‘Inspiring Change’: YES Promotes Women’s Leadership

The Youth Exploring Solutions (YES), a passionate, nonprofit and voluntary grassroots youth-led development organization that is primarily a self-sponsored institution since its inception in 2007 has organized Women’s Leadership & Governance Panel in observance of International Women’s Day at the Rally Town market.

The panel was in line with YES gender project titled: ‘Enhancing Women’s Participation in Leadership and Governance Project’, which was designed as a result of the International Training Programme (ITP) received by the founder & executive director of YES in Stockholm, Sweden on the Swedish International Development Agency (Sida) funded United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325: Women, Peace and Security jointly organized by Indevelop and Kvinna till Kvinna.

The panel brought together women in the formal and informal sectors to interact and brainstorm on prospects and challenges for women’s ascendency to elected positions.  It also provided unique platform to advance reliable solutions so as overcome barriers for women’s participation in the governance process as well as served as a medium of exchange of ideas on women and gender issues from a post-conflict perspective.

A host of dignitaries rose to the occasion comprising a lecturer from the Stockholm University alongside a social worker from Sweden visiting Liberia, representative from the Embassy of Sweden, as well as ITP UNSCR 1325: Women, Peace and Security alumni coupled with market women and men.  The panelists included Abratha P. Doe, outgoing National Coordinator, UNSCR 1325, Ministry of Gender & Development; Nelly Cooper, President, West Point Women for Health & Development Organization; Etta K. Harvey, Gender Focal Person, Liberia Marketing Association; and Caroline Koleewoun, Marketer, Rally Town market.

Speaking during the event, Stephen B. Lavalah, founder & executive director of YES asserted that the panel discussion hopes to increase women’s participation in leadership at all levels and ensures the involvement of women in every decision-making process.  He revealed that the panel intends to involve, inform and inspire women to become more cohesive, responsive and knowledgeable about civic engagement, leadership and governance.

The young advocate pointed out that women in the informal sector are all too often disconnected from women in the formal sector and it is only in the course of election that women solidarity is usually highlighted.  “Women with political intentions should not wait until on the eve of election before reaching out to women in the informal sector, instead there should be continued engagement” Mr. Lavalah noted.

The youth leader recounted challenges women are faced with in the informal sector and accentuated the provision of financial services as integral part of women empowerment.  He said: “Nowadays, many market women are responsible for the survival of most household in Liberia, they are responsible for school fees, medical bills, daily meals, children’s clothing and house rents among other basic needs, consequently several market women are too busy in search of scarce resources and every so often do not participate in leadership and governance issues”.

Lavalah underscored the need for women in the informal sector to have access to financial services so as to create an enabling environment for them to make informed political decisions, become self-confidence with independent judgment and acquire the necessary skills require aspiring, attaining and performing in elected positions.

The youth leader asserted that in spite of making a significant milestone in 2005 by democratically electing the very first female president on the African continent as President of the Republic of Liberia, all is not rosy for Liberian women as many societal vices continue to hinder their quest for gender equality and responsiveness.

Helen Harris who is the Focal Point for ITP Courses delivered a special statement on behalf of the Embassy of Sweden and congratulated YES for organizing the panel discussion as well as expounded on Sweden’s commitment to gender equality in Liberia and the implementation of UNSCR 1325.

“Sweden’s support to Liberia is approximately 45 million United States dollars annually and gender equality is one of Sweden’s three thematic priorities and integrated across all our development work” Madam Harris stated.

The Focal Point for ITP Courses emphasized that Sweden’s commitment to UNSCR 1325 in Liberia is important to helping women affected by conflict engaged in peace building initiatives including greater participation in politics at national and local levels, which she said is particularly crucial for both women and men fair representation and increased democratization in conflict management.

Madam Harris continued: “Women’s political representation and participation must subsequently increase if women are to act effectively as drivers and agents of change to the same extent as men.  Political systems must therefore enable and promote women’s participation in policy design, assessment and monitoring”.

For her part, the keynote speaker, Maud Edgren-Schori lamented on the lack of basic knowledge, commitment, and accountability by a huge number of actors when it comes to gender issues, women’s rights and gender quality.

Madam Edgren-Schori disclosed that there is still a huge gap between theory and practice. “We have failed in protecting women, girls and young boys from conflict-related sexual violence.  The UN has failed, and the member states have failed and we have failed to include women in decision making!  Discrimination against women is widespread, in violation of the Convention to Eliminate of all forms of Violence Against Women (CEDAW)” the Women’s Right advocate bewailed.

Though Madam Edgren-Schori was quick to indicate that positive landmark resolutions related to the rights of women, girls and young boys have been established; however, she highlighted that there were enough resolutions with little actions. “We need to tuck up our sleeves and start implementing, which means stop paying lip service and translate words into deeds.  We have all the guidelines needed to promote democratic and equitable societies” she proffered.

The Stockholm University lecturer divulged that women are not only victims and survivors, but active agents of change in peace and security and they must be included in decision making at all levels in discussions on conflict prevention and leadership.

Madam Edgren-Schori then presented a certificate of completion to Stephen B. Lavalah for his participation in the Sida’s funded Advanced International Training Programme in UN Security Council Resolution 1325: Women, Peace and Security.  She urged women as citizens, mothers, and breadwinners to wake-up, stand-up and speak-up for all the resolutions on women’s rights so as to build a universal zero tolerance regime for sexual violence and work together to finally close the book on this shameful chapter in world history.