risk losing the battle before pursuing the struggle. Because these are issues that have dwelled with us for ever so long and many a time often being subjected to deaf ears. The men who play dominant roles in society and institutions come from homes. They give birth to daughters but more so prefer their sons to pursue professions regarded as elite bound and make the sky the limit. The avid scholastic interest in the male children is not the same for the girls. They believe this is a man’s world. What a perception!

The men belong to social and political groups and would no doubt count of the unwavering support of their wives, sisters, daughters and nieces in terms of increased mobilization. Our women, sisters, daughters and the like belong to various interest groups in the churches, mosques and different social establishments. Therefore, gender issues ostensibly cuts across every facet of the human sphere and cannot be perceived from whatever parochial standpoint.

Inherently, our body polity has been dogged by sheer institutional neglect and feign political will-power to address the perennial social imbalances that have characterized our socialization borne out of congenital permutations. The sooner equality begins from our homes, the better the prospects for social justice at the family level. That is arguably the bedrock in the transformation of gender equity for the breaking new grounds aimed at revisiting the stench associated with so serious an imbalance, which has come to engulf humankind.

We have seen clearly within the precincts of historicity that successive leaderships have either failed deliberately to bridge the gap on the one side or woefully ignore the roles, challenges and constraints grotesquely nurtured at the behest of male-dominated tendencies coupled with the endemic marginalization of women since our national existence.

These practices, of course have not augur well for us as a people judging by the extent of impoverishment that continues to inundate the lives of the vast majority of the population. Majority of our women are found in the hinterland, which regrettably, since our so-called independence, suffered miserably in terms of the basic necessities to life.

Gender in itself speaks ‘equality’, since it encompasses the biological make-up of the two most inclined forces of creation (the man and woman). It is significant to highlight that given gender dynamics; the only unique biological role bestowed on the woman is to give birth, which distinguishes her from the man. Beyond that, all other impositions about women, what they can do and their limitations are products of society.

Across the broad spectrum, it is the men who occupy and perform almost all crucial decision-making functions inspite of the fact that even most men bear ‘testimonies’ to the level of dexterity women employ in the efficient management of homes. What therefore prevents that ‘litmus test’ from being applicable in every sphere of human endeavor?

Let me add that some men too do suffer marginalization. However, it is the considerable degree visited on women, within the households, communities, and institutions that places ‘women’ at the focus of the entire struggle for gender equality. So, in this marketplace of ideas, women are often seen championing their own cause – although we cannot negate the courage of some liberal men who uphold feminist values.

For now, the space available to women is fraught with severe limitations. All the hullabaloo, national and of internationalized advocacy and activism stemmed from the perspective that women are anxiously clamoring to expand their so small a firmament.

To an appreciable extent, the struggle being waged globally, despite some hurdles has made a number of breakthroughs at national and particularly the international levels. We hail this as an achievement for women in a way. Governments including our own have signed various international protocols; which call on national governments to protect the rights of women, the need for equal access, opportunity, voice, visibility as well as participation in all aspects of decision-making processes.

The Beijing Platform for Action (BPFA), CEDAW and a host of internationally back conventions are among the many instruments that seek to protect and safeguard the rights of women across the world.

Experiences and best practices emanating from Ghana, Nigeria, Eastern and Southern Africa deserve emulation within our context. These countries can boast of a history of women’s movement and catalogue the systematic evolution of their struggle let along the numerous challenges which beset them. There are lesson to be learnt.

No Liberian leader should contrive to take our women for a ride. We are talking about a constituency that takes into consideration over 50% of the population.

No doubt the women will vote and we have reasons to believe that they will do so massively. That is healthy for so infant a democracy being earnestly nurtured with the help of our international partners.

Addressing the enormous ‘gender question’ in Liberia although deserves a holistic approach but in context, the imperative is for proponents (institutions) involved with women’s empowerment and the all-round development of the Liberian woman to first have a clear appreciation of the issues that concern women, the disparity between men and women, the constraints brought about as a consequence of our socialization, gender relations and gender dynamics in order to embark on the informed transformation given the marginalization faced by women.

What sort of policies are there to encourage more girls enrolled into school? What kind of support or mechanisms to we have in place to enable young girls pursue vocations at their preferences? How can we enable the ordinary Liberian mother tilling the soil to move away from subsistence farming to large scale farming? What hope do our rural mothers have in the winning team in terms of the provision of micro-credits to raise family incomes in order to send her kids to school and provide them a better future?

What efforts are being made to increase female enrollments at the tertiary level? Can our women, mothers and daughters be assured of affordable healthcare delivery? Would the ordinary woman’s semi-annual yield afford her a better housing facility? Can the women trust that Women World Banking, the Agriculture Cooperative Bank and others savings/loans outlets would be at their disposal to improve their lot.

These are among the salient questions we expect our would-be leaders to ponder over. We cannot rule out the possibility of vague promises and unimaginable claims to build bridges where there are no rivers as commonplace in these tempestuous political and electioneering seasons.

Our women deserve nothing more than the opportunity to change their woes into workable fortunes. Aluta to a new chapter in Liberia’s march to gender equality. Long live the women of Liberia. We shall ever remain your proud progenies.