Women play major role in building Liberia's peace

A woman has cast her vote in Buchanan, Liberia.
A woman has cast her vote in Buchanan, Liberia. Photo: UNMIL/Moses Zangar.

Nearly 1.7 million Liberians, almost half of them women, had a chance to vote in the October 11th elections in 2011, the first organized nationally since the end of the country’s civil conflict in 2003.

The United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) worked with UN and other partners to support Liberian authorities in setting up the polls, which were widely seen as a critical step towards continuing peace in the West African nation.

Resources from a UNDP-managed US$27 million donor fund were used to support the voter registration process, and train 95 professionals from 17 government institutions and 33 civil society organizations in civic and voter education.

Highlights

  • 1.7 million Liberians were registered through a UNDP-managed fund with contributions from Denmark, the European Union, Germany, Japan, Spain and Sweden.
  • UNDP’s microfinance projects help women and girls become financially independent by giving them a means to earn an income, providing them with professional skills, and promoting social and community life.
  • In 2009, UNDP trained some 17,000 destitute women to obtain microfinance loans. In less than a year, these loans supported recipients in setting up as many as 50 businesses in rural areas.
  • By the end of 2010, UNDP support to the Ministry of Health had resulted in more than 150,000 people receiving HIV / AIDS counseling and treatment at 114 new centres, and tens of thousands of pregnant women being tested for HIV.

In addition, 453 female candidates took part in leadership and political participation trainings. More than 80 percent made it onto party lists or became independent candidates for the elections.

As well as supporting the country’s democratic efforts, UNDP is working with Liberians for progress on the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs) – eight internationally-agreed targets to reduce poverty, hunger, maternal and child deaths, disease, gender inequality and environmental degradation by 2015.

UNDP is promoting gender equality by providing microfinance to women’s cooperatives, which then offer members loans to start businesses. In 2009, 17,000 destitute women – many of whom were survivors of violence – participated in trainings to help them access microfinance loans.

These microfinance initiatives help women become financially independent by giving them a means to earn an income, providing them with professional skills, and promoting social and community life.

“Women are more likely to use resources for the family, rather than individual benefit,” said Kenyeh Barlay who works on UNDP Liberia‘s microfinance programme. “They’re very adept at making small businesses grow with just a small injection of funds.”

Kebbeh Sumbo is among those whose raised standards of living have enabled them to send their children to school.She had been scraping a living by selling oil for about 20 years.

Sumbo received two loans equivalent to nearly US$180, boosting her business and opening the way for the purchase of a house and a warehouse. Her change in income also allows her to send her seven children to school.

“My old house had no bathroom. I used to go outside to take baths,” said Sumbo. “My new house has an inside bathroom, a closet, and a kitchen. I couldn’t have afforded all this without the microloans.”

Videos
"The Transition"

"The Transition" is a documentary about UNDP's support to Liberia.

Microfinance in Liberia

UNDP, with funds from Denmark, has set up revolving microloans that provide funds to women entrepreneurs, many of whom are heads of households.

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