12 Years of Women Leadership In Liberia: What Moral Lesson Did It Pass onto

12 Years of Women Leadership In Liberia: What Moral Lesson Did It Pass onto The Younger Generation Of Women?

Revised Edition!

The struggle for gender equality according to research can be traced to three stages. Stage one is reported to have begun in the late nineteenth and early twenty centuries. This period witnessed the struggle of Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony of the US and Virginia Woolf of Great Britain for women rights.  These women were the key pioneers of first-wave feminism, a period in which women organized themselves into public and high profile advocacy campaigning for gender equality in property, economic and voting rights.

Stage two targeted new objectives from the first stage. The slogan and battle-cry for this period according to research was invented by Carol Hanisch. This second wave deconstructed and criticized power relations between men and women in the realm of the personal as well as the public; culture, sexuality, and political inequalities, subjecting women to discrimination that only self-realization of these power relations could overcome. Key women of this period included Germaine Greer and Betty Friedan. This period also saw international committees and conferences dedicated to promoting gender equality with specific objective to raise the status of women irrespective of nationality, race, language or religion.

By the late 1980s, the campaign for gender equality had entered the third wave. This period saw the spread of campaign predominately among white and middle class agenda of the second wave. As modernity evolved in the campaign, the third wave criticized the second wave: “For many of us it seems that to be a feminist in the way that we have seen or understood feminism is to conform to an identity and way of living that doesn’t allow for individuality, complexity, or less than perfect personal histories. We fear that the identity will dictate and regulate our lives, instantaneously pitting us against someone, forcing us to choose inflexible and unchanging sides, female against male, black against white, oppressed against oppressor, good against bad.” (Rebecca Walker, 1995).

Prior to contemporary time, women’s inferiority to men was justified by their physiological weaknesses and that a woman was considered “imperfect version of man”. Meaning, women were “matter whereas men were form”. For the Greek Philosopher and medical doctor, Galen, women lacked self-restrain whereas men were characterized by self-control. The tradition further justified then that women were physiologically, intellectually and spiritually inferior to men.

Now that these backgrounds information have been provided, let us now look at women empowerment in our own country (Liberia) where the head of state is a woman. It is safe to say that in Liberia, though men remain to be dominant, but significant progress has been made over the years to bring women on par with their male counterparts in both private and public life, and, Africa first female President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf must be given that credited. But what could be the general mentality of women in Liberia regarding gender equity? Development, arrogance, obsession, disrespect, accommodation or abuse of power?

Well, as a journalist and student of social science, I have been thoroughly looking at women empowerment in Liberia within the context of their behaviors and performance, especially women in high profile offices, and now thought to share my experiences with the general public. Firstly, let me acknowledge the tireless efforts of local and international NGOS as well as well-meaning Liberians involved in promoting gender equality. Their objective as seen over the years is to empower women to take part in national development without discrimination. But the drama is, those being empowered are taken gender equality as war against their male counterparts and not for national development- evidenced by the series of public outcry with the arrogant nature of some of our women in government.

For quite some times in Sirleaf’s government, if not all, but most of the troubles and confusions whether wrong or right were caused by women in high profile positions. Some of those problems, of course, warranted immediate suspension or dismissal, but Africa first female President decided to maintain them in their respective positions as if to say that, the essence of their appointment is based on the provision of job for women empowerment only, and not based on performance or national development. Practical example is the former GSA boss, Pearine Davis Parkinson, former Acting Monrovia City Mayor Mary Broh, Wede Elliott Brownell, former Vice President for Academy Affairs at the University of Liberia and  former RIA Managing Director Ellen Corkrum and the then Public Works Minister, Antoinette Weeks.

Let me, for fair and accurate analysis single out Mary Broh for some praises even though for her business, the city nearly plunged into civil unrest few years ago when some citizens decided to arrest her and turn her over to the national legislature for contempt after she defied that august body. Though big-headed, but Mary Broh is hard working and above all her goal is national development. On August 10, 2017, Mary Broh (aka General Broh) allegedly order her bodyguard to beat one Sheik Kouyateh. Mr. Kouyateh had gone to obtain a birth certificate at the Vital Statistics Center on the capitol bye. “She order her security to beat me and she called me a Mandingo dog”, the victim said.

Also some years back, the compound of the General Services Agency (GSA) was a scene of chaos and disagreement simply because its former head, Pearine Davis Parkinson was unilaterally running the entity with so much report of tension between her and some employees which observers say, might have been one of the reasons behind her dismissal.

You can also recall the “you eat, I eat and the Minister eat” recording situation between former Montserrado Superintendent, Grace Kpan and CDC Representative, Edward Forh. Madam Kpan with the support of “General Broh” publically defied Liberia’s first Branch of Government, the National Legislature where she (Kpan) was summoned to respond to charges of alleged misappropriation of the County Development Fund. Just about two months after that, another war of words ensued between a prominent Liberian woman, Medina Wisseh and the Editor and Publisher of FrontPage Africa News Paper, Rodney Sieh. Madam Wesseh without any regard for civility announced on a local radio station that Rodney Sieh was HIV positive. But how Mrs. Wisseh was privileged to have known that Rodney has AIDS is exclusively a Medina and Rodney’s business.

One of the most shameful and embarrassing situations ever experienced by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf since her ascendency to the Presidency was caused by a female official. As head of Roberts International Airport, Madam Corkrum secretly recorded some of President’s Sirleaf key government officials. She did not just record for the sake of recording, Ellen Corkrum made sure she played those recordings on local radio stations with its contents published in some local dailies, a situation that forced the court to place a “gag” order.  Again, the temporary closure of the University of Liberia early 2012 was as a result of what some students and faculty of the university describe as arrogance, poor human relations and lack of team work on the part of the Vice President for Academy Affairs Madam Wede Elliott Brownell. Both the students and faculties had called on Madam Brownell to resign her post or else there will be no academy activities, a called Madam Brownell defied with the full acquiesce of the President of Liberia. Giving the severity of the matter, all parties preferred the closure of the state run university to the detriment of the struggling students. All these happened because of a lady.

Now comes one of the biggest problems for which the public condemned President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Madam Sirleaf, in 2013 appointed Engineer Antoinette Weeks as Liberia’s first female Public Works Minister. Upon her appointment, activities at the once proactive Ministry came under public scrutiny with claims and counterclaims of displeasure among officials. Despite consistent medial report of poor performance, President Sireaf kept Antoinette Weeks at the Ministry for 15 months even though she (President Sirleaf) is on record of asking for her footprint.

To make matter worst, President Sirleaf on Thursday morning December 5, 2013 visited the Ministry of Public Work twice and did not meet her Public Works Minister in office. Observers say, if Dr. Weeks was a male government official, the president would have immediately reprimanded  him, as was the case of the three male officials of the Labor Ministry who were immediately suspended due to their absence from office at the time of President Sirleaf’s visit there. Report then emanating from inside Public Works spoke of lack of coordination, consultation and team work among top officials of the Ministry. “The spirit of work at the Ministry diminished completely due to Dr. Weeks’ leadership style,” a staff said. The Informer Newspaper consistently reported on the tension between the offices of Dr. Weeks and one of her deputies, Christian G. Herbert, who was eventually dismissed and later died.

President Sireaf, perhaps out of woman solidarity also dismissed the assistant Minister for Operations, William L. Slour on the recommendation of Madam Weeks. Subsequently in the same period, Deputy Minister for Technical Services Victor Smith resigned due to a reported in-house scuffle between him and Dr. Weeks. It is reported that President Sirleaf took side with Dr. Weeks during a late evening resolution session at the Foreign Ministry which, accordingly, further ignited engineer Smith to reject a proposal for reconsideration. Still at Public Works, Liberia’s first Female Public Works Minister recalled four male senior staff including Financial Comptroller, Human Resource Director, Directors of Procurement and Logistics, a decision that prompted court action by one of her victims who eventually got dismissed.

The media also complained of the arrogant nature of Liberia’s first female Public Works Minister. Notwithstanding these complaints, the President maintained Dr. Week at the Ministry for 15 months despite poor performance. Observers say the action by the President to give deaf ears to these public outcries was to showcase to the world that Liberia has a female infrastructure Minister regardless of the negative effect on her government.  What the president did fail to know then was that, the rating of her government in terms of the performance of key Ministers like Education, Agriculture and Public Works all of whom were females was decreasing. Classical example of this was when the President herself described the country’s educational system as a big mess, but still kept her old time friend as Minister.

The Gender Ministry Episode

Established in 2001 by an Act of the National Legislature, the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection is to ensure that its activity covers women, men, girls and boys. “Gender refers to the socially constructed characteristics of women and men” (WHO). However and contrary to the above, the Liberia’s Ministry of Gender’s activity was 75% women driven under Ellen’s stewardship. Understandable that women the world over have been victims of discrimination, and that this universe has over the years being a place of men dominance. However, the form and manner in which gender’s programs were carried out by the Ministry is close to being described as anti-men.

Speaking to several men who claimed, were taken to the Gender Ministry by their wives over child’s support, this writer learned how men were assaulted on a daily basis by a jury of at least 3-4 women. It is not clear as to why only women will presided over matters involving husband and wife or boyfriend and girlfriend when it is supposed to be gender issue.  They will surround you and begin to assault and intimidate you, they go as far as mocking you by saying “when you were enjoying producing the children, all was alright. But now that you tire with the woman, you want to abandon she and the children”.

For the record, I am not in any way trying to vilify our ladies. But the fact of the matter is, some of our female government officials caused more harm than good for their friend (Ellen’s government). Rather than focusing on their works, they were busy using their offices to abuse their male counterparts in the form of vengeance occasioned by the lack of understanding of women empowerment in its totality.

Such vengeance was not just unique at professional places, but also at community and neighborhood levels. Riding in a vehicle on 14th December 2013 with plate # 27602, the red light booked us on the bypass. Waiting for the green light, several blind male persons stopped by our vehicle asking for their usual assistance of any kind. Neither I nor anyone pay attention to them. But when a blind female lady stopped by the same vehicle, a lady in the front seat instantaneously gave her an unspecified amount of money. “What a discriminative and selfish attitude?” I intoned as our vehicle responded to the call of the green light.

Analyzing from the political perspective, I have come to realize that many women in the Liberian politics then, were politically immature and also overzealous of their inclusion in the body politics of Liberia for which many of them were found abusing power all over the places. Until some of our women politicians can get matured and are willing to learn, the problem of bad political leadership in ministries and agencies they serve as head will continue to exist.

On the social landscape, about 75% of educated and “well to do” Liberian women are grossly disrespecting their husbands as if to say the primary objective of gender equality in Liberia is to demoralize men. It is also saddened to note that some of them usually abandon their matrimonial homes in the name of going to rest somewhere private. Investigation has shown that contrary to their claim of going to rest, they get engaged into extramarital affairs to their so call resting places. Credible report available reveals that, a female lawmaker walked out of her matrimonial home in protest of trying to find somewhere to rest in the same Monrovia, while her husband and kids were left alone in the home.

In addition to the above situation, cases of divorce are on the increase.  Once considered private in Liberia, marital life of people, especially the big girls is nowadays in the public domain, all as a result of the uncompromising nature of some women on the larger scale and few men on the smaller scale, a judiciary reporter hinted me. These divorce cases are actually attributed to women of considerable educational backgrounds and business status who feel that plus or minus men, their lives remain better. However, the aftermath of this has been the increase in lesbianism and the enticement of young boys. One of the big girls in town who had been married to her husband since 1988 abandoned her marital home three years ago after her husband suspected her of sleeping with another female.

Unlike Liberia, well-educated and high profile women politicians in the United States and other parts of the world try as much as possible to fulfill their domestic or marital obligations. The case in point was the constant reunion of US President Barrack Obama with his wife and children. A former US Secretary of State Madeleine Jana Korbel Albright, attending a meeting in Monrovia asked to be excused in order to direct her husband were she had placed the cookies in their home since it was lunch time, a participant at the meeting told me. A high court judge in Nigeria still prepares food for her husband.

On the contrary in Liberia, a former prosecutor at the Circuit Court of Liberia filed in a divorce immediately after she became judge. My colleague, a judicial reporter hinted that upon being promoted, the female judge began to treat her husband with coldshoulder which end result, he said led to the man coming down with stroke. Educated and high profile women in Liberia hardly return to the chicken as of the date of their appointment in public or private positions. In addition, random interviews conducted in few communities suggest that the more educated and financially potent some Liberian women become the more arrogant, disrespectful and unmarried they choose to be, making it difficult for men to settle down with them. That is why several of them in high profile positions remain unmarried. In fact, the unmarried situation is common among female lawyers than any other women group in Liberia.

30 Percent Equal Representation and Participation Bill

Ranked 40th out of 54 African Countries for the number of women in parliament and 149 out of 191 worldwide, Liberian women, 2 years ago celebrated what women activists called a major milestone when the house of parliament passed the 30% Equal Representation and Participation Bill. The bill seeks to encourage women’s participation in politics by creating five seats for female politicians, one for youths and one for people with disabilities in the lower house of parliament. Although lauded by many including me, the passage of the bill raised serious national debate. Observers believe that the governance process of the country may experience some unintended consequences as a result of the bill.

“Although the law has been hailed as a positive move to encourage women’s participation in politics, it may have unintended consequences, said Tamba Johnson of the Women of Liberia Peace Network (WOLPNET)”.

“Women will know that Liberia cares to hear their perspectives and include it in decision making,” said another observer.

“Male politicians may seek to persuade voters that, aspiring female candidates should be chosen only for the seats reserved for women”, Johnson said.

“Johnson continues: The allotted seats will always be flagged by men when it comes to elections,” “I feel the future political arena for women will become gradually gloomy over the years.”

Despite its intent, the bill however failed to considered competence, qualification and experience as well as budgetary or better still economic consequences. All they care about is to have a space in parliament. “If at all they are doing it for women empowerment, then they should share all the benefits of the 30 percent seats with other women”, another observer argued.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf vs her party (UP)

Two weeks to the expiration of her tenure, Liberia and Africa’s first female president Mrs. Sirleaf got expelled by the party that made her-making her the first sitting head of state of Liberia to be expelled from her own political institution.  The expulsion, according to party executives was due to act unbecoming of a standard bearer emeritus.  Authorities of the party accused Mrs. Sirleaf of undermining the institution that made her president twice and by extension her own vice president who served her unconditionally for 12 years without report of any disobedience.

“For a male Vice President to serve under a female President in a male dominated society like ours for 12 years without any problem, demonstrates that such person is imbued with unassailable qualities such as loyalty and service to country”. President Sirleaf herself is on record for praising her Vice President. “He can make his point strongly and forcefully without being rambunctious. He can advocate strongly and diligently without yelling or being rancorous. He can negotiate firmly and fearlessly, but always in faith and fairness”, President Sirleaf is quoted as saying.

It is inconceivable that a boos would think like this about her deputy-while at the same time working behind the scene to undermine his ambition to succeed her, a game that saw Ellen being referred to by many Liberians as “Wicked Woman”.  According to them, her wickedness was displayed when she invited opposition leader to participate in ground breaking ceremony of a road project that her vice president Boakia labored to bring to fruition. In her response to allegation of betrayal, the President shockingly informed the world that she did not see the program sheet that invited George Weah to the program, an assertion that is still being described as the most deceptive statement by a Liberian head of state.

Holding everything constant and knowing the rudiments of Liberian politics, political pundits believe that women leadership led by Ellen Johnson Sirleaf created more division among Liberian intellectuals than any past leadership. Her 11 hours game of politics compounded the already complex social problems among intellectuals than in previous years.

Not only did factions exist, but the situation saw one time inseparable colleagues going separate ways. Currently, some of them are not on speaking term and are now key strategists against one another in political institutions they found themselves. As head of state in a traditionally entrenched nation, Ellen and her son (Robert Sirleaf) received the worst form of public disgrace. For instance, the ruling party of which Mrs. Sirleaf served as standard bearer declared Robert Sirleaf as a persona-non-grata in 2014.

Women of Liberia, the struggle for gender equality must not be seen as revolution against male counterparts. The objective of this campaign as initiated by women like Mary Wollstonecraft, Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony of the US and Virginia Woolf of Great Britain was for women to attain equal level in economic, property, and voting rights vis-à-vis national  development in a male dominated society; a society that looked down upon women as lacked of self-control and were “physiologically, intellectually and spiritually inferior to men”.

About the Author:

The Author’s name is Paul M. Kanneh. He is a Liberian Journalist. He currently serves as Communication Officer at the Liberian Ministry of Public Works. He has worked for several media institutions including Heritage and Informer Newspapers. He also worked with the Liberian Truth and Reconciliation Commission (TRC) and General Auditing Commission (GAC). He hailed from Bolahun Holy Cross Mission, Lofa County. He can be reached on +231888022040/paulkanneh5@gmail.com

 

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