Women of Liberia: “This cannot be our time”

Last week Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and activist, Leymah Gbowee  both received their Nobel prize in Oslo.

Robtel Pailey like millions of Liberians across the world, celebrated the moment.  But all is not well for women in Liberian women.

On the other hand, I couldn’t ignore a somber cloud that hung over the occasion, suspended in the air like an ominous sign that saying We have not yet arrived.” I couldn’t squelch the feeling that this cannot be our time until all Liberian women and girls are valued in the same way we celebrated our Nobel laureates. President Johnson Sirleaf and Gbowee acknowledged in their respective Nobel lectures the awesome challenges that Liberian women and girls, and by extension women and girls throughout the world, still face. 

Surely, this cannot be our time when fewer women inhabit a seat in the Legislature than they did six years ago, though a woman holds the mantle of Executive power. In some progressive countries like Rwanda, women comprise over 50 percent of Parliament. Liberian women will represent less than 10 percent of the 53rd National Legislature when they convene in January 2012. This cannot be our time when local governance structures provide even fewer opportunities for women to lead, and by extension, make decisions fundamental to their livelihoods. 

This cannot be our time when our Aliens and Nationality Law does not permit women to pass on citizenship to their children. This cannot be our time when in some cases, women’s access to land ownership and the justice system remains tenuous. 

This cannot be our time when Liberian women and girls are raped with impunity, or suffer in silence while their innocence is negotiated through financial transactions between their fathers & mothers and their male perpetrators. In a country in which young girls and women are defiled on a regular basis, this cannot be our time. 

This cannot be our time when the girl child is relegated to selling in the market, while her brother goes to school in his crisp new uniform and shiny black shoes. This cannot be our time when young girls enrolled in school must come home, cook, clean, wash and take care of their younger siblings before devoting a sliver of time to their studies. And we wonder why young women lag behind in secondary and tertiary institutions and must negotiate for sex with their male teachers in exchange for a passing grade.  

This cannot be our time when young women shy away from pursuing technical careers in law, medicine, geology, and engineering, because they have been indoctrinated to believe that they can only be paralegals, nurses, social workers, or teachers.... Continue reading