March 8 is designated as International Women’s Day, and every year celebrations are held worldwide to highlight women’s social, political, and economic achievements.
AWEP-L, an NGO dedicated to the development and support of women entrepreneurs throughout Liberia, was founded on International Women’s Day in 2012 and hosted the IWD event in Tappita.
“I can think of no better way to recognize the achievements of women in Liberia than to celebrate the third anniversary of AWEP-Liberia,” Ambassador Malac said. “The initiative was conceived by the U.S. Government, and launched by former Secretary of State Hillary Clinton in Lusaka, Zambia in 2011 to help strengthen African women entrepreneurs to build their capacities so that they contribute to the economic development of their countries.”
“Ambassador Rugge Barry, with strong support from the Ministry of Commerce and Industry, took that concept from Lusaka and ran with it,” the Ambassador continued, “building a powerful network of Liberian businesswomen committed to strengthening women-led business and industry and increasing trade regionally and to U.S. markets through the African Growth and Opportunity Act (AGOA).”
In Liberia, women comprise more than half of the labor force in the formal and informal sectors and carry out more than 80 percent of trading activities in the rural areas in addition to daily household chores. For those engaged in enterprise, 99 percent of women entrepreneurs run small businesses. The incomes generated by these businesses sustain households and ensure investment in education and health for families. Liberian women entrepreneurs have the ambition and drive needed to succeed and grow their business. AWEP aims to provide them with other necessary tools.
“Here in Nimba County,” Ambassador Malac said, “where agriculture is a critical part of the economy, women play an even more specific role. As I’ve often heard the Minister of Agriculture say, the typical agriculture worker in Liberia is a woman and she is about 40 years old. These women are essential in the Government of Liberia’s strategy to turn agriculture into entrepreneurship, and then generate additional on- and off-farm employment.”
Mary Broh, Director-General of the General Services Agency, encouraged women to continue working with AWEP not only to be able to start successful small businesses, but to grow those businesses and create value-added products that can be exported. She said there is a large market for Liberian products from Liberians in the United States. She also said that by growing their businesses, women entrepreneurs will improve their ability to make their voices heard in Liberian government and society.
Ambassador Malac also took advantage of the trip upcountry to visit several USAID projects in Nimba and Bong counties. She drove along a 29 kilometer farm-to-market road, linking Tolomai and Palala in Bong County, which is currently under rehabilitation through USAID’s Farm to Market Road Rehabilitation activity.
The U.S. Ambassador met with young women supported by the USAID Liberian Agricultural Upgrading, Nutrition And Child Health (LAUNCH) activity at another IWD celebration in the Blapa Community in Nimba County. The young women of Blapa have led their community in improving economic opportunities such as improved poultry production; improved water, sanitation, and hygiene practices, including anti-Ebola messaging; and rehabilitated their community school and strengthened the Parent Teacher Association.
The U.S. Ambassador also visited Domah Town, Nimba County, where the community, led by carefully selected “natural leaders,” was able to completely eliminate open defecation in only three months. Of the 283 communities that obtained “open defecation free” status through the USAID-supported Improving Water Supply, Sanitation and Hygiene (IWASH) activity, none was affected by Ebola.
Ambassador Malac also ceremonially “flipped the switch” on a newly-installed solar lighting system at the Nyakoi Bee School in Palala, Bong County. The system, supported through the USAID Advancing Youth Project, will allow adult learners to attend basic education classes in the evenings since most are occupied with income-generating activities during the day.
The Ambassador also commented on International Women’s Day and her experiences in the counties through appearances on radio programs at Radio Gbarnga and Radio Kergaimah in Ganta.