Press Statement by Cllr. Yvette Chesson-Wureh
Angie Brooks International Centre for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security
Thursday, 4th August, 2016 at 12 noon
Good afternoon ladies and gentle of the media. Let me first recognize the presence of Hon. Olubanke King-Akerele, Chair of the Board of Directors of ABIC, who is presiding over this press conference. We are extremely grateful to Hon. King-Akerele, who is the brain behind the formation of this Centre and has continued to maintain close association and monitor our day to day operations especially in my absence
I wish you all a belated happy July 26! Hope you all had a wonderful celebration as our country turned 169 years old. Regardless of the challenges we have faced over the years as a country and people, it is important for us to remain patriotic always appreciating our independence. Although times are tough and the" no money" syndrome a common talk, we should celebrate with whatever little we have and remain grateful to God for our survival. One of the most important reasons to happily celebrate our independence is due to this fact that we have uninterruptedly survived 169 years as an independent nation despite the numerous challenges that had the propensity to lead to our collapse. Others may argue that our progress has been slow but it remains an indisputable fact that we have been resilient not to lose our dignity. The generations after us should know and learn to appreciate it. While it is true we may have slipped and fallen at some point during these years, we never compromised our independence and today, we are back with our heads high. We are once again greatly respected amongst the comity of nations. The last ten years have been highly significant for our restoration as women have taken the lead in restoring our lost glory.
There are countless number of evidences within the last ten years to substantiate the gains by women in restoring our lost image; ranging from the incredible works of Her Excellency President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to the enormous contributions of the market women, farmers and the innovations of women in civil society. While the world as a whole and the international community specifically continue to recognize and applaud these landmarks progress women of Liberia are making to restore our heritage, little attention is paid to them by our own media. Our media focuses more of its attention on the negatives things and neglect the many good works and historic achievements being made by Liberian women in and outside the country. They are carried away by sensationalism under the guise that “...Good news is not news and no news is good news”. This is an unacceptable media practice and I think it is about time that our media change this course and forge a new direction of highlighting those little things that will promote a positive image of our country. In other words, we have to dignify, appreciate and value all aspects of our works and contributions in society that are contributing to global serenity. We must report and document both our achievements and challenges. And failure to do so will amount to relinquishing our glory and surrendering our status amongst nations. This is why we need the media to be patriotic in trumpeting whatever achievements we attain each day for our country. As the common saying goes “... If you do not say I am; nobody will say thou are.”
In this connection distinguished ladies and gentlemen of the media, I am very pleased to let you know that the women of Liberia continue to make headways and set the agenda for women’s participation in promoting peace and mitigating conflict both in Liberia and elsewhere on our continent. As you all are aware, the women of Liberia were particularly instrumental in the process that led to the restoration of peace in Liberia through the women mass action for peace movement in 2003. Since then, the women of Liberia have played active role in maintaining the peace and initiating conflict prevention mechanisms in Liberia and across Africa. As it is common practice for elections in Africa to erupt into violence, Liberian women and youth in a coalition of Civil Society Organizations including: YWCA, MARWOPNET, WIPNET, WANEP, ECOWAS Women, FLY, LINSU, Voice of the Voiceless, Market Women Association, Rural Women Association, facilitated by the Angie Brooks International Centre (ABIC) for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security initiated the Women’s Situation Room (WSR) during the 2011 general and presidential elections as a conflict mitigation mechanism to help avert any potential conflict that could jeopardize sustained peace in Liberia. Let me point out here that initial support for this initiative was pioneered by UNDP. As a matter of fact, UNDP is regarded as the ‘god father’ of the WSR, given the extraordinary role they played from its inception, wherein the former Country Director, Mr. Dominic Sam spearheaded support to the first WSR and went on to being an integral part of the process by visiting the Room on elections day.
Another key partner we would like to recognize is UNWomen. UN Women has been an integral partner in ensuring the success of the Room and as such we are extremely grateful.
It will interest you to know that since the passage of the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 in October 2000, the WSR was one of the first recorded initiatives by civil society actors to ensure women’s active participation in mediation, negotiation and mitigation of conflict. Not just did it involve the women and youth of Liberia but it brought together eminent women from across the region to share their experiences and expertise in mitigating and curtailing violence before, during and after the elections. This innovative unprecedented initiative proved very successful and thus has claimed the attention of Africa and the world. In January 2012 , on the margins of the 18th African Unions heads of state summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the “Gender is my Agenda Campaign” (GIMAC) adopted the Women’s Situation Room as a “best practice” and asked for it to be replicated at all elections in Africa with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf requested to Champion the initiative, which she accepted. She in turn charged the Angie Brooks International Centre with the implementation of that mandate. From 2012 to present, the initiative has been replicated in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Kenya, Nigeria and Uganda. Currently, modalities are underway for its replication in Ghana during the forthcoming elections slated for later this year in December from where I am addressing you guys.
Lest I forget, let me remind you that during the celebrations marking the 50th Anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, in 2013, ABIC was awarded the Pan- African Service Award for Peace and Security as well as women’s empowerment on the African Continent as a result of the WSR. This award by the African Union was symbolically turned over to the women and youth of Liberia immediately upon my return to the country at a formal program on August 8, 2013. This was because the women and youth of Liberia were the initial implementers of the revolutionary idea and ABIC initiated and facilitated the process. The ABIC has continued to receive national and international recognition for the WSR with calls from various countries for the replication of the WSR in their countries. ABIC has been able to guide civil society organizations including women and youth groups as well as state and other non-state actors in executing the various activities of the WSR as they deemed fit and appropriate for their context. Of particular significance is that the WSR was replicated during our senatorial election in 2014 in concert with our partner organizations (YWCA, MARWOPNET, WIPNET, WANEP, ECOWAS Women, FLY, LINSU, Voice of the Voiceless, Market Women Association, Rural Women Association amongst others).
In all of these replications, the women of Liberia and Liberia as a whole have been recognized for this great innovation. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who herself has played a cardinal role in each of the replications as Champion of the Room has been pleased with the progress of the WSR and its remarkably positive contribution it brings to Liberia. Just two weeks ago, at the National Women’s Conference held at the Paynesville City Hall, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf specifically lauded the ABIC for the WSR, which she noted was making headways globally. She noted that such an initiative along with other outstanding contributions from the women of Liberia continue to give Liberia the due recognition it deserves amongst the comity of nations.
These recognitions provide an opportunity for the media to further highlight what Liberian women are doing locally and international for the glory of Liberia. Indeed at the recent 7717 meeting of the United Nations Security Council held on 15th June 2016 in connections with the Council’s consideration of the item entitled “Women and peace and security”, the statement of the President of the Security Council, Mogens Lykketoft, highlighted the Women’s Situation Room and acknowledged how it has helped to prevent or mitigate the eruption and escalation of violence, inter alia through observing and monitoring and by engaging stakeholders in constructive dialogue and peace advocacy. Excerpt of the President of the Security Council's statement is as follows:
“The Security Council emphasizes the important role that women and civil society, including women’s organizations and formal and informal community leaders, as well as religious leaders, can play in exerting influence over parties to armed conflict. The Security Council welcomes women-led prevention initiative such as the Women’s Situation Rooms throughout Africa, which have helped to prevent or mitigate the eruption and escalation of violence, inter alia through observing and monitoring, and by engaging stakeholders in constructive dialogue and peace advocacy.”
Members of the fourth estate, for us, such recognitions are extraordinary not just for us as an organization but to the women of Liberia and the Republic of Liberia at large. It is more than just applauding our work. It recognizes the immense role women, especially Liberian women, are playing is driving global actions that impact women. It signifies that Liberian women are not back benchers but are key stakeholders in executing global agenda. It gives our country the due recognition and respect amongst the comity of Nations.
Additionally, these recognitions of the WSR, not only by our President, Her Excellency Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other local actors, but also by the African Union in 2013 and now the United Nations Security Council give the process of the WSR a high visibility, legitimacy and credibility as well as acknowledge its integrity and neutrality as it champions the cause of non-violence before, during and after elections.
As our nation prepares for the crucial 2017 general and presidential elections, our ability to successfully replicate the WSR will be crucial to sustaining the gains made during previous elections in Liberia and the sub-region. Let me hasten to say, no one organization can achieve this feat. Like in previous years we will work with all women groups and youth organizations as well as stakeholders including our Chiefs and Traditional Leaders, political parties, our National Elections Commission, the media, religious leaders, all security forces and the citizens of Liberia in ensuring a peaceful 2017 general and presidential elections. Of equal significance is the supportive role of UNDP during this process and we hope to build on previous cooperation from UNDP to help make this a success. There are huge challenges ahead as we prepare for 2017 but these challenges are not insurmountable as the women of Liberia have accomplished even more difficult tasks before. Together we can sustain the peace of Liberia.