-US diplomat says, but recommends civics education on women’s role.
Women bring unique experiences and insights to the table, and without their participation, important issues that disproportionately affect them, such as gender-based violence, reproductive rights, and gender inequality, may be overlooked or inadequately addressed.
More to this, women’s political participation is crucial for achieving gender equality. Their representation in politics can challenge traditional gender roles and norms, and promote the idea that women can be leaders and decision-makers. This can also inspire and empower women in all sectors of society, encouraging them to pursue leadership positions and break through the glass ceiling.
Interestingly, Joel Maybury, the Chargé d’Affaires of the U.S. Embassy near Monrovia, while in an exclusive interview with this paper, says based on his personal experience, Liberia is making frantic efforts when it comes to women’s political participation because Liberian women are gradually finding a seat at the table.
Considering that women’s political participation is not only a matter of fairness and equality, but also a necessity for effective governance, inclusive policies, and democratic societies, Mr. Joel Maybury says, amid challenges Liberian women are confronted with, they have made significant progress in ensuring their involvement on the national scene.
As It is crucial to create an enabling environment that supports and encourages women’s participation in politics, including addressing barriers such as gender-based discrimination, unequal access to resources, and cultural biases, he concisely acknowledges the efforts of International Woman of Courage recipient Facia Harris, Nobel Peace Prize recipient Leymah Gbowee, and many other award-winning and award-deserving women in Liberia and in the Diaspora for their untiring commitment to strengthening the rights of women and helping build the legions of women who will one day crowd the political arena.
“Liberia can – and will – do better in terms of participation of women in the political arena. Liberians elected Ellen Johnson Sirleaf president. And Liberians elected Jewel Howard Taylor vice president. I don’t believe those elections were the exception. There was, and is, strong popular support for these women. That said, whatever barriers that exist that make it difficult for women to seek elected office need to come down,” he notes.
Figures from the National Elections Commission (NEC)’s final exhibition of the Biometric Voter Registration exercise, show that about One Million Two Hundred Thirty-seven Thousand Two Hundred Fifty-seven (1,237,257) Females will participate in the voting process of the October 10, 2023, general elections, which exceeds the actual number of registered males that’s about One Million Two Hundred Thirty-four Thousand Three Hundred Sixty (1,234,360).
In Mr. Joel Maybury’s view, the same is true for barriers that keep women from supporting women who seek elected office. “I would ask Liberians, whether political parties, civil society organizations, or those who contribute financially to political campaigns and candidates, to help level the playing field so that women can compete in the same manner as men”.
“Liberians don’t give up. And when – not if – you reach the 30% quota, don’t stop there. But I am also convinced that Liberians must also look at what children are taught in school and at home about the roles and responsibilities of men and women. Every effort should be made to teach civics so that young people grow up understanding the concepts of equality and inclusivity, as well as respect for women”.
He continues, “I will repeat it. I believe every effort should be made to teach young Liberians about civics and the crucial role women play in society and in the political sphere. And then there is political will. Those who advocate for greater participation of women in politics should demonstrate through their actions that they are allies of women”.
As an experienced journalist, Mr. Joel Maybury calls on Liberian scribes, talk show hosts, editors, and photographers should help tell and illustrate the stories of women who achieve great things in different sectors.
With the general elections in October, he believes the media should be busily reporting on women candidates, but also on the issues that are vital to women in Liberia.
“Are any of the candidates addressing the issue of female genital mutilation, sexual and gender-based violence, women’s access to credit, educational and employment opportunities for girls and women?” he questions.
“Women Voices, as the sole newspaper whose business is to represent the voices of women, should not be the only media organization reporting on successful women, challenges facing women and girls, and commenting on women’s affairs”.
He thanked the Publisher of Women Voices, Mrs. Helen Nah Sammie, and the staff, for their commitment to keeping women’s perspectives in focus.
Furthermore, he’s of the opinion that Liberians are fortunate to have such lively media. “Expatriates are fortunate to be able to rely on the rich, diverse, media environment here. The media can, indeed, contribute to a safe space for women and women’s political participation”.
From a national perspective, and considering his experience over the last few years in Liberia, he said the power sector is making visible, palpable progress. “The government has firmly begun to address power theft. Thank you to the leadership of Monie Captan and the indefatigable Mary Broh! Many more homes and communities are being connected to the power grid, and that means more possibilities for businesses, schools, and households”.
However, he believes the agriculture sector should be much better resourced so that Liberia can get to where it once was growing crops to feed itself and exporting agricultural products to other countries.
“We are looking for the health and education sectors to make more progress. We have seen indicators that Liberians are getting healthier and gaining more access to education. Investment from USAID, the Centers for Disease Control, and other donors is making a difference. Still, as Liberians know well, the health and education sectors are not where they should be,” he emphasized.
Moreover, Joel Maybury says the security sector has a profound effect on the success of the country, and with that, he gave credit to the U.S. security assistance to the Armed Forces of Liberia and to the different law enforcement agencies.
“This is why I began this interview by talking about Liberia as a land of possibilities and opportunities. At the same time, the work is far from over. But Liberians know better than I do that progress in any sector is sweeter when it is home-grown, when it is the result of hard work by men and women who have a love of country. Dependence on international donors, at the end of the day, is not healthy”.
Without an interest in grading the government’s performance over the last five years, he encouraged continued progress. “None of us in government, whether in Liberia, the United States, or elsewhere, is perfect. But we should strive to do our best. Our constituents – our taxpayers – just want to know that we are being good stewards of public resources. I think no one will deny that corruption continues to plague the Liberian political sector regardless of political parties or affiliations”.
At the same time, he’s of the opinion that Liberia’s politicians do share a genuine commitment to democracy and the preservation of human rights. Moving toward the elections, I am confident that those values will be at the forefront of Liberians’ minds to set an example for the region of how a fair and peaceful process can look.
As Liberians have less than 100 days to the October 10, 2023, general elections,
he urged each Liberian to vote his or her conscience. “Inform yourself about the different candidates and political parties so that you have a better idea of who and what you’re voting for. I hope the media and civil society organizations, not to mention the political parties themselves, will make it their business to inform voters”.
He also called upon Liberians to embrace peace, embrace non-violence, and embrace democracy. “In doing so, let me be clear that I am only doing what men and women in positions of influence have done in the past. I think I am right in believing that no one wants to get into a physical fight. Finally, Liberians should know
that the world is watching and wants you to have the best possible democratic exercise”.
No matter who wins or loses, he wants Liberia’s politicians to have the opportunity to demonstrate to the world that Liberia continues to be a beacon of democracy in the region and that its leaders are committed to peace above all else.
“I know I will be watching from the United States thanks to media and social media. My best wishes and prayers to the people of Liberia.” He added.
Commenting on his experience throughout a diplomatic mission here in Liberia, Mr. Joel Maybury described Liberia as a land of possibilities and a land of opportunities. “That is how I approached my work as a diplomat here. I devoted hundreds of hours to gaining a deeper understanding of Liberia’s history and culture. I listened to men, women, and youth from all walks of life in a quest to learn about their vision for their country. Liberia has a rich and unique history, one that few Americans appreciate, and sadly, too few Liberians appreciate”.
With regard to his most challenging days throughout your mission in Liberia, he noted that those were the days when he battled COVID. “But COVID did not only stop me in my tracks. It also limited our diplomatic outreach. I am a person who prefers to be out and about, getting to know people face-to-face, in classrooms, board rooms, places of worship, marketplaces, and at ceremonies. I also regret not learning kolokwa,” he stated.
He believes language is the key to a deeper understanding of people. “There were too many instances where I missed the meaning of what Liberians were telling each other. It is that awkward feeling of being in a room where everyone is laughing about a story, and you are the only one sitting there with a straight face”.
Howbeit, he has a whole lot to remember Liberia for, as he highlighted the Liberians, their warm greetings, tremendous hospitality, but also plenty of creativity, industriousness, and a striving to make things better, even in the face of the many challenges, including; poverty and corruption.
“My list also includes Liberian food. Palm butter, cassava leaf, fish head soup, torbogee pepper kala, potato greens. Hot spices. The spice coast indeed! I sure hope I find the ingredients in the United States to replicate the dishes I enjoyed here. And music. To me, a country’s music in an important way defines the people, their mood, and their hopes. The traditional Gbema and Hipco I hear on people’s cellphone ringtones, emanating from nightclubs, and on the radio while driving places or in homes, is happy music, hopeful music. It’s music that brings people together. I would say the same thing about music performed by church choirs. It’s uplifting,” he added.