A SPEECH DELIVERED BY SENATOR NYONBLEE KARNGA-LAWRENCE AT THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’s DAY PROGRAM HELD BY THE CPP WOMEN
A SPEECH DELIVERED BY SENATOR NYONBLEE KARNGA-LAWRENCE AT THE INTERNATIONAL WOMEN’s DAY PROGRAM HELD BY THE CPP WOMEN
Today is International Women’s Day. All around the world, today is a very special day for women. Today is intended to place a special focus on the plight of women, and help nations to increase efforts toward the elimination of discrimination, injustice and inequality against women.
I am honored to be selected by the women of the Unity Part, Liberty Party, Alternative National Congress and All Liberian Party, the four parties that are involved in an ongoing collaborative effort, to serve as guest speaker, at this program, in observance of this important day for women.
It seems to me that your choice of me may have been informed by the fact that I am the only female in the Liberian Senate – the only woman in the Lion’s den, as I always say – and the only female political leader in the CPP.
Please know that I wear these “Only Woman” tags proudly, honorably and humbly. However, it makes me feel lonely! The women and girls of Liberia who are at least half of the population of Liberia deserve more than one female political leader of a major political party, or only one female senator.
And so, women of Liberia, I am ready, if you are ready, for us to produce more women political leaders, representatives and senators! The women of Liberia have the capacities to lead. We deserve to lead, and we deserve to be involved in making the decisions that affect our country, our children, and our future!
Please join me in a respectful moment of silence in remembrance of all women leaders of Liberia who have passed on, and yet, by their advocacies, leaderships and good examples, continue to inspire us to fight on for women equality in opportunity and income, as well as access to justice, reproductive health rights, property rights, and education.
Please stand with me, and remember by dear sister, Senator Geraldine Doe Sherif, and all of our female political giants who were so forceful, aggressive and passionate about pushing the Agenda of women.
[Moment of Silence]
While still standing, let us also loudly applaud our Vice President, Hon. Jewel Howard Taylor, for her ascendency as the first female Vice President of Liberia, and first female President of the Liberian Senate. Of course, we have heard her stories and the many challenges she continues to face, because she is a woman!
Let us also applaud Madam Leymah Gbowee, one of two only Liberian Nobel Laureates, both of whom are women. Leymah led an important effort by some Liberian women, in our country’s darkest moments, to ensure that we have the peace that we all enjoy today.
Finally, and certainly not the least, let us loudly applaud our other Nobel Laureate, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman to be democratically-elected President, in Liberia and in all of Africa, certainly one of the most influential women in the world today, and one who has inspired every girl in every village to now believe it is possible to become President of Liberia.
To all of our past women leaders, politicians, current and former justices and judges, ministers, directors. managing directors, lawyers, mayors, entrepreneurs, market women presidents, and women in local government structures, educators, doctors, technicians, women-in-arms, and women advocates; on this special day for women, we respectfully acknowledge, and pay special homage to you, for your service, your leadership and your inspiration.
WOMEN ooooooo WOMEN!!!
Eight years ago, when I contested, obviously with no political experience, to be the first female Senator of Grand Bassa County, I was overcome, as you can expect, with fear and hesitation. I was walking a road no woman had travelled in Grand Bassa. And yet, I felt the presence and support of women from all over the Country encouraging me to continue to walk along the path! I felt that although the experience was new to me, I was not running alone. Thousands of women who were not even from Grand Bassa were running with me, and I was running for them!
Women formed their own teams in support of my campaign. They traveled across the county asking for support for me. They cross rivers and streams, took to the bushes, airwaves, and telephones to call for my support. And yes, I won. We won.
The announcement of our victory cut across the country. I recall fondly, the celebrations of women in the various markets, and a specific story from the Gbarnga Market. Women there held their radios to their ears as they sold their wares, and jubilated when I was pronounced the winner of the 2013 by-election. Neither the election nor the victory was about me. It was about womanhood. It was for all women. We defeated three very strong men, to get in the space of political equality for the first time in the history of Grand Bassa County.
That victory has me here today. My political life is a testimony to the power of women believing and coming together. My political life is borne out of the experience of the power of women! We might not have all the women in this hall today, but the power and strength to change our country, to change the decisions affecting our families and communities, to ensure we pass laws in support of women equality, and to ensure women have the same rights and access as men all across our country, lies in the hands of women. The power lies in our communities and market places. I am living proof that the power comes from the unity of women for the causes of women. And that power is represented in this hall today!
As we stand together, and for the causes of women, our families, our communities, and our rights; as we seek political equality and equity, we get called names. Those who like and support us call us our Ma, or old ma. For those who don’t support us, who are either men or young boys influence and paid by men politicians, or even women who have connections with the men that we are competing against, they call us, that woman, that foolish woman, or that gronah woman. Lately I have been called a prostitute, and a husband killer for speaking against the issues that affect our Country today.
But, as they curse us and call us names, we grow in belief and strength. As they curse and call us name, we fight back not with curses but with better ideas about how we can be a better country. As they curse and call us names, we respond with more organization of our people on the ground. I want to say a big thank you to all the women who are fighting back! You sent a very strong message to say that we are even more ready than before!!!! This is 2020, you have to do more than curse a woman and call her names to turn us back!
We are here! And we are not going back! Our path is forward! Our mission is women inclusion and participation! Our purpose is women equality, respect an access! And we are not turning back!
The more you curse us and call us names, actually the more you confirm our strength because we know that your abuses are also the consequences of being considered a strong woman! I can only urge other women to know that we can disagree but let us not let ourselves be used against ourselves. Sisters, let us come together. When a woman succeeds anywhere, women win everywhere. Our voices must be heard, not in added abuses, but for the causes of equality!
Women no longer just belong in the kitchen. We belong in the living room, in the boardrooms, in the offices, in the legislature, and in the ministries and agencies. And we belong in all of these places not as token from our brothers and husbands and male friends but as our capacities have qualified us to also be there!
And yes, women no longer must just sit quietly and listen as her fate gets decided – as others decide if she is fit to own property, or blamed for being sexually abused and violated with no support for justice. We have opinions, and views that are educated and informed. We deserve to express them and to be a part of deciding the fates of ourselves, our families, our communities and our country.
The truth is when families suffer, women suffer the most. When our communities and country suffer, women suffer the most. So curse us as you like but women will stand up, be heard, and we will demand to share the spaces God has given us together. I can only ask you to join us and be on the right side of history because the fight for women equality and rights is only just getting started! And it is not going away until we succeed!
Let me tell you a story about my first experience as a female Senator. The first day I was inducted into office on the senate floor, I listened to my male colleagues debating the issues, using mesmerizing political terms and jargons, and making references to the constitution and the senate rules. I listened to them challenge one another and I said to myself, what the heck am I doing here!!!!! I started feeling a sense of regret take over me for being there.
During our second session the following week, one male Senator said to me “when you are new in the senate, it takes you about six months to a year to understand how the floor works and you will not speak on this floor until after a year.” That was my first intimidation. In my 3rd week, I raised a very crucial health budget issue that caught the attention of the entire Country, and the President. That problem was solved the following budget year. After my second intervention on the floor, I became known as the senator who hit the ground running as I was described at that time by the former Vice President and President of the Senate, Ambassador Joseph N. Boakai.
I became a part of the strongest teams and was being and is still being consulted on very important issues. What was the magic? From the first day, I said to myself, I am here to do what is right and it’s easy to distinguish between wrong and right, and to distinguish what’s in the interest of our country and what is not. That has been my guide ever since I became a Senator. When you work with sincerity, honesty and consistency, you become very relevant as a politician. Your voice will matter and make a difference!
Today, under a leadership dominated by men, Liberia is becoming an increasingly difficult place to live. Women have become the bread winners for their families. We see women in trucks any hour of the day or night, sleeping on top of goods that are loaded higher than the trucks from one County to another or within our ECOWAS region. I have watched women sleep as the trucks move and had to pull a truck over one night to reduce the weight and also had to pull another truck over after 10pm because there was no lights on the truck. Women appealed to me to please allow the trucks to go under those circumstances, which I didn’t agree to, because they were more concerned about the daily survival of their families than safety, some had gone for hours in those bad conditions and didn’t care anymore if they got there safely, or not.
Today, women are the organizers of Suesue (savings) clubs. They meet every Sunday and pay dues in cash and toiletries and rice for a different group of women to receive every Sunday to sustain their homes. Then they pay dues weekly as an annual savings for Christmas or Ramadan. This tells you that there are more women sustaining the homes than men. They pay tuition for their children with little or no hope for the future. They sit at the hospital beds at the non-functional free Government hospitals because they cannot afford private hospitals and yet they know the hospitals are without drugs and decent care.
They take their children to the farms with them to make farms, because there are no schools around their village or nearby. Children have become sellers for their families because that’s the only hope for daily bread. Some parents appear to be settling with the issues of rape because it affords struggling families a chance to be supported by the men who are engage in the cowardly and condemnable act.
Women are taking loans from the banks and risking everything they have because the interest is two times higher than the loans. They survive on, as we say, digging hole to cover hole! We simply cannot continue this way! It is not sustainable, and in many instances, it is wrong! We must change. We have to change. However, making a change needs more women actors. We must be involved. We must be heard!!!
Why is it so difficult for us to get attracted to political leadership positions, or to be advocates?
My only thought is because of fear that this is a man’s world or that men can do it better; or that women will be attacked and intimidated. Maybe we think politics is a game for men because they have made it so deceptive, abusive and dishonest. Maybe also, women are not financially stable to run political campaigns, or they prefer to use their finances for other worthy endeavors.
It is true that we are dominated by men. It is also true that they seek to intimídate us. It is true that we do not have money for political campaigns and would rather use what we have to educate our children and or care for our families. However, it is not true that men are better leaders than women. It is not true that we can do nothing for ourselves and wait for men to do it for us. We have waited for so long, we cannot wait any longer. Politics will not be cleaned or our voices heard, or the changes we seek in equality and access and rights given to us because we are silent, patient, and wait! The more women have power, the more our voices will be heard and the better our advocacies will become. The more women are elected, the stronger our ability to fight for causes of women!
This is why, however nasty politics is, we must get involved. We must support each other to help ourselves make the changes we seek. One woman elected will not do it. No woman being elected is even worse. We must look to support an army of elected women if we truly desire to seek equality and improve access to justice against rape and sexual abuses, and rights to own property, and be equally educated as our brothers.
Women are better leaders
Better care givers
Women can do what men can do, and we can do it better.
In fact, I am a better Senator than many male Senators……Hello oooooo
You are better in your positions than many men. I have to debate issues everyday in a heated environment filled with men. And guess what, when they disagree with me, it’s not because I am just a woman, it’s mostly because of the quality of my argument. They hate when we are on top of their games and outshining them. We cannot afford to dim our shine because when we continue to shine we are lighting the way for other women. So, we must get increasingly involved and tell our stories to inspire the generation of women after us.
We had a woman President, and the Country was being restructured and taking shape like a woman. Some people were making plenty noise. Now we have a man and we are not only making noise but crying as well.
We have now cried enough!
The time has come to stop crying and start acting for change!
Let’s set the team for leadership to include more women.
We are here as CPP women, and as we leave here. We must ensure that the CPP meets and surpasses the 30% women representation threshold in 2020 and 2023. We must encourage strong women candidates to get involved and contest. And together, we must win. Every woman’s victory is a victory for the causes of women. Every woman’s victory lifts the voices of women! The more women that are elected, the advocates women will have to pass the kind of laws we desperately need to ensure gender parity and equality.
The truth is that we are stronger together. Our strength is in everyone knowing that to touch one woman is to touch all women. And yes, if you touch our strong woman you touch all of us women! To borrow from our healthcare workers: Touch one, touch all…. [Repeat 3 times]
Women can set the Agenda to move this country forward. It means more women must become politically empowered. It means more women must get involved. It means more women must speak out about the ills in our society, and be fearless. It means more women must speak for the right reasons!!
Hospitals are non-functional; women speak!
School system is declining; women speak!
Rape cases are not been prioritized; women speak!
Salaries are being harmonized as prices rise; women speak!
Our homes and communities are unsafe with rising crimes; women speak!
Corruption has taken over; women speak!
It is now time to stop crying, and to be heard, loudly and clearly!
Lastly, to all the CPP women!
Unity Party Women
Liberty Party women
God has blessed all of our political leaders with the vision to come together, and fight for our country as one. Liberia needs oneness. We need unity, indiscrimination, sincerity, honesty, and above all, we need LOVE. Love for one another, and love for our country.
Bringing the four political parties together is a manifestation that we have decided to let go of our deferences. It means that we are ready for a Government of competence and inclusion. We are ready to diversify and decentralize. Our collaboration is not about an individual or a County or a party. It’s about our Country and resolving the plights of all Liberians.
Let me finally put up a challenge on this Iinternational Women Day to all the CPP Women and all Liberian women! Let us challenge ourselves to make 2020 the turning point year for women equality in Liberia. Let us stage the biggest protest for women equality, women rights and women justice with our votes. Let us identify, encourage and organize. Let us win with women, for women! We who will suffer as things continue to break down must now work to fix it!
The CPP is presenting us the best chance to fix it. Let there be no doubt: The CPP will hold!
Women oooo Women!
We need to fix our country!
If not us, who?
And if not now, when?
God bless you.
I thank you!!!