The Niapele Project‘s country director in Liberia, Megan Sullivan, often sends hilarious email updates about her adventures navigating the intricacies of Liberian bureaucracy. With her permission, I’m posting the email she sent today about a meeting at the Ministry of Gender and Development (slightly edited, for privacy and clarity).
“So, yesterday afternoon was my second try at carrying [NDLR: carrying = Liberian way of saying “bringing someone”] Finda to the monthly women’s empowerment meeting at the Gender Ministry. If you recall, we went last Wednesday of last month but it had secretly been converted to a memorial service for a deceased Min employee.
So it’s not setup at all like a dialogue of women NGO leaders as I had been explicitly told. Instead, it was like a lecture where about 50 women gather to voice concerns and then receive a lecture on a topic of interest.
When the minutes from the late June meeting were passed around the tone of every meeting immediately became clear.
For example, under AOB [Any Other Business]:
- Korpu from War Widows with One Leg Vocational School stated that the Ministry of Gender should empower the women of Liberia by giving them support. But the GoL [Government of Liberia] is not supporting (ie funding) the women’s groups like they promised.
- Annie from Good Lord Jesus Praise His Name Help Us and Save Us Tie and Dye expressed concern that the GoL is not supporting and empowering the women of Liberia and her organization needs supplies and the staff has not been paid.
- Hawa from Bless Jesus who Died for Our Sins Hair Plaiting Academy mentioned – as she has mentioned at every monthly meeting since 2006 – that she would like for the Ministry of Gender to please give her funding.
- The women present decided to form their own committee to investigate how exactly they can better convey to the Ministry that they need some support. Findings will be reported at the next meeting.
Ok, so I was a little loose in my interpretations but that’s TOTALLY the gist. This next one, my fave, is a verbatim quote though:
“Rita Harper of the Women’s Empowerment for the Upliftment of Females in Liberia through Microloan said that she was promised rain boots by the Her Honorable Minister at this meeting and where are they?”
Approx 3:15 of the 1:00 (scheduled to begin) meeting we move past the prayer, greeting and reading of minutes and the surprisingly contentious voting on the acceptance of said minutes, and onto the main presentation of this month’s meeting.
Which is good and relevant but it doesn’t really help these women improve their businesses and you will see why the info was not incredibly helpful.
The guest speaker seemed like a bright, friendly successful Liberian woman in her late 50s (I would guess?) She has been at the Ministry of Health in the Division of Family Health for 30 years and recently became a consultant (or something) with the UNFPA for women’s health in Liberia.
Seems great to promote the importance of family planning within this demographic. She starts off with some stats (no visible notes with her)
- 983 Liberian women die during childbirth every SECOND (the crowd gasps)
- 983 Liberian women out of every 1,312 die during child birth
- you need to switch the type of birth control you use every 2 years or it will make you sterile
- a woman loses half of all her ovaries by the time she is 18, so she should finish school right away so that she can start having babies by 19
- The egg waits in the fallopian tube for the sperm to come and fertilize it (maybe thats correct, but it didnt sound it).
The women had a MILLION questions that were the equivalent of 7th grade sex ed in the US – which I guess is not totally shocking, but wow. One man there said that he had done his own research at a hospital in Lofa County and 70% of the children in the hospital had HIV. So he had the idea of asking the 70 % if they had been circumcised in the bush and then if they had used a clean blade. Which led to huge discussion on FGM etc.
And back to birth control — is it true that if you have sex standing up you can’t get pregnant? etc etc. One woman asked if there were different sizes of condoms, the guest expert said no, only one size. The questioner said “but my friend has a man that it can’t fit” Expert “he’s not trying hard enough.”
(I took detailed notes cause it was pretty amusing).
At the end Finda was like “So when do I talk about the work that Malaya does?” [NDLR: Malaya is the agricultural co-op The Niapele Project is sourcing food supplies from for our school nutrition program]
The words “business strategy” “planning” and others like that were never mentioned.
In other non useless details — the Director of Women’s Empowerment mentioned that women’s empowerment programs that make soap and tie dye need to move in a different direction so that women can build real skills. (The Nike/Clinton Foundation has multimillion dollar project on vocational training like mechanics and engineering and nursing and stuff for women in LIB). She said “there are no more grants for tie and dye. The international community has donor fatigue for soap making.” 🙂