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A voice of empowerment
by Idah Muema

05 March 2004

Monrovia, Liberia: My deployment to Liberia happened rather quickly as I was asked to report within two weeks. Being in West Africa for the first time excited me and more than that, working on something I enjoyed doing was even more exciting. As a UN Volunteer, I have had both good times and bad times. The arrival of a new colleague two weeks after I started gave me a fresh impetus in both my professional life and my social life. We put our energies together setting up the Gender Office and at the same time developed a work plan.

I remember one of my first experiences was seeing a group of women in white headscarves and white dresses gathered in an open airfield along the main road from the Roberts International Airport to the heart of the Monrovia. I saw those women at that same spot many times, until one day curiosity led me to inquire about their activities. “These are the praying women who have been advocating for peace in Liberia for months tirelessly,” was the feedback I received. I did get an opportunity to meet with one of their representatives and was impressed that these women have been able to do so much with so little. The women call themselves ‘Women in Peace Building Network’ (WIPNET) and have relentlessly acted as a pressure group for peace in the country. They have come to be recognized and widely respected by the society.

So far, my work experience has been varied. From attending meetings with women organizations to conducting training for the Liberian Police Force on gender. One of the most interesting activities has been the police training. Being a woman standing in front of twenty two male participants including one woman was not easy at first. The participants range in ages from early thirties to mid – forties and they were very keen to hear what I had to say about gender and culture and gender-based violence. Their response was unexpected as they were very open about their personal experiences. One participant asked whether forced sex within marriage could be termed as rape. The question turned out to be controversial and divided the class, but, at the end of the session they all had learned from each other’s varied views and experiences.

In conclusion, I would say that my experience in Liberia has been a journey to new and different places. From interacting with the Liberian Police in a classroom to eating cassava leaves for the first time at Lilly’s Restaurant.
UNV is administered by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP)