Monrovia – The overview of the gender situation in Liberia usually talks about the roles society has assigned to both male and female. According to Liberia’s former Tourism, Cultural Affairs Information Minister, Rev. J. Emmanuel Bowier, back in the day, before the 1940s in Liberia, women were not given equal opportunities and rights as men. “They were not allowed to go to seek higher education, to have a decent job, or enjoy the right to own properties or even partake in politics. It was believed that a woman’s role was to warm the beds of men and have babies, cook, clean and look after the children. For this reason, many parents only focused on the male child’s education.
Because they believed that he would carry on the family name or legacy, while the girl child would get married one day and move to her husband’s home,” said Bowier. He said the situation persisted until Liberia’s 18th President, William V.S. Tubman, granted women the right to vote in 1948, which was a milestone for women in the Republic of Liberia. Thereafter, families started educating their daughters to take part in politics and work in government agencies. It did not stop there, women started running to become representatives, senators, and now President. Nevertheless, feminists have it that educated women in politics, who are still fighting for gender equity, are giving specific roles to their boy and girl children.
They argued that almost in every home, there are certain roles ascribed to a girl child, while some are only ascribed to the male child. For example, girls are usually called or send into the kitchen to help their mothers cook, wash dishes and clean up. This leaves her less time to study, while for the boy child, he will either go play football or some other sports and thereafter takes up his books and study his lesson.
As a result, the girl will start to decline in her studies, and she would be called a dull or unfocused person, while the boy makes his grades because he had nothing to do but play sports. They further pointed out this is normally witnessed even in buying toys for children; parents would usually buy dolls for the girl child because it is believed that one of her roles in society, is to become a mother and have babies, while for the male child, they will buy football or an electronic device, to become a soccer star or a computer engineer.
For their part, the Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia blames mothers of subjecting their daughters to maltreatment in the homes, in the name of abiding to culture and traditions. “In Liberia, women are socialized to serve, so the role ascribed to us by society, places us in that position that we work overtime as machines, while men rest. In this day and age, it is wrong for mothers to re-enforce this kind socialization process on their daughters, just because they are the custodians of our culture,” said Mrs. Linda T. Cummings, Program Assistant of WONGOSOL . She further stated that for this reason, many mothers feel they should condition their children to the negative upbringing that women place is in the kitchen and to have children and take care of your husbands. “I think we need to re-socialize our children to erase the notion that women’s place is in the kitchen or they are considered babies’ manufacturing machines,” said Madam Cummings. The idea of women’s role in society is not only limited to Liberia, but other West African countries in the region.
It can be recalled that the Nigerian President Mahammadu Buhari, as a typical African man, in 2016 on a visit to Germany, said that his wife belongs in the kitchen and the “other room”. With no regrets, President Buhari was heard degrading his wife on a public radio in Germany. However, in disagreement with the Nigerian President, Madam Cummings said many Presidents around the world, including Africa, discuss politics with their wives and take decisions from their wives in solving some of the issues, but are usually ashamed to admit it. “I cannot believe that he does not discuss politics with his wife in bed; probably he might feel ashamed to admit it and because many Presidents around Africa and the world go by the decisions their wives make in bed with them the previous night, but with Africa being male-dominant, they would be shame to admit it, because it will appear that they are weak.” Further backing her comment, she pointed to the recent situation in South Africa, when Former Zimbabwean President Robert Gabriel Mugabe decided to make his wife, Grace Mugabe, the vice President, Mr. Emerson Mnangagwa. “I believed he discussed the matter with his wife before firing his vice President and was contemplating on appointing her to serve as the vice President of the country, which prompted the military to step in,” she said.
Leaving the home and moving into the larger society, it is still believed that there are certain jobs that are only attributed to women, while certain jobs are designed especially for men. For example, a woman should be a nurse, while a man should be a mechanic; or a woman should be a secretary while a man should be a heavy duty driver or a director of a company. So in getting job opportunities, men are usually given first preference over women, based on perception. Culture including religion, plays a major role in many females’ lives in Liberia. Culture has it that women, like children, should be seen but not heard. As a result, women in many rural parts of Liberia, especially from the Muslim background, are not allowed to speak where men are.
They are not usually involved in decision making but are only shadowed in the background, expected to bear the brunt of the decisions men make. In other parts of Africa, women are not to be appreciated for working overtime or preparing a nice dish for their husbands because it is their duty to do so. This was observed in Kenya, when a man said on a local radio that he is not supposed to tell his wife thanks for preparing a delicious meal for him, because it is her duty as a wife and she does not need to be appreciated for performing her duty. “We are lucky in Liberia, because there are some Liberian men who are not gender sensitive to that extend, but they can say thank you, in appreciation, and sorry to their wives when they wrong them. However, we still need to re-orientate the vast majority of men who are not gender-sensitive,” Madam Cummings stressed.
Mrs. Cummings believes that it is important to involve men into dialogues and hold conversations about the issues of violence, as they are usually the perpetrators. “We found out that if we speak to men about the rights of their wives, they do not come to the defense of the wives because they feel it is her duty; but when you speak to men about their daughters, they become soft. So we are using that approach to draw men’s attention so see that just as they love their daughters’ and would not want something bad to happen to them, is the same way, their wives are other people’s daughters and they would not want them treated badly.” —Mae Azango