Worldfocus correspondent Lynn Sherr is in Monrovia, Liberia, reporting on how the country is faring following its long civil war. She writes about attending the lively International Colloquium on Women.
Who says feminists don’t have a sense of humor? The laughter was liberating today in Monrovia, Liberia, where a two-day International Colloquium on Women opened with appropriate pomp, ceremony and wit.
That Liberia could even contemplate such an event in the wake of a 15-year civil war that destroyed the country’s government and infrastructure, and nearly its future, sounds like a very bad joke all by itself. More than 200,000 people died in the fighting; several million more were displaced. The roads are barely passable; bullet holes still make major buildings uninhabitable.
And when one American guest arrived at our downtown hotel past midnight this morning, she was stunned to be escorted to her pitch-dark room by a fellow toting a rifle. She was, of course, perfectly safe.
Still, the rooms are clean and spacious, and the band at the rooftop bar plays a mean rock tune.
After all, Liberia has had a new president since 2006 –- Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first elected female head of state, who has brought a new sense of promise to this West African nation and to the entire continent. It is she who dared to convene hundreds of women from around the world to help inspire her own countrywomen.
In the process, she’s made them smile, which is no small feat in this post-conflict country.
During the opening ceremonies, a young Liberian girl participating in a pageant of famous women in history charmed the house with her portrayal of Rosa Parks, the American who woman whose refusal to sit in the back of the bus helped start the civil rights movement.
Another Liberian participant brought down the house when she announced herself as “the richest woman in the world.” Who knew Oprah Winfrey would show up?
Actually, it wasn’t a house at all, but a leafy-roofed, open-air shelter in the center of SKD (for Samuel Kay Doe, one of Johnson-Sirleaf’s less beloved predecessors) Stadium, a recently refurbished arena that seems to be tolerating the foreign guests reasonably well. No plates in the lunch line? No problem; they’re washed and dried in just a minute. No spaces in the conference? Stand by –- a stack of chairs is brought in.
Plenty of stacks were needed for a riotous session late this afternoon during which two teams of extremely distinguished female African dignitaries entertained the packed hall with a tongue-in-cheek debate on whether we really need all those women in public office. The debaters –- elected and appointed officials from Sierra Leone, Ghana, Zimbabwe and other countries –- maintained a spirited dialogue, whose tone was set by moderator Bisi Adeleye-Fayemi, co-founder and executive director of the African Women’s Development Fund.
“Throwing shoes is acceptable,” she announced at the start of the festivities, “as long as they are size tens and Manolo Blahniks.”
Tomorrow, it’s down to more serious business. If, that is, there is anything more serious than being able to laugh at yourself.
– Lynn Sherr
Watch for Worldfocus’ upcoming series on Liberia in the coming weeks.