“A challenged world is an alert world,” the International Women’s Day website says. “We can all choose to challenge and call out gender bias and inequality.” And that’s exactly what these three strong and amazing Liberian women are doing.
International Women’s Day is celebrated every year on the same day all around the world. It has been observed for more than a century since it began in 1911. The day recognizes the social, economic, cultural and political achievements of women globally, and it’s a call to action for gender parity. Every year there’s a theme and call to action and this year’s call is “Choose to Challenge”.
For this post, I spoke to three strong trailblazers about five major stereotypes that women deal with on a daily basis. It was amazing stepping into the world of these women and talking about things that each of us experience in our own space. I’m sure that some of the things listed below have been said directly to you (for female readers) or someone you know. That’s why it’s important for us to talk about these things and bring awareness to these stereo types that are the building blocks of our society. This year’s theme is challenging each of us to challenge our mindsets and attitudes towards gender parity. We need to intentionally stand up and speak out on issues that negatively affects women and puts them at a disadvantage. So, here’s to smashing gender stereotypes!
Stereotype 1: “Be seen and not heard”A man can be loud about whatever issue he choses, but nobody likes a “talkative” woman.
Atty. Moriah Yeakulah
Feminist, Political Analyst, National Chair for Communications at the ANC and Chief of Staff to Mr. Alexander Cummings
Probably one of the biggest and most dangerous stereotypes women and girls deal with daily is the idea that “women should be seen and not heard”.
This is so prevalent in our society that you seldom find women standing for political positions or making open criticisms of the system. But one woman is fearlessly doing that, Atty. Yeakulah.
In our conversation, I asked her “why is it important to consistently speak out on political issues” and if she “feels fear when she does it”. Her answer: “Liberia is the only country I have citizenship in, this is my home. So it’s important for me to speak out about social and political issues in order to create the awareness/pressure that’s needed to accomplish the change we need. How the country is run and the improvements that’s made is a result of the actions we take. But it’s not enough to just talk, we must take actions and that’s why I am doing the work I currently do (with ANC, a political party) because I want to be a part of the solution… “When it comes to fear about speaking out, I rarely feel any. It’s probably because that’s how I was raised. Notwithstanding, I recognize the risks associated with speaking out because not everything I say will be received in good faith and I can’t predict what people in positions of power will do to retaliate. So in those instances, there’s fear but I do it anyway… At the end of the day, the worst they can do is kill me. . .and if they kill me for speaking out, then maybe that’s what I’m meant to die for”.
Atty. Yeakulah is just one of many Liberian women confidently speaking out about gender discrimination in Liberia and we’ve heard the criticisms that comes along with that. They’re labeled as “loud”, “lose”, “uncontrollable”, “arrogant”, “feminist” etc. In fact, this phenomenon is not unique to Liberia. People generally don’t view confident women in the same light as they do men. This is once again tied to the notion that “women should be seen and not heard”. People want to see women a particular way so that a woman who refuses to be an object of sexual desires but rather forms an opinion and challenges the system becomes disliked. The same confidence and ambition women and men term “attractive” and “sexy” in a man is termed as “unattractive” and even ignored in a female.
Stereotype 2: “Be ambitious, but not too much”The same confidence and ambition that looks sexy on a man makes women “unattractive”.
Sexual, Reproductive, Maternal, Child and Adolescents Health Expert. Program Manager, SAFE, Marcy Corps, Liberia.
It’s no secret that an ambitious and financially stable woman intimidates men. It’s even worse in a patriarchal society like Liberia where men literally have more power and are more respected than women.
But there’s a lesson we can all learn from Delou who currently works as the only female Program Manager at Mercy Corps.
In our conversation, I asked her “why is it important to be visible and loud with your work and accomplishments” Her answer: “Because of the way the world is, believing that women are not as competent as men, building a visible brand is very important. With a visible brand and clear track records, when I walk into a negotiation room, there is evidence of what I can do and I don’t have to work so hard to convince anyone of my competence. Furthermore, I think it’s important to share because there are so many young women struggling to build their confidence and seeing someone like me accomplish everything I’ve accomplished will help them realize that they can do anything”.
Stereotype 3: “Every woman needs a man to take care of her”The purpose of a woman is not to find a man to settle down with, but rather be a whole woman who is capable of creating and nucturing.
We also talked about challenges around being a female manager navigating a male dominated sector. One thing that stood out for me was this …”Because of the culture we live in, men tend to get better treatment than women and being a strong headed woman doesn’t help. People quickly assume that you’re too ‘bossy’ a ‘bitch’ or act like a ‘man’. So, I always make sure to own my space. When I get in a place where I feel uncomfortable I don’t run away from the fear or discomfort, I face it head on. I intentionally connect with the right people and build my network. And I tell all my female friends and colleagues to never be afraid to take up space. Every woman needs to prepare herself to take up space in this world. With the way things are going (so many single mothers), women are no longer restricted to the home, they now have to work just as hard as men. So we have to be prepared to take care of ourselves and raise our children in the absence of men. The world is a hard place and the professional systems are set up to make it difficult for women. So we have to be prepared to work twice as hard as men and build a strong brand that can speak for us”.
Stereotype 4:”A woman’s body is meant to be soft and petite”A man can walk into a gym and pick up weights and no one will bat an eye, but when a woman does it, “she wants to be like a man”
Hennistta Wonder Nyagbe
Applied Economist, Senior Corporate Relations Officer at Maritime, Economics & Pre-Calculus Instructor at Starz University, Health & fitness Coach and Influencer.
Show me a woman who’s not insecure about her body and I will show you a “fit woman”.
Weight is a very sensitive topic for many women. The importance that society has placed on physical appearance, especially for women has led to a lot of mental health issues for many women. But Wonder Woman is here to break that stereotype, teaching us that fit is the new ‘sexy’. She’s not afraid of being strong because she works hard for everything she has.
In a country where people are narrow minded about what the ideal female body looks like, Wonder has courageously chosen to deviate from those standards-ish. “It all began in 2013 when I was asked several times if I was pregnant because of the little belly pouch I was sporting’. I was close to 300lbs at the time and now I’m 150lbs. When I first started exercising, it was just to drop a few pounds and achieve a healthier weight. However, once I fully committed to it a whole new world of possibilities opened before me. I was confident before don’t get me wrong, but being fit brought a different level of confidence. I felt invincible! and that alone kept me going”.
On coaching: “During my weight loss journey, I would post pictures and videos of me exercising to my Instagram feed (I still do this). This gave people at home a different perspective of what fitness is and how an overweight person could drop the weight without surgery or weight-loss pills. At first it was just motivating for me because you need that everyday after the excitement wears off. Now it’s more than breaking my personal barriers. It’s getting to see the people I coach identify and break theirs too”.
On coaching men: “I coach many males and I see their faces on the first day; it’s like can she even??? Then the workout is over and there ain’t any doubt left in their minds that gender is not a barrier.”
On motivation: “Once I lost the weight, I realized that the work is actually in maintenance. This is the number one reason why a lot of people lose weight and gain it right back. I learned that this journey is not to weight loss but actually towards a lifetime of healthier choices and that’s where my motivation comes from. Everyday I wake up determined to be better than the day before. Even with muscle building, I do it because I love the way I look and feel. I don’t have any issue with people thinking or saying I look like a man. In fact, I live for the moments when a man thinks he can challenge my workouts, ‘because he’s a man’. It’s hilarious watching them struggle! But all jokes aside, I do this so other women can believe that it can be done on their own terms and in ways that fits into their lifestyles. Just look at me, I work full time at Maritime, lecture Economics and Calculus at Starz University part-time, train and coach my clients, all while being a full time mom. Never let anyone tell you what is and isn’t possible where you are concerned and this is what the Wonder Woman Fitness is all about. I help all people bring out the wonder in them. We all have it in us to be the best versions of ourselves”.
Stereotype 5:”You can’t have it all”A woman can either be a wife, mother and care giver or “powerful” public figure, but not both.
Something we can all learn from these fearless queens is that, we each have what it takes in our own unique way to change the world! Women are strong, passionate and dedicated trail blazers. For centuries women have supported every sector; from mining to technology, medicine and doing business right there beside men. We’ve done and are still doing so much to make the world a better place and yet, our stores are not told the same way as men. This month of March is set aside every year to recognize the contribution and hard work of women like you, me and our guests above.
So, just as the famous Beyonce song goes “strong enough to bear them children, then get back to business” I am encouraging you to never let challenges and setback stop you from accomplishing amazing things in your life. You are more than capable of having everything you want and are willing to work for. Don’t listen to what society says, believe in yourself and your ability. You got this!
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