Getting to lead the United Nations' operational system (all of the agencies, funds and programmes) in Nepal as the Resident Coordinator at a time of multiple intersected crises is a major responsibility, but it is also a privilege that I do not take for granted. My first international post was a 4-month temporary contract in Nepal; and to return there to lead the entire UN team is uniquely special. As I accept the overwhelming show of love and support from Liberians at home and abroad, my reflection over the last few days has centered on the strength, resilience, and excellent achievements of Liberian women contributing to making the world a better place at home and abroad.
I firstly celebrate trailblazers like Olubanke King-Aukerele and Thelma Awori who cleared the path and let us know that Liberian women can rise to this level in the United Nations. As I follow their footsteps, others are following mine. Denise Findley is the Country Representative for UNDP in Jamaica, and Nessie Golakai-Gould is the Deputy Country Representative for UNDP in Lesotho. My hope is that they will not only lead individual UN agencies in a country as Joyce Mendscole, Sharon Cooper and I did, but will become heads of the entire UN system in a particular country as I am right now. Maybe one of them will be Liberia’s first Secretary General of the UN. Why not? #LiberianWomenStrong.
Other Liberian women are changing the world in various ways outside the UN. For example, two Liberian women won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011---her Excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Madam Leymah Gbowee. Madam Sirleaf made history when she was elected as the first woman head of state in Africa. The Liberian women who stayed in the fields during the war praying and weeping for Liberia are most often forgotten, but they were key to our peace. I honor them today. Her Excellency Jewel Howard Taylor is Vice President and the first-ever female Vice President in our history. Liberian women are trailblazing in civil society at leadership levels as well. I salute Faith Cooper and Massa Crayton, Country Directors of international NGOs in Liberia. #LiberianWomenStrong.
As diverse as Liberian women are in backgrounds, so we are in skillsets. We are market women, doctors, nurses, farmers, masons, and teachers. Liberian women have changed our society for the better. I want to recognize a few more persons in this non-exhaustive list. I am proud of Dr. Facia Beysolow, Dr. Kondeh Greaves, Dr. Iyabode Beysolow and many female Liberian doctors, who continue to serve in the medical field in the USA, with some coming home regularly to contribute to the Liberian health system.
Drs. Roxanne Browne, Benetta Andrews, Odell Kumeh, Bernice Dahn, Musu Duworko and Elsie Karmbor-Ballah are among a few female Liberian doctors who remained in Liberia, supporting crises including Ebola, and working in a challenging environment to serve our people. Doctors would not be successful without female nurses and other health care professionals who worked with them during Ebola and are now at the forefront of fighting COVID 19. We remember Ms. Cecelia Morris for her service and brilliance in strengthening the nursing profession in Liberia. I salute our women lawyers and their work through the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia.
I hail Liberian women in the legislature and, specifically, Madam Botoe Kanneh, who recently won the senate race in Gbarpolu County after surviving electoral violence in a race where she was the only woman competing against eight men. Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence held her own alone in the Senate for years. #LiberianWomenStrong. In the USA, I celebrate Liberia’s Naquita Ricks, who broke into US politics winning a representative seat in the Colorado State Legislature. At home, female entrepreneurs are overlooked, but they are trailblazing and sustaining. For this I salute Yvonne Bright Harding, Patricia Cole Adadevoh and others.
I celebrate feminist activists who continue to elevate the non-negotiable demand for human rights in Liberia and globally by showing the intersectional nature of violence against women and girls, covering economic, political, and social causes and implications. I specifically recognize the work of the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) and the Liberia Feminist Forum. I hail our female journalists and authors, and highlight the precarious spaces they navigate to bring truth to the people.
In this regard, I hail the Female Journalist Association of Liberia and individuals like Maureen Sieh, Eva Flomo, Siatta Scott-Johnson, Korto Reeves and Helene Cooper. Liberian women are doing the unusual as well. I hail Wiahdee Cathleen Hearst, a professional bodybuilder, who has gone from trying to live healthy after giving her aunt a kidney to winning first place in national female bodybuilding competitions. I celebrate Jugbe Theresa Headen – a little Kru girl from Rocktown (Ashmun Street Snapper Hill) who is now on American television creating art with food.
Our potential is enormous, and we must work together to challenge and remove the systemic hurdles that keep us down. Liberian women are known for taking it higher and doing it better. What am I saying? I am saying thanks for recognizing me, but I am not alone. Many women laid the foundation for women like me to stand on; and I stand with all my sisters and mothers with whom together, we will continue to build the formidable Liberian woman's image. Whether you are a legislator or teacher or one of the young girls who just aced the West African Senior School Certificate Examination (WASSCE) like Blessing Jalieba, Alicia Wright, and Lela Wahpoe, Liberia should be proud of all of you, and stopping men from raping and destroying you.
You do not have to be recognized by the Secretary-General for us to know that you are a strong, determined, and achieving Liberian woman. I recognize and honor you today. I dedicate this honor to all the hard-working Liberian women across generations from both of my grandmothers who were widowed very early and raised their children alone, to Frances Hayes (Monki), my mother, who worked multiple jobs to support her children. Thanks to Big Ma, Martha Myers, and the many Liberian Big Mas who supported not only her children, but many others of no relation to her. I salute the woman frying kala for her children to go to school.
Thank you to Liberian men like my husband Stephen Joeboe Nyanti, who stand by strong women and support them without ego or inferiority complex. For Liberian women to be all that we can be, we need for men to accept our God given space and cheer us on while we take it. Strong men support strong women! Thanks toWinston E. Beysolow my late Daddy who always said that I am an enigma and can do anything. He supported me in taking risks. Thanks to my family the Beysolows, Hayes’,Maximores and Newberrys, and the Liberia Baptist Missionary &Educational Convention (LBMEC), Zion Grove Baptist Church, Redeemed Christian Church of God, and Congress church families around the world. To my children and grandchildren, thanks for loving and supporting me. Thanks to all my siblings, aunts and uncles and cousin/siblings who support me. I thank all the men and women of God (my prayer partners) who stood with me in the hundreds and hundreds of days of fasting and praying that I have been doing through the years, especially when I faced Yemen. Thanks to Tanajah Nation (College of West Africa Class of ’84), my Cuttington University friends, old friends, and new ones gained over the last few days. Thanks to my community change agents in Montserrado, Cape Mount and Margibi, the Social Movement for Change. Thanks to all of you for such an honor, but thanks most of all to you the strong, brilliant, beautiful and talented Liberian woman no matter where you are. #LiberianWomenStrong.