‘’The Woman in them should be a woman of substance not a pitied woman’’
I stirred up perchance by the sound of my phone. An accustomed call though. Yes, I was up for the habitual day. For every evening, I had to mirror and coop down the drives of the next day. Occasionally, I just ponder through and inscribe it in my mind’s construction. However, I often overlooked some lines if not details. This day was one of those days when I failed to pen down some targets but I knew unerringly what the day was going to be nonetheless. I had a training workshop on FundsPro, an accounting Software used by my organization. Then, I needed to send out some emails and also check other emails as well.
I reached the office only to grasp that I had an email invitation to grace a research workshop on Women land rights organized by one American organizations with either American Tax payers’ money or a private donation, I could not tell. I certainly desired to form part of this meeting for two causes. One was to meet new confrères whereas the second most important thought was to hear the findings. Not indeed to hear, but just to snoop. This is because I had the privilege to read the findings and some annotations on the organization’s website. I remembered commenting on some of the exploration. However, attending the event would have added value and increase my thoughts on the issues, especially when one listen to the women speaking their plight with such vigor and passion. What is so imperative is when a typical countryside woman speaks with courage, strength and humility that cannot be traced in a polished education. I was keen to meeting some of these women who are essentially feeling the frank of life.
So, I printed out the invitation and I told my colleague, a female though, to request for a vehicle that will take us to the venue for the program. Like regular research validation, we reached the venue and other participants must have just left their homes or offices. We got our breakfast, I actually took one slice bread, some beans, a butter and some fried eggs. I went to a sit just alone, sat down and started helping myself. When I bowdlerized and nip the first morsel of bread, I realized that some beans soup had gladdened my upper lips and I needed to wipe it. A village boy and still trying to hook up with the so called civilized world, I had left the napkin behind. Interestingly, I had luck on my side. Right opposite me are three colleagues, all females. I called one of them politely, told her that my village behaviour was still in me and I needed a napkin. Smilingly, she went and got me a napkin and a toothpick. I was settled and I ate my food quietly.
Few minutes later, the actual program started.
Several introductions were done and well-polished speeches were made, some focusing on the topic- Women’s Land Rights and some focusing on related topics. We sometimes clapped or sang some moving feminist songs. Before the occasion started, we were shown the president’s speech from Brussels attending the Europe’s Development Days Ceremony. In the video, we already had an open pronouncement by the president on women political participation and empowerment.
After the first session, I left my file with my female colleague because my feet were itching to return to the office to attend another training. Lest I forget, by this time, my female contemporaries have moved from their sit and have joined me, and jokingly I told them that for a man to be successful, you must frame yourself with women.
Before I left, there was a short break which allowed me to visit few familiar faces mostly women whom I have met before now or I knew best. It was important to share some jokes with them and share some thoughts before leaving the venue.
During my warm handshakes, some of them told me how happy they were that I was with them. They further told me that they will be coming to us for support to the new Gender desk. Well, I promised them that while we have no funds now, we can work together to scout for opportunities. Some of them told me that I have given all the money to a man run organization. At that juncture, one of them added that it is the nature of men. We empower each other so that we remain up there. Was I really such a man? I guess not. I have friends but some of my closest and most of my closest in fact are females. I had to smile with it though even after I knew that he thoughts were far from correct. After all the warm handshakes and jokes, I varnished away just as planned.
Back in the office, I joined our team. We were actually in a training but some of these meetings also needed my face anyway, so that if I should invite them tomorrow, they will come.
When I joined the training, I realized that the trainer was not too happy with me. I did not worry though. My decision of attending the event at the expense of the training was due to a considerable importance. Attending such meetings gear towards the good of the organization and the project after all. I officially joined the training and also the ongoing discussions.
During the discussions, the Finance manager explained to us how we should be careful as some donors are tough. He stressed that, they care about quantities and the costs and will raise questions whenever something is spotted. He then concluded that but as long as we are doing the right thing, we should know for sure that we are following the rules. While he was like concluding the statement on following the rules by saying ‘’as long as we are following the rules’’ I added that ‘’who cares’’? I actually meant who cares as long as we are following the rules. I did not complete my statement when the trainer took it up that our organization cares. I think she understood it wrongly, but she had the right to understand what she understands while I think I have the right to say what I said. There is just one thing that remain clear in my mind. I am responsible for what I say but I doubt whether I am responsible for what people understand.
We concluded the day and I had to enter the office of my colleagues, those that I supervised for discussions. After official discussion like usual, I decided to talk about the research that was launched. We discussed it and we went far.
During our discussions we exchange series of thoughts which included the protection of women and girls in our modern society. I went home thinking and reflecting the discussions in the office and the presentations at the launch.
While lying on my bed after the long day, I reflected on the same issues and many other encounters I had in the past. My memory went far and near. For me, gender issues are becoming interesting. In my professional life’s journey, I have some professional colleagues who are from two different school of thoughts. The first group comprises some young and energetic women, some happily married. The second group comprise of some older women, some married while some were once married. The younger generation see some of the gender discussions quite differently and understand them from a perspective that is not in line with the older group. The older group often well and once established women, who have some bitter divorces and lost some properties and still feel like fighting back, seem to use emotions and a payback style of advocacy. This group see gender with a lens that the younger generation does not support. This is important in gender related researches and concepts analysis. However, it is very sensitive to discuss this openly for two reasons. The bitter women are well educated, some are even lawyers but their conscience is somehow polluted. Any attempt to challenge some of their positions is considered a taboo and one could be branded as being against women interest. They sometimes succeed in silencing men or anyone with opposite view in meetings and where they may lead in terms of decision making. Interestingly, I have started listening to rural women (less illiterate women) complaining that most often, some or majority of educated women seem not to listen to them.
However, the world is moving fast and we must think ahead. While gender issues are predominantly about women, we need to know that we are getting into creating more vulnerability for women than the vulnerability they are under. There are signs that men are also paying a blunt for a past that they never contributed to while some women are silently crying in the hands of women. Very powerful women will still use gender as a political weapon to gain advantage which they might not use in return to improve the playing field for the real vulnerable women. This is scary because when the oppressed become the oppressor, the impact is huge and damaging.
Another question that seem important to answer is how has power shifted over the years. When women were not on the table, there are cultures that have confirmed that they were somehow consulted. But now that they are on the table, are there real differences? Additionally, is it every woman that is a victim, who is a victim and who is not? These are questions that remain unanswered.
Especially in Africa, the African women are portrayed as victims and mere followers. I am not denying that there are no challenges faced by women especially the African Woman. No, that is not my argument. What I am saying is that even powerful women in position of authority still called for a feministic sympathy. Some powerful women attribute their ordeal to the fact that they are females. Notwithstanding, in dissecting vulnerability, it varies and given a due consideration to this is very important.
Today, I can say that my mother and her mother could have been victims of gender biases, but my daughter is not a victim and should never be considered as such. Why are our traditional women always seen as victims? It is wrong to determine this. For instance, in those days, in my culture, women were never in the poro bush to discuss very important issues. However, they were well informed and had the power to influence the decision of their husbands. Secondly, the Sande bush was a women consultation bush if the issues were such delicate and sensitive. While men were the one gathering to discuss, women were the think tank to research and provide the needed guidance. Does this suggest in any sense a victim or a no important position? Women could stand their ground and it was respected. I am opportune to have known that rapist in those days could be handled by some older women in a manner that was only known by women. These actions limited rape and sexual crimes so easily.
The African woman is not always to be conveyed as a victim, a vulnerable and second class person. We have women who led kingdoms and tribes. These women move huge populations and settled them in other countries. In fact historical records proof that there were women that led battles of conquest and won. For instance, the Mende tribe in Sierra Leone was led by Mamie Yoko, a woman. In Liberia, the Suakoko Land in Bong County was led by Madam Suakoko. The African woman has potential, they are humans with all the attributes, they think and can compete and many of them run homes headed by men. How can we then see them as victims all the time and in all situations?
Today, women seemingly are on the table and to me, with less power. In those days, the man will hold a topic for the following day, and come home to consult. Today, the person they need to consult is right on the table and so, both have no time to think through. Best of it, we have lost the consensus of things and now have the voting of things. I am not against our sisters, daughters and wives being on the table with us as the world demand. What I am not getting is this ‘’Does women absence or presence happen because of gender or gender roles? Were these gender roles practiced by a calculated effort to neglect or was there a fundamental reason? Is it that such fundamental reasons became abused, and manipulated by men? Answering these questions will draw a new thinking and a new perspective for Gender lens and Gender thinking.
In some quarters, women and men see each other now as revivals. But who will denied the fact that we are supposed to be each other’s keeper. That we are supposed to be supporting each other. What I may not know is whether we suppose to play the same roles? Saying this is sometimes tough as it can easily be misconstrued. Equality should be within a contest. For instance, I will say that our children and every one must be given the space to strive and to enjoy what the society owns without any discrimination. This does not mean that because I am working, that you need a job. We need to think through and provide the spaces that are needed not because we want to please a certain call but based on a given circumstance.
Using a lens that is not blinded helps us to carve good policies and effectively implement them. My argument is that when we are moved by emotions and create suggestions that things happening around us or the relationship between men and women is largely driven by gender considerations, it reduce our ability to note some very essential needs. When people come together, whether two persons come together, be it a man and a woman, or persons of the same sex, there is always the search for authority, recognition, power exercise and so forth. Even in our society, people living together fight this very things. It might not be about gender. What we need is understanding needs, aspirations, and the equal protection of everyone with the provision of equal opportunities.
When we carved policies and laws, it is important to attach enough evidences to the clauses we provide in the policy or law. In a recent group discussions, I listened to a rural woman speaking and asking the rationale behind the law which has kept me thinking. There is a provision in the Liberia’s Inheritance law (October 7, 2003) which provides for a one third benefit sharing of property to a deceased husband to his spouse or spouses in the case of traditional or customary marriages. This rural woman ask that what does she owns when the man is alive? This is crucial. Whenever we pretend to knowing the problem, we create laws which are complex and more confusing and may not even benefit those in need.
Gender issues are evolving constantly. What we may demand for today, could turn out bad tomorrow and we may not have enough political will to turn that around tomorrow. For instance, how can a political system ask that voted positions should be allotted such as 30% for women? This kind of demand is easy and practical in appointed positions if we really want to practice real democracy. What in the future women powerful strength is recognized than men and performing better than men? Based on this consideration, what id society decides that they will go in for more women representation in public service? What if we have innovative ideas where women placed in high positions proof to be better leaders than men of their equal standing, society will automatically turn to them?
In a recent chat with a female colleague, Florence M. Dorley-Konneh, She has written a lengthy discourse which provides a basis smarter and timely. It is time to tell all men and world leaders to stop branding all women as victims. Something many women seem to embrace and accept too. This young lady does not feel the victim in her but she feels the woman in her, the heroine she is and the conqueror she will always be. Please read below. This suggests that society needs some careful thought on gender perspective and gender equity provisions.
‘’ It has been a productive decade of vigorous advocacy for securing women’s rights. Throughout the advocacy around protecting women’s rights to land and participation in governance, we are made to unknowingly subscribe to the adage concept that women are only victims of their custodians and counterparts. As an active member and a key player in the advocacy myself, I refuse to be made a victim when in this age and time the world is a competitive place with equal opportunities and the means to fetch them is available. Yes, our mothers were denied to publicly voice out their thoughts about issues affecting them when it came to Land, economic opportunities or political participation. Yes, they were not on the table nor participated in the discussions around governance openly which had an adverse effect on them and us to some extent. Yes, they might have been denied almost all the good things that were required to live the deserving quality of life, but all that was in those days. With time, patience and support from some of those very men, the world has become a place where almost all the opportunities are lingering somewhere around. Almost everyone and anyone can access if you go after it. I will not be proud to take a job only because I am a woman or I am pitied to get something because I am a woman. I want to fight for it, get it based on merit and exercise my talent like any man of my standing.
Blessed by the free society we have today, women are opportune to be educated as much as our male counterparts, work and earn income just as they would, even do business as they can. Hence, we shouldn’t always be put in the positions that we are marginalized and disadvantages from all angles of life. We have equal opportunities and equal choices to make. Women should be considered partners and competitors and not disadvantaged minorities. Gone are the days, when the girl child was use as a tool for household chores and child rearing. In my society, even boys are facing the blunt of the society, the unattended dysfunctional homes and the unhealthy competition society has created.
The above voice ignites a strong echo in me and tries to tell me that, yes, my daughter is not a victim and she will never cry a victim. The woman in her is a victor and she will rise not because there are feminist sympathies out there but because she will study hard, climb the ladder and succeed based on merit. That is the Heroine in daddy’s girl.