I am very grateful to the almighty God for allowing us to see this historic day. I am also grateful to the General Assembly of the United Nations for setting aside this 8th day of March each year to celebrate and remember the numerous achievements and sacrifices women have made and continue to make in order to ensure that the world is peaceful, just and sustainable. Arguably, the structures of United Nations since October 24, 1945 was incomplete up to March 8, 1977 when a resolution was passed to observe International Women Day; thus giving pride and dignity to key custodians of global peace, justice, development and happiness (Women).
I see women as medium through which many things are possible. When an individual is shown appreciation and deservingly honored, he/she is prepared to double his/her efforts in reaching for the greater good of society. On the other hand, if a woman is treated fairly in relationship to her male counterparts in a society or organization, such society or organization is bound to be successful in its pursuit of shared society outcomes. Women devotion to country reflects their commitment to good governance and as such, there is a need to place women in pivotal positions for which they are equally qualified.
You will all agree with me that a home is incomplete unless a woman/mother is present in that home to direct activities. Similarly, the governance of the world or any nation is likely impossible when capable and competent women are not placed in pivotal positions.
In view of the above and consistent with the global approach for today’s celebration, the national theme: “Pledge for Parity by 2030: Step it up for gender equity” could not have been more appropriate. The national theme is in line with the global theme, “Planet 50-50 by 2030: Step it Up for Gender Equality”, which calls on countries to make specific commitments at the national level to address the challenges that are holding back women and girls from reaching their full potential.
We are proud to note that in line with this global call for action, our dear country, Liberia, is among the countries of the world that have made specific pledges to ensure gender equality by 2030 by stepping it up to achieve, among other things, the passage of the Domestic Violence Law, enforce the law that denies bail to those who commit rape, and guarantee women’s full participation in governance and national affairs a priority. These national commitments are bold and progressive, and I fully endorse them and ask all well-meaning Liberians to do similarly.
Our country Liberia is among member countries of the United Nations that have a unique history when it comes to women contribution to the socio-economic and political growth of nations and I believe it is about time to pursue gender parity when it comes to participation in National decision making by committing ourselves individually and collectively to the process of achieving the goal of having equal participation of gender in every sector of our society by 2030. This will require commitments by all sides --- males eschewing anything that takes away from the common parity agenda --- and women continuing to qualify themselves in order to remain competitive As a founding member of the United Nations and signatory to most of the resolutions that have to do with global harmonization of ideas on peace, security and development, we are under obligation to set the basis for achieving “planet 50-50 by 2030”which is the United Nations goal for gender balance by 2030 around the globe.
The debate on the role of women in societies and their participation in economic activities has sparked a lot of controversies for a considerable period of time. To this effect, different groups of people – women groups, government, development partners, and civil society group have championed many arguments to support their positions. Those who are against the increased participation of women in all spheres of the economic and political activities have argued that the biology of sex determines that women are limited to the home and childbearing and must play a subordinate role in the economy and in public affairs. Such societies are shrinking in their numbers and finding little or no support for their arcane beliefs. On the other side of the divide is the argument that, since the biology of sex has been constant throughout it cannot be used to explain the status of women in societies. The general consensus favors this argument.
Research has proven that the more important clue to a woman’s status anywhere in the world is her degree of participation in economic life and her control over property and the products she produces. In this regard, I want to use this medium to call for global effort to redefine the status of women by encouraging their participation in making decision that shift the destiny of our world. In order to enhance efficiency and deliverability of the sustainable development goals that among other things, calls for gender equity by 2030 around the globe, I will like to use this occasion to call on member countries of the United Nations to start thinking about electing a Female secretary general to replace the current secretary general of the United Nations by 2018. This, I believe will serve as precedence for breaching the gender disparity between men and women globally.
For decades men have and continue to lead and direct activities of the world towards achieving global peace, security and development; yet everyday there are incidents of war, women and children continue to be murdered in cold blood around the world by extremists and people continue to die from starvation in some places around the world. I am therefore calling on women around the globe to join the campaign for PARITY by ensuring that the world sees reason to elect a woman to steer the affairs of the United Nation for the next four years after the term of Mr. Ban K-Moon. Liberia, my country is an example of good women leadership where decades of civil conflict was resolved by electing Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as President in 2005 and since then there has been steady progress and no incidents of war for more than a decade.
As we move toward gender parity, the misplaced notion about women roles in society must be replaced by progressive thinking because to do otherwise is to continue to marginalize them and belittled their contribution to the economic well-being of their respective countries and the world at large. To correct the gender imbalance and to reverse the marginalization of women, it is necessary for the world, particularly the government of Liberia to ensure that women, particularly traditional women are not treated as personal properties and house-keepers whose primary duty should be child bearing, but to start looking at women as future leaders and give them responsibilities in society that befit their status and qualification, relative to their male counterparts. Furthermore, women voices need to be heard and included into policy making for economic and political governance of the state. Unfortunately, not all women have equal access to avenues that make this possible. It is therefore incumbent on all women leaders who are heading this noble struggle for gender equity by 2030 to be impartial and stand for the general rights of all women regardless of class, political connection or religion.
The move for gender balance in a society should not be limited to addressing the plight of women because there are some men who are disadvantaged as a result of societal imbalance and as such it is equally important to include those men into programs that call for equal participation of gender. As the world moves towards reducing gender inequality, there is a need that mechanism be put in place to meet the needs of all disadvantaged men and women in every sector of society.
Evidence points to the facts that traditional roles of men and women have been altered for many men and women, and even traditional practices that were mandatory for gender are now relaxed and layered to some extent. For instance, the forceful recruitment of young women into the sande society and the act of forcing young girls into early marriages in the past resulted into most females becoming early mothers and thereby rendering them illiterate, thus reducing their effectiveness to compete with their male counterparts.
The introduction of global campaign against harmful traditional practices and the provision of equal access to education for all genders are welcoming and should be encouraged by all governments around the world, particularly, in Africa where traditions at times stand in the way of societal advancement in some instances. The promotion of these campaigns now sees our women competing with their male counterparts educationally and thereby reducing the gender imbalance and domestication of women.
In order for African women in general, and Liberian women in particular to continuously contribute meaningfully to the growth and development of the continent and their country, I am calling on women to prioritize education as a catalyst to their growth and development because the call for parity will be difficult to achieve if women are not qualified to take on the mantle of authority. I believe women are capable, and with support and will power, the goal is within reach.
As we celebrate the International Women Day today in the midst of peace and global unity, I want us to recognize the achievements of some Liberian women who have contributed extra-ordinarily to the maintenance of peace, security and development around the world. Among the honor roll list are many great Liberian women including Madam Angie Brooks Randall – Liberia’s first female permanent representative to the United Nations (1975-1978) who became the first women to chair the UN General Assembly; Madam Hanna Abedou Bowen Jones – another Liberia’s permanent representative to the United Nations who served as Vice President to the UN general Assembly (1983-1984); Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, Director for Africa of the International Monetary Fund (IMF); Madam Ruth Sando Perry, Former Transitional President of the Republic Liberia under whose stewardship the first post war elections were held in 1997 after failed attempts by men who served in similar capacity prior to her time; like; Obiageli Ezekwesili of Nigeria, a world Bank vice president who was appointed in 2007 to steer the bank’s work on Africa; and most significantly Her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Liberia and Africa’s first female president whose leadership brought an end to fourteen years of civil conflict in Liberia and under whose administration we have enjoyed more than ten years of peace in Liberia and the sub-region. As America goes to elections in November 2016, maybe we are on our way to seeing the first female president of the United States of America in the person of Hilary Clinton.
Let it be made clear that all of those great women whose achievements are recalled above, were able to compete with their male counterparts because of the exceptional value they added to themselves through education and commitment to their dream. It is therefore my believe that with determination and courage to pursue higher education, Liberia Charter of the UN women can produce another Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the future whose history will be a symbol for the African continent.
Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, women of this country broke the glass ceiling when we elected Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the first female President of Liberia and of Africa. As historic and remarkable as this achievement is, it has been used by men who do not espouse or are afraid of the rapid empowerment of women as the convenient argument against any affirmative action measure or legislation to ensure gender equality for women. Discrimination and marginalization of women are deeply rooted in our history, our culture, our values, our politics and our laws. Therefore, until all the structural impediments to women equality are tackled, the elections of one woman as president cannot ensure the equality of women. For instance, as good as the elections of Barack Obama is, as the first black American President, it has unfortunately not led to the elimination of the deep seated prejudices and discrimination against black people in America. The problem is not personal, the problem is structural.
It is sad to note that some counties in Liberia including Nimba, Margibi, Cape Mount, Rivercess, Maryland, etc. do not even have one woman at the Legislature, whether in the Senate or the House of Representative. I therefore want to use this occasion to call on the Honorable members of the 53rd legislature of Liberia to pass into law the gender equity bill which will further enhance the active participation of women into the body politics of our country. Some may argue that passing such a bill will be costly; I will counter-argue that in the grand scheme of things, it is more costly to continue to exclude women in the form and manner that is occurring at the moment. We should not be ashamed of such an affirmative action bill; we should instead be ashamed of such a dismal ratio of women to men in our Legislature.
On the other hand, I also want to call on all Liberian women, especially the young women to equip themselves academically as you await future opportunities because even when the bill seeking women participation in government is enacted into law, only the most qualified women will be chosen among the rest because this bill does not in any way seek to encourage lassitude in women, but to establish an equilibrium between men and women when it comes to making decision that affects the economic and political well-being of our country, Liberia and the world as a whole.
Finally, let me use this occasion to thank those women who left the comfort of their family all around the world to ensure that Liberia enjoys peace and political stability today. Thanks to the National leadership of the United Nations Women in Liberia and thanks to all of us, male counterparts who have come to grace this occasion. To conclude, let the world understand today that women are catalysts for achieving peace, security and development around the globe and it is about time that the world experiences peace, security and growth; let’s promote gender parity by giving women the chance to lead the world and set the basis for “planet 50-50 comes 2030”.
I thank the government and peace-loving people of Liberia for observing this historic day. But before I recede to my seat, I leave you with the powerful words of American women’s right activist Susan B. Anthony, “the day will come when men will recognize woman as his peer, not only at the fireside but in councils of nations. Then and not until then, will there be the perfect comradeship, the ideal union between the sexes that shall result in the highest development of the race.”
Thank you all and may God bless us all and save Liberia and the peace loving people of the world.