A Speech by Cllr. Mameita Jabateh-Sirleaf
Delivered at the 8th Inauguration of the Minnesota Mandingo Association (MMA)
Minnesota, 12 April 2014
Members of the Minnesota Mandingo Association;
Officials of FELMAUSA;
Members of various Liberian Associations in the Americas;
Various women’s groups;
Ladies and Gentlemen;
I am very happy to be here tonight. I want to thank this organization for inviting me to share with you some insights about how to empower women through education. One of the most difficult words to define is the word Education. There are as many definitions of education as there are educators. For me, I think there are two definitions of education that I like. Those, I wish to share with you tonight. The first one is a definition I found in the dictionary. This definition divides education in 5 parts.
Education is not only book learning. Education is what one learns from the cradle to the grave. We are educated through the experiences we gain throughout our entire life. We gain education every day. Some of the education stays with us all our lives. Some are important education and others are less important. Education is only important if you can use it, or experience it physically, mentally, emotionally, intellectually or aesthetically.
The other definition that I cherish is not from the dictionary. A friend shared this with me once. He said, “Education is not what you have accumulated in memory or even what you know. Education is knowing what to do and where to go to seek and find some information when you need it. Education is knowing where to find your resources when you need them.
So then, we ask the question, “Education for what?”
The answer is, Education for empowerment. Education for Social change, capacity building and leadership, Education also for critical consciousness. Education helps you to be aware of your surroundings, yourself, and your world. Education also helps you to learn about others.
Our theme today is, education for empowering of women for capacity building and leadership.
How do we do that?
Empowerment comes through education. When women are educated, they have the ability or capacity to make their own decisions and choices. When women are educated, they have the ability or capacity to get high paying jobs, and high profile positions in their places of work. For women that are married, they need husbands that are understanding and know that it is important for their wives and daughters to be educated so that their lives will be improved. The society from which we come, women always depended upon their husbands to be the providers in the home. Nowadays, educated women have the ability to be heads of household and to provide for themselves, but this is possible only through good education.
Liberia, Malawi and other countries where women are heads of states are examples of what good education can do for a society. It is a common knowledge that empowered women are protectors of and advocates for the continued wellbeing of the family. When a child is sick in the home, whose face does the child see late at night and first in the morning? Is it not the face of the mother?
Both men and women need education, but in this day and time, women need education most. In most instances, who prepares food for the home? Who takes care of the children? Who does most of the housework, cleaning and putting things in place in the home? Is it not women?
Girls who have been educated are likely to marry later and to have smaller and healthier families. Educated women can recognize the importance of health care and know how to seek it for themselves and their children. Education helps girls and women to know their rights and to gain confidence to claim them. However, women’s literacy rates are significantly lower than men’s in most developing countries.
This is what makes education exceedingly crucial, especially for Mandingo and other women. Mandingo women, for long were not given the opportunities to acquire western education. Most of the education Mandingo women received were traditional and probably Qu’ranic education. Boys were sent to schools and girls were left behind. The role of women were expected to be different and the roles of men were expected to be different roles in our traditional societies. There were straight division of labor. Even children had their roles. The women were expected to be basically homemakers, child bearers and caretakers. But in today’s world, men and women are competing for the same opportunities; same jobs, same education. Unless you acquire that education, life will continue to be difficult just as it was for our foremothers and those that have gone before us. A new day has arisen. We are at the twilight zone when the day of a new generation is breaking before our eyes. Things will not always be the same. The twenty first century brings its own challenges and opportunities we must face. Technological changes are taking place all around us at a speed of light. We cannot afford to regress. We must move forward. Or else, we will be left behind.
The same literature I quoted above also remarked that “The education of parents is linked to their children’s educational attainment, and the mother’s education is usually more influential than the father’s. An educated mother’s greater influence in household negotiations may allow her to secure more resources for her children.”
Today, the opportunity is opened to those who have the courage and the means to acquire it. This requires determination, hard work and the capacity to keep focus on your goal. If I can do it, you can do it. If other women can do it, we can do it. When you are educated, you will want your children to be educated because you will know first hand the values of education. That is the challenge Mandingo as well as other women face around the world.
As an educated woman in today’s society, you will likely be in the labor force, and your earnings will be higher. You will be able to demonstrate your skills and knowledge in your particular field like any other woman. It is not usually where you came from, but it is where you are going that matters. In most instances now, it is not who you know, but what you know and what you can do that matters.
Educated women usually have fewer children that they are able to support with ease. It is a blessing to have many children, but nowadays, there are just too many demands out there competing for our loyalty and allegiance, that we will have to prioritized and be discrete about the choices me make. In the past, our parents had to make decisions about which children to educate and which ones not to educate because they had too many children. And you know which children were left out. But an educated woman will make sure that she bears only the number of children she is able to support.
Women are an asset to every society. Women are the cornerstone of the family, home, community, and even the larger society we live in. Our roles should be more than just caretakers, child bearers and homemakers. We should be able to participate fully in our society and contribute our quota in building our institutions beyond just caretaking and homemaking.
Where then does the empowerment come in?
When we are able and willing to send all our children to school, (I mean both boys and girls), that is understood as the channel through which empowerment takes place. We should build a culture of excellence and inclusiveness. Being a Mandingo woman, I know that the road is filled with many obstacles that can make the educational path challenging for females. Being there, done that. I know what I am talking about. It is not easy being a woman in a man’s world. But the challenge is not insurmountable. The mountain is high, but with family and community support, we can gain the strength needed to climb that mountain. Sometimes, female students from Africa or from other parts of the world face a daunting task with cultural and social challenges related to identity, or health issues. Our girls should be supported as they achieve their goals.
When we teach our girls to have strong moral characters, and take on social responsibilities, we are empowering them through education. We as adults must encourage a supportive community that creates access/pathway to resources for our girls. When we encourage our girls to learn some professions, no matter what that profession is, so long they earn honest wages for honest work, we call that education for empowerment. Career development opportunities must be made available to our girls so that they can choose careers and professions they want. When we teach our girls to respect their elders and to respect authorities and keep away from drugs, alcohol and not engaging in or participate in habits that harm that is education for empowerment. When we teach our girls set goals for themselves and teach them how to love and respect others, especially their mothers and their fathers and all family members, we are providing an education for empowerment.
Education is not always in the classroom. Education takes place everywhere and every time we interact with one another. Teaching our girls at home and letting them know that it is important to learn their own culture, their own language and their meaning of the essential symbols in their community that too is considered education for empowerment. Only through education can much of our problems be resolved. I am not only advocating education, I am advocating the right education. Sometime one can have the wrong education. I am talking about a education with a purpose. And that purpose must be kept in view all the time.
I know you men out there who are listening to me will like to have a very good, well-trained and well educated woman that you both can make a decent living. The task of empowering women should not come only from the mothers. Fathers, uncles, grandmothers, sisters, brothers, and aunties are all challenged to create a conducive environment where women empowerment is valued as our primary task in society building.
Before I take my seat I want talk about leadership within our community. In leadership, people disrespect actions reflecting low or negative standards like dishonesty, arrogance or unfairness. So if you want to lead people—you must be fair; you must be just; you must be honest and you must not be arrogant
The next quality of a good leader is the capacity or ability to be a good listener. Listen to what your members are telling you. Be able to hear the yes in every no and the no in every yes. By listening to your members, you will learn what needs to be changed and what needs to be done. You will know what new initiatives to underwrite as a group and what to discard and abandon. The football captain depends on all the other 9 players on the team to move the ball from their goal post to the other goal to score a goal. He does not drive the ball by himself to the other goal to score. He depends on all the other players to score a goal.
Leadership is a team work. Leadership is not an exact science like Arithmetic. In arithmetic, we learned that 2 + 2 = 4. Leadership does not work like that. Leadership is an adventure because you can never be sure whether you will reach your goal — at least this time. So as leaders, you have to try again, and again and again, using other methods, other means, other avenues and other ways to get to where you want to go.. But you still use the same process, the process of good leadership.
Leadership is responsibility. Remember that all members of MMA will look up to you to get the job done. So don’t think your job as an officer will be just an honor. It’s more than that. It means that the members of the organization expect you to take the responsibility of getting the job done. Tonight, we honor you but tomorrow you must start work. If you lead, they will do the job. If you don’t they may expect you to do the job all by yourself. My husband, Varmuyan Sirleaf most often tells me that “every right is a responsibility and every privilege is an obligation.” So this privilege to be an officer of MMA puts an obligation upon you.
You know, leadership is not always to lead the people by going ahead of them. A leader who moves too far ahead of his people is bound to loose them and leave them behind. People who have gone to the middle east tell us that shepherds in the field watching over their flock, at the end of the day’s work when the shepherds are ready to take their animals home, they walk behind the animals and lead them to the sheep fold. A shepherd does not walk ahead, by walking behind the sheep, he sees which lamb or sheep is going astray, and he would go after those one to navigate them to their fold.
Sometime, good leadership requires that we walk behind our people instead of in front of them. That is why it is so important that you begin right now to learn what leadership is all about. Being elected as leaders of an organization does not automatically makes you a good leader. But it identifies you as a person who others want to follow. If you will lead them, do so by showing leadership, by giving direction. A leader is one who enables others and empowers others. A leader is a capacity builder.
You are not a finished leader. No one ever is, not even a president or prime minister. But you are an explorer of the human mind because now you are going to try to learn how to get things done through people. This is one of the keys to leadership. You are searching for the secrets of leadership. Many of them lie locked inside you. As you discover them and practice them, you will join a special group of skilled leaders.
Thank you for inviting me to talk with you tonight. I all of us will participate in the empowerment of our girls and women through capacity building and leadership and the community is looking forward to your leadership team for its good work as we strive to collectively – build our homes, neighborhoods, communities and the larger society.
I thank you.