Welcome! This blog documents my experience as a Nancy Germeshausen Klavans Cultural Bridge Fellow with the Liberian Ministry of Gender and Development during my studies at the Harvard Kennedy School.

The views expressed are solely my own and are written to share experiences, introduce issues, and initiate conversation. Thank you for reading!

Thursday, May 10, 2007

Preparations: Humbled by the resilience of Liberia's women

As I prepare for my time in Liberia this summer, I keep going back to why I was drawn to Liberia in the first place: the extraordinary effort of women who have challenged societal norms and shattered barriers to enact change and rebuild their country. President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, first female president of Africa, being the primary example.

Three years ago I remember a friend kindly suggesting to me that Africa might personally destroy me. As an independent young North American, I had been deeply affected by women's afflictions and struggles while I studied in El Salvador. The experience led me to work with women survivors of domestic violence on the US/Mexico border after graduation, and it continues to motivate my development studies today. I remember this comment vividly, because what he said was quite true. At that point in time, confronting the brutal rape, social stigmatization, health crises and economic challenges facing women in Africa may very well have infuriated me to the point of despair.

Now I head to Liberia to support the country's work to enact a national plan to address gender-based violence. In a country where 90.8% of surveyed adult women suffered from sexual assault during or before its 14 year conflict, how will I keep faith? Why am I going?

The tenacity, courage and drive of the nation's women inspires me. They push forward in the frontlines of politics and in the trenches of communities. They love and they hope and they challenge. Their stories and gentle strength carry me to Liberia this summer.

On the left is Swanee Hunt, director of Harvard's WAPPP and Chairwomen of the Initiative for Inclusive Security, sitting with Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, President of Liberia, and the Honorable Vabah Gayflor, Liberian Minister of Gender and Development. For a great introduction to the enthusiasm surrounding Liberia, check out Hunt's op-ed on President Johnson-Sirleaf.

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