By: Josephus Moses Gray
It is imperative for any liberal society not to only encourage women to exploit their aptitudes and species to enhance the growth and development of the society, but to also provide identical prospects, level playing field coupled with the extermination of all the hurdles emanating from cultural, traditional or religious mythologies of rules that draw the line to enable them excel in the society. In other rural African settings like Liberia, there is a common practice of confining girls and women in shrines to pay for sins committed by their male relatives.
Any society that downplays the ability of women and continues to subscribe to outdated beliefs which inhibit the advancement of women will always be at conflict with itself. Giving accurate information gathered during this research, women have become victims of not only war but so many inappropriately practices that obstruct their vision for self-advancement.
The late Mother Mary Brownell and several other courageous mothers and critical voices among the thousands of victimized women who refused to play to the threats of their male counterparts were undeterred by the havocs. They stood their grounds and courageously echoed their vices by pressing the rebels’ leaders to play to the rule of non-violent and seek solutions through the conference table and not bullets. These strong and fearless women’s voices had a collective objective-the sensation of the long years of bloodiest war and the restoration of democracy, the process which witnessed to successive democratically elections across the republic.
Out of an unthinkable display of bravery, our mothers extended their search for genuine peace to even unsafe military zones; in short, they ran the day-to-day affairs by also ensuring that the madness in the county be brought to an end; by that, they traded places, engaging influential and powerful global movers and shakers as well as world leaders pinning their serious attentions to the hell their country had been plunged into chaos.
These non-violent Liberian women are credited for doing what others around the world had failed to do in pressurizing belligerent forces to face one another on a conference table to sign the Comprehensive Peace Agreement; the Accra accord has since been dissolved for the 2005 election of Johnson-Sirleaf. Our mothers’ activities also drew international attention to the once atrocities that were being committed in the country. This struggle started long time since the famous role of Mother Suakoko of Bong County and other indigenous Liberian women whose history deliberately failed to remember for selfish reasons.
In the book titled: Liberia’s Emerging Democracy: the Role of Liberian Women and the Media, the author Josephus Moses Gray outlined the critical role indigenous Liberian women played in taking the bull by the horn to force former war-lords and politicians to affix their signatures to the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord on Liberia on 16 August 2003.
It is crucial to reflect the significance contributions of our courageous, indigenous and non-violent mothers, and highlights their meaningful contributions, as such; this article depicts the heaviest price our mothers paid in the obtainment of tangible peace, which is the direct result of this new dispensation of a participatory democracy. This year anniversary of peace desires the befitting merriment and jovialities. The Liberia civil war which victimized millions of people and destroyed billion dollars of worth of properties remains one of the bloodiest civil wars on the African continent.
The usefulness of women in any society is very important besides being the natural channel through which a child is brought forth in the world; it is the mother who first gives her blessings to the child before the father. It is also a deep rooted belief in the rural areas that the easiest way to capture a village is to seize the children when playing together by the riverside. According to the story, when the child is captured and cannot be found in the community, the person who bears the pain and quickly follows in search of the missing child is the mother.
When the mother is also captured the people who follow are the men who are indeed considered the leaders of the whole village. When they are caught the village is conquered. In the Liberian setting, for instance, women were for many years relegated only to playing traditional roles such as housewives and mothers. The girls were restricted to helping their mothers in the homes and were denied basic education. Most parents would prefer sending their male children to school than the females owing to the perception that the boys will grow and get married and still bear the family’s name while they girls would become the wives of others and eventually bear new names.
During the 2003 peace talks held in the Ghanaian capital, Accra when belligerent groups displayed an improper behavior by delaying to sign the peace agreement to end the war, a group of indigenous Liberian women from diverse background took the bull by the horn, locked the doors to deny the participants from leaving the conference hall as a means of pressurizing ex-leaders of belligerent groups, political parties and civil society organizations to find a common ground and put end to imbroglio.
Our mothers were violated, harassed, beaten and stripped of their goods and values, they were subdued and maltreated, while other women whose would not stand the agonies were obliged to give themselves to the fighters to survive. But there were several other critical voices among the thousands of victimized women who refused to play to the threats of their male counterparts. At the heart of the male-imposed-looming predicament profoundly suffered by women, it became the very women, especially during the heyday of the bloody civil war in Liberia who braced and took on the harsh, dangerous and terrifying terrains fending for their families as bullets were flying indiscriminately while their male-counterparts were stuck in complete seclusion in order to save their skins.
During the heat of the war when men were afraid to leave their homes for fear of being conscripted or tortured by rebel forces, it was the women who braved the storm to walk through the deadly checkpoints to find food for their families. In the process, some women were unfortunately subjected to sexual abuse, beaten and tortured by combatants.
In the face of visible intimidation and nastiness, the women without fears went across battle lines despite heavy fighting to spread peace messages. The painful experiences of women during the war were one of unanimity. Some narrated how they were subjected to eat human feces while others shared sorrowful memories of having forced sex with rebel fighters to spare their lives.
But this cruel treatment did not deter them from their non-violent advocacy for peace and an end to fratricidal civil feud in the country. Most war affected women were held hostage and used as ‘combat-wives of warlords and fighters, while others ‘were conscripted to head-load materials along forest tracks and cook and provide sexual services for the combatants. Moreover, they sacrificed their personal security and lives by openly undertaking lengthy periods of prayers and open-air fasting invoking the divine intervention of the ‘Father of Creation’ to end the war. And indeed, their efforts and sacrifices provided praiseworthy dividends.
Even though Liberian women suffered serious maltreatments such as gang rape and were subjected to various acts of brutalities at the malicious hands of rebel elements, the substantial role of women in the war forced former heads of disbanded rebel groups to commit to ECOWAS Peace Plan and affixed their signatures to the Accra Comprehensive Peace Accord, eventually ending to the end of nearly 15- year of carnages in the country and the restoration of democracy.
However, during the heat of the war, several other young women joined rebel factions in order to protect themselves from abuses such as rape and from being taken as combat-wives by rebel fighters. But, some of these women chose deliberately to engage into sexual services with rebel fighters from various armed groups since such activities yielded them more money and better life circumstances than being committed to their homes. Those who provided care and sexual services to the fighters did not directly participate in the war but indirectly supported the combatants during the conflict. Some women were abducted and trained by the factions to use guns and other weaponries but others were lucky to avoid combat.
Some of these women had no choice, but they had to either resort to unwanted acts to survive or have affairs with the fighters in order to support their homes. While some women were negatively engaged in the war, others played an active role in seeking peace by directly engaging the lord-lords on the conference table. These courageous women are today rewarded by the society and the civilized world while some include Mother Mary Brownell has gone beyond the surface of the Earth without receiving her flower due to her critical non-violent role in the obtainment of genuine peace.
With a clear ideology in mind that the brutal war must end to stop the suffering and destruction, these women peace activists organized daily sit-ins at the fish market in Sinkor and other surroundings to draw the attention of all and sundry that suffering and children needed to stop. They organized street protests, rallies, sex-strikes and demonstrations to convince the warring factions to disarm and stop the bloodshed in return for peace. The women usually dressed in white t-shits and white head-ties were successful in organizing dozens of street protests and were also able to unite and bring together other women groups from various backgrounds across the country.
While Liberian woman groups and activists took their peace crusades to the doors of West African leaders and Heads of States in demand of peace in the country, some women were stripped of their incomes, love ones and families. Some were forced to join the “armed struggles” so that they could meet their livelihood and feed themselves and their families. Majority of the victims had no choice but to comply with the fighters as the country suffered complete break-down of law and order during the dark period.
Some of the strategies employed by the woman included the released of public statements to the media both national and international which gave a vivid picture of situation that the suffering population was experiencing. The key role of woman in the process resulted to some of the qualified women from diverse professional backgrounds to be accommodated the once National transitional Government of Liberia formally headed by a Liberian business tycoon, Mr. Gyude Bryant ; may his soul rest in perpetual peace.
Women were crucial in bringing peace to Liberia, especially convincing conflicting parties and representatives of civil society organizations to the negotiating table. This effort largely contributed to the attainment of peace and stability in the country. It is widely perceived that the indisputable contribution of Liberian women resulted to the election of President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. The election of the First Female African President is a direct manifestation of the significant role played by women in ending the war. Their active participation in the Liberian peace process demonstrates how women are not just mere victims of war and spectators but active players capable of achieving what their male counter-parts have deliberately failed to achieve.
Consequently, the international community exerted enormous pressure on the heads of belligerent forces to stop the fighting and let peace reign. As the saying goes, when war erupts be it between countries or groups of armed bandits, it is a known fact that the truth is always the first casualty. Likewise, women and children were also constantly victimized ex-fighters and armed groups. For instance, in a practical case of domestic violence, women are always the victims, while in absolute cases the children followed.
With the high illiteracy rate, especially in the rural settings, ignorance of methodical causes of certain illnesses and tragedies, or even deliberate distortion of facts and situations by certain people, makes it possible for certain people in the communities to be picked on and blamed for various calamities, and consequently to be subjected to all forms of maltreatment, intimidation, cruelty, and so forth.
This is especially so with women, the aged, and children, who are most vulnerable. It is common place in Liberia where older people, mainly women are branded as “enchantresses.” They are suspected to be witches on accusations such as making their polygamous husbands impotent or causing their co-wives to be barren. Women may also be accused of sorcery if children contract critical diseases, or when a person dies from other sickness.
When Liberia’s Angie Brooks Randall made her debut at the United Nations perhaps that was an eye opener, or a wake-up call and the beginning of a long journey for women (Liberian) to take the fight directly to the door stairs of their male-counterpart that has dominated governance in its totality. Some of the women who made it to the top included former Chairman of the Interim Government dubbed Council of State, Madam Ruth Perry, President Johnson-Sirleaf, former Chief Justices of the Supreme Court of Liberia, Gloria Scott and Frances Johnson-Morris, former Foreign Minister, Olubanke King-Akerele and Musuleng Cooper and a host of others who are now heading several government ministries and agencies.
Despite equally proven their worth as leaders, critics have expressed reservation regarding the manner and form in which the United Nations is forcing this gender balance agenda down the throats of the male-counterpart by insisting that certain percentage of women must be represented in the legislature and other parts of the economy. Although they welcomed the drive, but stressed that they should obtain such based on merits and not to just see the presence of women. Due to space problem, I decided to restrict myself by discussing the role of three Liberian women in particular although in general I managed to discuss the significant contributions of Liberian women on a general front. These three women are Ruth Sando-Perry, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Laymah Gbowee.
The late Mother Mary Brownell
Few weeks back, the poisonous hands of death took away Mother Mary Brownell but her name will not soon be forgotten owing to her non-violent role in the obtainment genuine peace and democracy in the county. Madame Mary Brownell, a respectable woman of society by all accounts, a classroom teacher and peace campaigner, search for peace has gone beyond national borders, and have greatly impacted the country’s peace process and humanity, she has left an indomitable marks on the political scene.
The late Ruth Sando Perry
The indispensable role played by Mother Ruth Sando Perry, an astute stateswoman hailed from grand Cape Mount has gone down in history; he involvement in the restoration of law and order has helped to transfer conditions in the country during the heat of the crisis while her embody role for peace has already gone beyond national borders.
Mother Sando-Perry devoted herself to dividing her experience with the women of the Mano River basin and with others from all over Africa. As the first Female Head of State and Chairperson of Council of State of the Liberia National Transitional Government, Sando Perry presided over the first disarmament exercises of the warring parties in the country, she helps to repatriate and resettle refugees and internally displaced persons, and conducted ECOWAS supervised Special election which dictator Charles Taylor to power.
The month of August 1997 was a historic time when, for the first time, a woman was unanimously selected by West African Heads of State as leader of an interim African government, by the authorities of the West African economic community, beating two other candidates. Ruth Sando Perry was installed as the third president of the state counsel and presided over the Six-man joint presidency. Her mandate was a difficult to execute, she succeeded where many failed and established the first peace framework in several years, guiding the country to a Special democratic polls of 1997 which ex-president Charles Taylor with over 75% votes.
President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf
Liberia is notice for history marking; this time electing Africa’s first woman to be democratically elected Head of State in a male dominated society. Mrs. Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, a mother of four assiduous sons, in the 2005 November run-off presidential election won the hearts of the electorates and was given a mandate to remove the country forwards for the great good of all Liberians and foreign residents; the mandate is still be executed until January 16, 2018 when she shall peacefully hand-over to her heir.
She has been working tirelessly to rebuild a country ravaged by 14-year of civil war; the country has been stable but there has been public outcry of corruption and other short-comings. She has helped secure and maintain peace across the country.
Immediately following her historic inauguration in 2006, she began a charm with international financial institutions which are familiar to her, thus her goal was to erase the over Four Billion United States Dollars debt, secure bilateral grants and aid for the reconstruction of the country and also attract investors. She also help to restore the nation’s image abroad which she succeeded doing through her concerted efforts; today one can travel to any country and present a Liberian passport without be harassed by border security.
She to some extend has done well, but you wouldn’t find everybody agreeing with you, though, that Johnson-Sirleaf is well known on the globe stage, but has that brought any tangible and greater benefits to the nation in term of provide basic necessities of life like electricity, paved roads, safe drinking water, jobs, quality education, and available and affordable health care for their livelihood and unborn generations?
The affection for President Johnson-Sirleaf in the contemporary politics of Liberia is in two-forth-depending on which of the sides you find yourself, however, let wait and see how the affection for the president is going to be when she shall relinquish power to her heir. While there are several issued to be accomplished, the President deserved credits for man notable achievements in the county, although there are other huge accomplishments. She is a kind of leader who has worked so assiduously and diligently to change the once negative posture of Liberia to positive one, restoring the country’s image among the comity of nations.
Johnson-Sirleaf was seemed as a magic touch in the body politics of Liberia in 2005 and 2011, too, being granted in politics and fought bad governances in the past and few years back, what was termed “the hopeless country or failed state,” under this current administration has now incontrovertibly become the country of hope and opportunities, although everything is not blushing as anticipated by greater number of the population that strong growth rates would translate into advancement for all. In 2011, the President shared the prestigious Nobel Prize for Peace with two other non-violent women campaigners – fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.
Roberta Leymah Gbowee
Roberta Leymah Gbowee, peace campaigner and a joint winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize led the women’s movement to help end the formerly ruthless war in Liberia. Her rise in the women’s movement began on a dusty football field opposite the Fish Market on Tubman Boulevard in Monrovia. According to several accounts published, she urged women to be like her and to pray for peace. Irrespective of religion, Gbowee followers during the dark period in the nation recent past history often dressed in white praying and fasting seven-day a week-24-hour a day and 30-day a month for peace.
Some of these indigenous mothers, on several occasions were harassed and threatened by the ex-fighters while other traveling to and from on the streets either walking or riddling in their aging vehicles ridiculed these mother, but that did not discourage them, they were more resolute and determine and stood their ground. These indigenous mothers, although they have been forgotten, they are the true champions and freedom fighters that fear no bullet.
By: Josephus Moses Gray