Op-Ed for International Women’s Day Title: Investing in Liberian Women

The Path to Accelerated Progress in Development

March 8, 2024

Louis Kuukpen - UNDP Resident Representative a.i

Monrovia, Friday, March 8, 2024: International Women's Day 2024, themed "Invest in Women: Accelerate Progress," and amplified by the national theme “Empower Her, Empower All” is a clarion call to recognize and bolster the pivotal role of women in driving societal advancement. Liberia is a nation defined by resilience with a history that recognizes and underscores the leadership role women have played in advancing the progress of Liberia, this theme resonates deeply, highlighting the imperative to prioritize investment in women to unlock their full potential and propel national development forward. This year’s theme also entreats us to “Inspire Inclusion”, echoing the importance of diversity and empowerment in all aspects of society. 

Despite historical challenges, Liberia has made strides towards women's empowerment. Liberian women have consistently fought for equality, from holding leadership roles in pre-colonial times to advocating for recent policy changes. Their resilience and activism, exemplified by figures like former Liberian Diplomat and the only African woman President of the United Nations General Assembly Angie Brooks-Randolph, Former President H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Nobel Peace Laureate Madame Leymah Gbowee, H.E. former Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, the late Paramount Chief Suakoko of Bong County, Chief Justice Her Honor Sie-A-Nyene Yuoh, Senate Pro Temp Honorable Nyonblee Kangar-Lawrence, traditional leader Mama Tumeh continue to inspire progress both nationally and globally.

However, Liberia still faces deeply entrenched gender inequalities across various aspects of life, including social and cultural norms, education, economic opportunities, and political representation. This underscores the urgent need for action.

While advancements in promoting women's rights have been made, the majority (74%) remain concentrated in informal sector jobs (World Economic Forum, 2023). This is likely due to limited access to financial services, social protections, and childcare training (World Economic Forum, 2023). Furthermore, women hold only 10.6% of legislative seats (Inter-Parliamentary Union, 2023), highlighting a significant disparity in political representation. This gap extends to education, with only 60% of women attaining secondary education compared to men (Liberia Institute of Statistics and Geo-Information Services, 2023). These combined factors contribute to the persistent underrepresentation of women in formal employment opportunities.

In Liberia, gender equality concerns are multifaceted and diverse, encompassing issues such as lack of access to and control over land and land titles, reliance on informal financial resources, high levels of illiteracy, and access to sexual and reproductive health services. Moreover, sexual and Gender-Based Violence persists, further exacerbating the challenges faced by women and girls (Ortiz, 2021).

Liberia's significant gender inequalities are further manifested as highlighted by its score of 0.648 in the 2021 Gender Inequality Index (GII), ranking 164th out of 170 countries assessed by the United Nations Development Programme (UNDP) (UNDP, 2021/2022). This score reflects disparities between men and women in various aspects of life, including health and education. Maternal mortality remains alarmingly high at 661 per 100,000 live births (World Health Organization, 2019), and the adolescent birth rate stands at 128 per 1,000 girls aged 15-19 (UNFPA, 2023). These figures paint a stark picture of the challenges faced by Liberian women and girls.

The legacy of conflict also continues to cast a long shadow, with survivors of Gender-Based Violence (GBV) still in need of justice and healing. Addressing these issues is crucial for achieving gender equality and promoting sustainable development in Liberia. These grim realities are rooted in systemic inequalities. Lack of access to land ownership, economic and financial resources, healthcare, and skills development further limits women's ability to thrive. 

To accelerate progress on investing in women in Liberia, both national and global priorities must align with the overarching theme of International Women's Day. At the national level, concerted efforts are needed to address the root causes of gender inequality and empower women across all sectors of society. Globally, partnerships and solidarities are essential for advancing the agenda of women's empowerment in Liberia.

UNDP Liberia is committed to gender equality and women’s empowerment at all levels. Through collaborations between the Government of Liberia, civil society organizations, and the private sector, UNDP paves the way for increased investment in women and influences across various sectors. Measures implemented through projects such as the Liberia Elections Support Project (LESP), Rule of Law and Spotlight Initiative Projects, Growth Accelerator, and the Accelerated Community Development Program (ACDP) are deliberate efforts by the Government and UNDP to demonstrate tangible investment towards gender equality and women's empowerment. 

Investing in women is not just about numbers, it's about unlocking human potential. When women lead businesses and participate in policymaking, Liberia's economy, and governance are bound to flourish.

Investing in women in post-conflict countries such as Liberia is not only a moral imperative but a strategic necessity for accelerating progress toward peace, stability, and sustainable development. By empowering women economically, politically, and socially, we can unlock their potential as change agents and drivers of progress within their communities towards a future equal nation. The dividends of this investment will be felt far and wide, transforming societies and shaping a more just, equitable, and prosperous future for all. 

As we celebrate International Women's Day, let us renew our commitment to investing in women and harnessing their power to accelerate progress in every society; a call we are committed to. It is important to recognize the efforts of past administrations and the new administration in empowering women through political appointments, but it is the conviction of society that more can be done. 

The Government of Liberia through the President has appointed more than thirty (30) women in positions of trust to serve their country. This is highly commendable and serves as a good entry point for positioning women in leadership to contribute to nation-building and sustainable development.

By: Louis Kuukpen- UNDP Liberia Resident Representative a.i