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After months of preparation, on Monday 28th March, the trustees flew to Monrovia for this long-awaited trip to Liberia. We had the pleasure to be accompanied by Renee Zellweger, actress and friend of ours, Mary Robinson, ex-President of Ireland and President of the Mary Robinson Foundation – Climate Justice, Brigitte Lacombe, celebrated photographer and Beeban Kidron, renown film director.
The trip started with our audience with the President H.E. Mrs Ellen Johnson Sirleaf who kindly met us before going away for one week in rural Monrovia. Bineta Diop, Executive Director of FAS, and 3 FAS board members, Thelma Awori, Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff and Soyata Maiga were also present to officially congratulate the President for receiving, earlier this year, the FAS African Gender Awards. When we came out of our meeting, African women had gathered outside the Ministry for a colourful and lively photo session.
We then drove to the small Congo Town studio of Liberia Women Democracy Radio, which aims at ‘Giving voice to the voiceless’. We were welcomed by Estella Nelson and Naomi Saydee from the radio. They had also visited community women who shared their daily concerns, their struggles and their hopes. See Mariella’s article about this amazing radio in our ‘In the press’ section.
We then headed off to meet General Pooman Gupta and her UN Security Force, the world’s first-ever all-female peacekeeping contingent whose impact on the lives of women in Liberia and the security of the country is exemplary.
Our last meeting of the day was at City Hall where the Minister of Gender, Honorable Vabah Gayflor and approximately 50 leading women and policy makers from all sectors were expecting us to tell us about their work and brainstorm about the role women have to play in their countries. The young generation was also represented and made it clear that they were ready to take over!
On our way to Via Town, for our first meeting on Wednesday morning, we left the one main road that crosses the capital and took small and bumpy streets of Congo Town, of Sinkor, where the poverty and the consequences of the long civil war are vividly visible. We arrived on Bushrod Island to visit the Oxfam’s Virtuous Women Cooperative; a centre where 170 women are trained in the areas of tailoring and handicrafts but also in business development and leadership.
We then went back to the Radio station for a live interview. Mariella, Renee Zellweger, Bineta Diop and Yasmin Jusu-Sheriff engaged in a lively discussion with Tetee Karneh while some of us talked outside with locals from the community and helped them fetch water from the well.
During lunch, our delegation met with representatives from leading women’s groups (ABIC, MARWOPNET, WIPNET, WONGOSOL, AFELL), well known for their key role to end the civil war and now praised for their continuous commitment to gender equality. We heard how, as the Ivory Coast conflict is developing and refugees are arriving by thousands everyday in Liberia, they are now lobbying with the AU and the UN to be invited to the peace negotiations.
Liberia’s future also relies on its 37,000 market women. Thanks to the Sirleaf Market Women Fund, markets are renovated, banks and schools are built within the markets, market women are trained and are thus able to provide for their families.
At the end of the afternoon, we left Monrovia, stopping on our way at the Angie Brooks International Centre, to spend our last night at Wulki Farm, near Careysburg and meet the participants of the ‘Women Led Business programme’, an economic empowerment module managed by FAS. After hearing the inspiring stories of Tina Khan, Mai Urey, Grace Scotland and Adelaine Lavala and tasted Mai’s fabulous food, we ended this memorable evening by dancing and singing ‘Obaa’, ‘women this is our time’.
We are extremely grateful to all the women who shared their stories and inspired us.
A special thank you to Yvette Chesson-Wureh, Olivia Shannon and Jackie Kaymah from the Angie Brooks International Centre who helped us organising all the meetings and to Mai Urey who kindly welcomed us at Wulki Farms.