Hundreds of women from the length and berth of Liberia assembled at the Paynesville City Hall on July 13 – 14, 2016 for a National Women’s Conference to discuss and address issues of gender equality, gender based violence and involvement in peace and security in the wake of the draw-down of the United Nations Mission in Liberia.
The gathering, held under the theme, “Step it up: Mobilizing to bridge the gap for gender equality” was hosted by the Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection, the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia and the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia; bringing together over five hundred and fifty women from the fifteen political sub-divisions of Liberia. The two-day program, which was held in collaboration with the United Nations System and its partners as well as the Carter Center also brought together an array of diplomats including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and other high level female government officials, the special Representative of the United Nations Secretary General, Mr. Farid Zarif and the Ambassador of the European Union, Ms. Tiina Intelmann amongst others.
Addressing the gathering at the opening session on Wednesday, July 13, 2016, President Johnson Sirleaf praised the women of Liberia for the visible role they have continued to play. President Sirleaf stated that even though women in Liberia have suffered immense discrimination over the years, the works of women organizations such as the Federation of Liberian Women, the Liberian Women Initiative and the Liberian Women Political Forum amongst others, have made tremendous stride in promoting the voice of Liberian women in various spears, nationally and internationally.
President Sirleaf made specific reference to the Women’s Situation Room, an initiative of the Angie Brooks International Centre for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security, which in making history globally. She noted that the Women’s Situation Room provides an opportunity for women’s direct involvement in Peace and Security mechanisms during electoral processes, an initiative that has gained international admiration. President Sirleaf recounted the establishment of the ABIC, noting that it is the ongoing institutional follow-up to the International Colloquium, held in March 2009; the first post-war international conference in Liberia that brought together women leaders from all over the world.
The Women’s Situation Room was initiated during the 2011 elections in Liberia by a coalition of women, youth and students, spearheaded by the Angie Brooks International Centre. In January 2012, on the margins of the 18th African Union Heads of State Summit in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, the Women’s Situation Room was described as “best practice” for curbing violence before, during and after elections on the continent. President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was requested to champion the initiative and ensure it is replicated at all elections in Africa. As a result of the success of the WSR, the ABIC was awarded the Pan- African Service Award for Peace and Security as well as women’s empowerment on the continent during celebrations marking the 50th anniversary of the African Union in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia. The initiative has been replicated in Senegal, Sierra Leone, Nigeria, Kenya and Uganda.
The Liberia Chief Executive noted that in the wake of UNMIL draw-down, women should make use of their various organizations, structures and institutions to help in maintaining the peace especially as the country heads to the crucial 2017 general elections.
The National Women’s Conference was marked by deliberations on several key issues including: Integrating Gender in the 2017 General and Presidential Elections; Women Access to Information; Information and Assessment on the Liberian Women Federation; Sustaining Peace and Security in the Wake of UNMIL Draw-down; Women Potential Leadership; and Awareness on Key Instruments on Women’s Empowerment. The conference also witnessed the presentation of the Affirmative Action Bill to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf for onward submission to the National Legislature.