Ambassador Michael McCarthy joined President Weah, Government of Liberia ministers, and other members of the international community at the National Observance of International Women’s Day on March 8, 2021. He spoke about the importance of gender equality and access to education for girls as well as the need to put an end to sexual- and gender-based violence. His entire speech is below.
His Excellency, George Manneh Weah, President of the Republic of Liberia
Hon. Williametta Saydee-Tarr, Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection
Other Officials of the Government of Liberia
Members of the Diplomatic Corps
Distinguished Ladies and Gentlemen
I am extremely delighted to join you today for the celebration of International Women’s Day, under the national theme, “Women in Leadership: Breaking Down Barriers in the Dispensation of a COVID-19 World.”
You could not have chosen a more appropriate theme. Liberian women, like women in many parts of the world, are disproportionately affected by the secondary impact of COVID-19, including the economic uncertainties created by the disease.
They are the small farmers unable to farm or sell their produce in local markets because of COVID-19. They are the cookshop and restaurant owners, the hair salon operators, and the neighborhood “waiter market” sellers who lost customers and income because of the negative economic impact. And, unlike many of us, they have no other sources of income – no salaries from government or private sector jobs on which they can fall back to support their families.
They deserve our special attention as we design and implement policies to counter the broad social and economic impacts of the pandemic. And this is what we have tried to do in designing United States assistance to Liberia’s COVID-19 response.
Our cash transfers program, for example, specifically targets market women, farmers, and other vulnerable groups, providing them monthly payments of $50 for three months – money they can use to invest in their small business, pay school fees, or meet other needs. And then there is our school feeding program that ensures their children are fed hot meals when they attend school.
But the fact that women are disproportionately affected by COVID-19 is a stark reminder of the need to do more – the need to knock down the entrenched barriers to progress for women empowerment; to uproot the structural impediments to gender parity that make women and girls so vulnerable to shocks like the pandemic.
And there is perhaps no greater impediment to achieving gender equality than the deeply rooted cultural norms and practices that favor the education of men and boys over the education of girls and women.
The facts and figures tell us what we stand to gain when we give women and girls equal access to education: A child born to a literate mother is 50 percent more likely to reach his or her fifth birthday. Women with some education enjoy increased agricultural productivity and income than their uneducated counterparts, and they are less likely to be victims of sexual- and gender-based violence.
The conclusion to be drawn here is obvious: Education is a powerful game-changer for women and girls. It is an indispensable tool for their social, economic, and political empowerment. It is key to ending the scourge of inter-generational poverty.
This is why the United States’ development assistance to Liberia attaches special importance to educating women and girls. Our current emphasis is on increasing access to education for out-of-school children and adolescent girls between the ages of 8-15, providing them safe learning environments where they can acquire basic literacy and numeracy skills and ultimately transition to formal schooling.
Mr. President, distinguished ladies and gentlemen: The world has come a long way since the first International Women’s Day was celebrated exactly 120 years ago today.
Over those 120 years, the annual celebration of this day has served to remind us of certain undeniable truths: Respect for women’s rights should not and does not come at the expense of men’s rights; everyone, including men and boys, have a role to play in the fight for gender equality; and achieving gender balance means more than simply expressing ideals about equal treatment of people under the law. It is also about how communities, societies and countries can prosper and benefit by fully tapping the energy, talents, and abilities of all their people – women, girls, boys, and men.
We celebrate those who embody this fight for gender equality. That includes the U.S. State Department’s International Women of Courage awards being hosted by Secretary Antony Blinken this afternoon. It also includes our own Embassy Women of Courage being recognized on our Facebook page, including Minister Saydee-Tarr for her outspokenness and commitment to ending sexual and gender-based violence.
As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, let us therefore recommit ourselves to doing all we can to give Liberian women and girls equal access to the rights and privileges enjoyed by men and boys; to unlock doors to opportunities that have been shut to them for so long; and to draw on their immense abilities and resources so that they are active players in Liberia’s journey to self-reliance.
And rest assured that as we work together to do so, you can count on the continued support of the United States. We’ve been here, we are still here, working together.