Executive Director visits Liberia
Date: Monday, February 29, 2016
From 26 February to 1 March, UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is undertaking a five-day high-level joint visit to Liberia, alongside the Executive Director of Oxfam, Winifred Byanyima.
29 February 2016
Commitments to gender equality and statements of appreciation for UN Women’s work came from the highest level on day four of UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka’s visit to Liberia. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Oxfam Executive Director Winnie Byanyima held high-level talks with the President of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka congratulated the leadership of President Johnson Sirleaf and her proactive approaches in halting, reversing and eliminating the spread of Ebola in Liberia. The Executive Director also called upon the Government and development partners to continue investing in coordinated and gender-responsive approaches to address the impact of Ebola-related stigma and recovery interventions that protect, empower and sustain women’s health, livelihoods and security.
The two executive directors reported on the progress of a Joint Programme on Economic Empowerment and Water, Sanitation and Hygiene (WASH), as part of the Ebola recovery initiatives in Liberia. Earlier in the day, the Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka and Ms. Byanyima opened a related workshop. The programme will seek to address the socioeconomic barriers to women’s empowerment, focusing on enhanced economic empowerment opportunities for women in Liberia. The Governments of Liberia and Sierra Leone, represented by their ministries of gender, said they consider the proposed project a priority in the post-Ebola era and promised to deliver. Also at the workshop were UN Women and Oxfam regional representatives and representatives from Sierra Leone.
In a meeting with the UN country team, the Executive Director and heads of UN agencies discussed the importance of women’s economic empowerment and, in the context of the conclusion of the United Nations Mission to Liberia, how women can be supported to maintain peace. The Executive Director also reported the issues raised by adolescent girls concerning sex-for-grades exchanges and what the UN system can do to respond.
Men’s commitment to gender equality and women’s empowerment in Liberia has come from the highest level. The Executive Director congratulated Vice-President Joseph Boakai for his leadership in the advancement of gender equality in Liberia, especially his leadership as the country’s first HeForShe champion. The HeForShe campaign has consistently drawn high numbers of men to support the gender agenda in the country, including the speakers of both houses of parliament and other parliamentarians.
Other HeForShe champions stood proud and were congratulated by UN Women’s Executive Director and by the United Nations Special Representative of the Secretary-General Farid Zarif at a meeting with the leadership of the national legislature. Male members of parliament shared their commitments to gender equality and discussed the challenges to women’s empowerment in Liberia. “We want to see how we can strengthen our role to support women’s empowerment in Liberia,” Senate President Pro-Tempore Armah Jallah said. Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka encouraged all members of parliament, both women and men, to go around and meet women, especially those in rural and remote parts of the country to mobilize women to seek leadership positions at all levels of government. “This is a HeForShe responsibility. We want to work with you to support women at the local level and to ensure that there are more women in leadership. We also need to mobilize men to ensure that they pass the bills that make a difference,” said Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka.
At the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Welfare, the two executive directors were warmly welcomed by Minister Julia Duncan Cassell. Women leaders sang and danced to show their appreciation for the work of UN Women and Oxfam, with many women saying they were inspired. In the room were many of Liberia’s leading women, including high-ranking military, security and immigration officials, mayors, ministers, local leaders and business women. “What men can do, women can do. We should not sit back and say security is a men’s business,” said Col. Geraldine George, Chief J1 of Personnel with the Armed Forces of Liberia.
The celebration of women’s leadership continued in the evening with a reception hosted by the President and held at City Hall in honour of both executive directors. “We honour these two great women and we hope this is just the beginning of being together in this partnership. Together we can make a difference in the shortest period of time,” said President Johnson Sirleaf.
Every Saturday in Liberia, partners, friends and staff of UN Women and other UN agencies join together on a Wellness Walk around the Liberian capital, Monrovia. On her visit to Liberia, UN Women’s Executive Director joined the team for their warm-up exercises and congratulated the walkers for taking steps to keep fit and find a creative way to interact with each other. Up to 40 people usually attend, led by UN Women Liberia Representative Awa Ndiaye Seck, who came up with the initiative. #HeforShe national champion film star Frank Artus also joined the march.
Liberia Women Democracy Radio welcomed the Executive Director to their station and the airwaves with singing and dancing. Producer Ladymai Hunter interviewed Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka live on air. The Executive Director recognized the important role the station has played in “providing information that is in the best interests of women” and noted that women need a station dedicated to broadcasting messages and information that responds to their needs. The establishment of the radio station—the first ever for women in Liberia—was supported by UN Women in 2010. The Executive Director was also interviewed by UNMIL Radio. Read the full story »
During a roundtable discussion on the second day of her visit to Liberia, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka called for a united civil society: “We’re going to jump and we’re going to do it together, and we are going to make an impact,” she said, energetically. More than 50 representatives from civil society organizations and women’s networks met to share their needs, such as food processing plants and training for women in agriculture, child care facilities for women with children who attend training and more men engaged in the fight against gender-based violence.
It was all about ‘Girl Power’ when the Executive Director met with an excited group of adolescent girls to listen to their ideas and challenges. The girls highlighted access to education and information, as well as sexual reproductive health rights and eliminating harmful practices such as female genital mutilation and child marriage as key challenges in Liberia. To this end, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka stressed that all decision-makers “have a responsibility as leaders to make sure that we protect you and provide you with information.” She also encouraged the girls to be confident, saying: “Girls can rule the world!”
On the first day of the joint mission to Liberia, Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka, attended a briefing session on the Community Dialogue Initiative, led by a team of facilitators from the Ministries of Internal Affairs and Gender, Children and Social Protection. The Community Dialogue process engages rural communities, getting them to document and voice their views on topics like decentralization and decision-making.
The Executive Director inaugurated the country’s first Civil Society Advisory Group, which will help UN Women sharpen ideas and strategies for advocacy initiatives. The Executive Director highlighted the critical role of civil society in informing UN Women’s work and congratulated the new members on their creativity and expertise. She also recognized the contributions of grass-roots civil society and women’s networks in bringing peace to Liberia and for their efforts in maintaining and building peace.
Ms. Mlambo-Ngcuka also held consultations with the Special Representative of the UN-Secretary-General to Liberia, Farid Zarif, on how to strengthen collaboration in the areas of women’s leadership and participation, women’s peace and security and women’s empowerment in the wake of the conclusion of the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL).
At a meeting with staff at the UN Women Liberia Office, the Executive Director commended the team for their work during the Ebola virus outbreak to respond to the needs women and girls across the country. She urged them to persevere in their efforts in all areas: “Maintain resilience in the post-Ebola era… Mobilize and motivate Liberian women to play the peacemaking role that they are famous for.”