I don’t know how obvious it was where you were, but if you were in Monrovia yesterday and failed to notice it was International Women’s Day then I would say you are seriously unobservant. To mark the occasion, Monrovia has been the host city for an international women’s ‘colloquium’ (personally this word only entered my vocabulary about 2 weeks ago) over the past few days, which brought together eminent women from all over the world to discuss issues around women, including their role as leaders and arbiters of peace.
The latter two topics could not be more relevant than in Liberia, the first country in Africa to have a female elected head of state and one where women played a crucial role in bringing an end to a long and bloody civil war. I have just returned from the national stadium where I attended one of the closing events of the colloquium – an open air screening of ‘Pray the Devil back to Hell’, a film that chronicles the remarkable activism of Liberian women during the war. Through television footage from the era and interviews with key female activists, the film patches together the events that led to eventual peace in Liberia. An army of women in white t-shirts silently and not so silently protested their way through the war, confronting Charles Taylor and the warlords and even following them to peace talks in Ghana – where at one point they barricaded the participants in their meeting room, so frustrated were they at the lack of decision-making that was taking place. In the end it paid off. Taylor went into exile in 2003 and a transitional government took over until elections were held in 2005. In the words of one activist, the election of a woman – ‘sista Ellen’ (referring to President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf) – was the icing on the cake for the women’s movement.
I had entered the stadium in a last minute rush and on the phone to my own sister in England, and was more concerned about getting a good seat near the front than paying much attention to what was going on around me. When I stood up at the end of the film and as the lights came up, I turned around and realized that the majority of the people at the screening were the ladies in white t-shirts – they were wearing them as proudly today as they did back in 2003 when the UN peacekeepers finally entered Liberia. I was happy that I could show them my own t-shirt, which reads ‘Liberian Women are Something-O!’, which generated much laughter and photo taking (Liberians like to add ‘o’ to the end of most sentences).
The patients and staff at Benson Hospital also had their share of VIW (Very Important Woman) action over the weekend, yesterday we were visited in the morning by the Spanish Vice-President, Maria Teresa Fernández de la Vega and in the afternoon by the European Commissioner for Health, Androulla Vassiliou. Emmanuel, the protagonist in my last entry, won many hearts by dressing up smartly and presenting the VIWs with flowers, and has even earned himself a picture on the web: http://www.estrelladigital.es/ED/diario/100705.asp