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Special Feature

Musu M. Kamara: My Parents Are Now Proud of Me

By Michael Gharib

Musu M. Kamara, affectionately called Pro-Poor Queen due to her unflinching support for the Congress for Democratic Change, hails from Gbarpolu County. People here are largely governed by traditions and religions, with Islam being dominant. Many times, citizens must find a compromise between what religion or tradition says versus what the law requires or what is expedient in a representative democracy like Liberia.

Musu comes from a conversative Muslim family; and being a woman makes her political ambitions even harder to achieve. But today, the situation around Musu is different. Even her parents are proud of her, perhaps because their daughter dares to be different and to step outside traditional gender roles and norms. Due to recent training, mentoring and exposure, Musu can now eloquently express herself and publicly discuss politics.

“My parents are very proud of me. Now, in our town, the first question people are asking is ‘whose child is this?’ And that pride goes to my parents, and the credit goes to UN Women,” Musu Kamara says.

In 2019, Musu was among 75 young women trained by NAYMOTE as part of the Young Women Mentoring Initiative, an activity funded by UN Women as part of the Women Political Empowerment and Leadership (WPEL) project. The WPEL was funded by the government of Canada for four years but has now come to an end.

Before joining this mentoring initiative, Musu says she lacked the confidence to publicly express herself. She would not dare contest for any position, even within her own CDC. “Before the training, some of us could not really stand to express ourselves; but today, the story is different.”

Musu is the current County Chairperson of the CDC in Gbarpolu. In 2020, she travelled from Gbarpolu to Monrovia to support the campaign activities of CDC Monsterrado senatorial candidate Paulita CC Wei. She led Paulita’s mobilization campaign in the 17 electoral districts of Montserado County. Although her candidate lost, Musu believes her participation in these political activities has given her a new purpose in life.

“We had team Paulita, her personal team; and we had the party’s campaign team. I led the party’s campaign team. I came from Gbarpolu for this; and the mentorship I got from the women political participation training made me capable to lead the team through the 17 districts of Montserrado County, even though I’m from Gbarpolu County.”

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Part of the design of the mentoring initiative by NAYMOTE was to build the capacities of young women to an extent where they would be able to share knowledge with others. And for Musu, this is the sweetest part, because she has the chance to go back home to help other young women realize that with the right exposure and mindset, they can achieve their dreams. She brought together at least 75 participants to learn from her on women political participation and leadership.

“I did not limit the training to mentees only. I brought in people who have interest in politics or leadership. Chairladies of Gbapolu’s three administrative districts, chairladies of the four major political parties, and women who intend to contest were all invited. Right after the training, I can confirm that at least seven women have expressed interest to contest, because they were motivated by what they learned from the training.

“All of this is the result of my participation in the women mentoring initiative. Because of this program, I can now stand as a leader.”

And that’s the essence of the Young Women Political Leadership and Mentoring program by NAYMOTE. For a whole year, 75 young women from across the fifteen counties of Liberia were trained in campaign planning, political campaigns management and how to run for office. They were assigned mentors. The mentors were people already in leadership positions. To make it run smoothly, NAYMOTE assigned these young women to mentors who were members of their political parties.

By the end of the project, NAYMOTE has in total trained 275 young women in political participation and leadership.

The program comes with an increased awareness and desire to join active politics, not just as voters but as party leaders and candidates; and for this, Laura Targbe Korvah, is a dream come true. Laura is president of the Young Women National Political Council of Liberia, a legal body that came out of the Young Women Political Mentorship and Leadership Program to continually mentor and support young women desiring to enter politics.

The idea of setting up such council was not an original expected result, but with it, the WEPL can count a positive unintended outcome.

“Since our inception, we have seen significant level of improvement in our members. Many of the young women have gained leadership positions in their various areas like schools and workplaces, because of this leadership training.

“Young women who never had passion for politics are now aspiring to run in their districts as representatives. … I used to like politics, but not as big as I am into it right now. It was from this program that I even started having thoughts of running in my district; and started having opportunities. I never saw the opportunities in my district. But this training is a kind of eye opener for young women. We have seen the spark in young women to enter and stay in politics. We appreciate NAYMOTE, UN Women, and the Canadian Government for this program,” Laura says.

Laura is not alone in expressing her desire to contest in her district in future elections. Musu also is contemplating on same in Gbarpolu – but that’s not for the immediate future. For now, she wants to focus her new skills in leadership to empower other women.

Like Musu and Laura, Saykwayee Henry has no pretense about her increased confidence as a young woman. Before joining the Young Women Mentoring program, her confidence level was low. But not anymore. A respected youth advocate, Saykwayee is already preparing to launch her political campaign for the

 representative seat in District #2 in Margibi County. “This is a result of my participation in the mentoring program. I wouldn’t even have had the courage to run for public office. The training allowed me to find a common path between advocacy and politics – and I am using it to my advantage.”

From Liberia’s furthest county, Maryland, Gweneh Y. Howard believes more women, including herself are becoming interested in politics. “I was inspired by the training; and I declared my intention that come 2029, I will be on the ballot, and I will be a role model to my fellow women.”

In Nimba County, Jacqueline W. T Doe, takes her mentoring to high schools. Out of her work, schools in Ganta are now having females contesting for student government positions. For the first time, Ganta United Methodist High school and Barry Willy Baptist High School had female candidates contesting for student presidents during the last academic year. Even in Jacqueline’s own St. Lawrence Catholic High School, no female has ever contested for an elected post. She broke that record and won.

“This is the first time for a woman to go into competition for an elected position in the school. I was the first; and I won. From the mentoring program, we now understand that as long as you are capable and you have the ambition, you can go for it, and you will be successful. These are things that the mentorship has done for us – opening the minds of you women.

“More women coming into politics and being in public position really matters because men and women making decisions together makes that decision a valuable decision.”

Women leadership, as taught by NAYMOTE and UN Women, isn’t only about national political leadership. Women leadership can be at any level; and this is the part that interests Linda Playma Lloyd from Grand Bassa County. As a result of the courage she developed during the mentoring, she contested against two men at the Mano River Union Youth Parliament, and won; and became a senior parliamentarian. “That happened because I gained courage through the mentorship program.”

Linda feels proud of her fellow mentees leading the Bassa Youth Caucus, a conglomeration of all youth groupings in Grand Bassa County. “She’s also a mentee. We have been able to make impact through our different awareness-raising we created at all the different levels.

“A woman understands when a woman is going through rape or sexual gender-based violence. She has firsthand experience, so she understands what it means for a woman to go through that. Therefore, she lobbies with other people to make laws that adequately address these issues.”

For Ruth H. Boima, the mentoring is more personal. Ruth struggles with public speaking like many of her colleagues in the program. “This training has helped me a lot. It was difficult for me to speak out. I was one person who thought that only men could take up leadership role, because they have always overshadowed us. But moving on, I will contest for any position, be it in school, community, or wherever I may go. I can represent [my people].” Ruth is also hopeful of a future where women can no longer accept to be backbencher. “Within in the next five years or so, I’m sure that many women will occupy those positions that we are supposed to occupy. Our voices will be heard at the table where decisions are taken. Only women can understand better the issues that a woman faces.”

Rosetta Fandollo is from Margibi County. Now a mentor, Rosetta believes the WEPL project has bestowed a responsibility on all willing beneficiaries. “Learning is not just for you to acquire it and sit home on your own. It’s not always going to be about money, it’s about you going to this young woman and telling her some of the things you have learned. You can even conduct a community meeting with your peers and teach them as you have learned. From what you have taught them, they would go out to teach other people. UN Women has played its part. It is our responsibility now to work with our colleagues; and that’s what education is about, learning to teach others and helping others in the process.”

There is no doubt that a lot is still required to get women their deserving space in Liberia’s political leadership, considering the many barriers imposed on them. However, a thousand miles, they say, begin with a first step; and the training of young women into leadership is one of the first steps towards achieving the dream of fair representation. Presently, less than 11% of lawmakers in Liberia are women. The growing number of young women with the desire to enter politics and leadership is a significant boost to the struggle for women’s empowerment and political leadership.

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The New Dawn is Liberia’s Truly Independent Newspaper Published by Searchlight Communications Inc. Established on November 16, 2009, with its first hard copy publication on January 22, 2010. The office is located on UN Drive in Monrovia Liberia. The New Dawn is bilingual (both English & French).
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