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Interview with Naomi Tulay-Solanke (Liberia)






Naomi Tulay-Solanke


Naomi Tulay-Solanke is the Founder and Executive Director of Community Health Initiative (CHI) working at the intersection of women’s health and women’s rights in Liberia. Zeynep Meydanoglu who leads Ashoka’s gender justice work spoke with Ashoka Fellow Naomi Tulay-Solanke in the lead up to her participation in Changemakers United Africa, a collective effort to support social innovators at the forefront of the Covid-19 crisis. Forbes (https://www.forbes.com/sites/ashoka/2020/11/03/nothing-about-us-without-us-liberian-women-claiming-their-place/)


Gender Equality Statistics


UN Women:

In 2018, 26.9% of women aged 15-49 years reported that they had been subject to physical and/or sexual violence by a current or former intimate partner in the previous 12 months 35.9% of women aged 20–24 years old who were married or in a union before age 18 As of February 2021, only 11% of seats in parliament were held by women Women and girls aged 15+ spend 6.7% of their time on unpaid care and domestic work, compared to 2.6% spent by men. In 2020, 41% of women had their need for family planning satisfied with modern methods Employed population below international poverty line. Age 15+: female (47.3%), Male (43.1%) Prevalence of severe food insecurity in the adult population: female (85.5%), male (83.9%) Maternal mortality ratio: 661 per 100,000 live births Literacy rate: female (48.3%), male (34.1%) Proportion of women in managerial positions: 20% Proportion of women in senior and middle management positions: 20.1%


 

Interview with Naomi Tulay-Solanke (8 March 2023)


Charity Ketu

As a Liberian woman, what does the feminist movement and feminism mean to you personally? How do you incorporate them into your life and work?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Thank you, Charity. Your question is very interesting. Strong young women in Liberia are advocating for the rights of all women as members of Liberian society. Personally, I believe in gender equality, equal distribution of power, and transforming systems that oppress people living in poverty. I believe that feminist values can improve our societies and help us achieve the goals I have defined previously.

Honestly, it's a safe space where I can interrogate and challenge myself and others, allowing us Liberians to unpack our thoughts without judgment. Personally, the feminist movement has helped me to live that truth in the work I do every day. I'm able to do so thanks to the support and motivation from my community. Their encouragement gives me the motivation to get up and work towards change. We see inequality, but it doesn't have to be that way. If we want our lives to change, we need to get up every day and take positive action. The feminist values that guide us all stem from a desire to strive for positive change. This is essential in the feminist movement in Liberia, and I hope that change is possible.

Lauren Tran

Liberia's Gender Inequality Index score has increased by 0.28, and the country now ranks 177th out of 188 countries. What do you think has caused this increase in inequality?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Thank you for your question, Lauren. Our country is currently ranked 177 out of 188 countries, which is definitely an issue. While we did have the first female president in Liberia for the past 12 years, this was not enough to completely uproot the patriarchal values that are deeply rooted in our society. Even though having a woman in the highest seat of government was a boost for gender equality, it did not automatically change the beliefs and values about women that have been ingrained for generations. After the female president's term ended, many men questioned the impact of having a woman in power and argued that it was time to put men back in charge.

Women's rights are crucial to Liberian society. Unfortunately, inequality is a pervasive issue that goes beyond cultural norms, and the situation is particularly difficult in Liberia. We experienced a 14-year post-war conflict during which resources were monopolized by a powerful minority, while the majority could not even preserve their human rights. Consequently, our society has a complex and traditional system that perpetuates gender inequality. Women are often blamed simply for being women, and men have conditioned society to uphold certain rules and norms that continue to suppress women's rights.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

When attempting to achieve gender equality, are the alternative ideas proposed considered foreign and rejected because they are perceived as Western, rather than traditional?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Gender inequality is a significant problem in Liberia. While some educated individuals are aware of this issue, those in positions of power who take advantage of it do not want the population to be educated. This means that to combat the problem, you are not only working against economic challenges, but also against systematic patriarchy that opposes educating the population.

These individuals fear that educating the population will lead to demands for rights, which they do not want. They actively work against efforts to make people aware of their rights, creating a system that benefits from people's lack of knowledge. As a result, you are fighting an uphill battle to educate a population that lacks knowledge, while also working against a system that seeks to prevent the dissemination of information.

When fighting against a system that refuses to change because certain people benefit from it, the process can be difficult because it involves shifting power. People are often resistant to change that could result in being held accountable for their actions.

Harris McKeehan

How can women in Liberia be educated and empowered to take an active role in promoting gender equality and addressing gender-related issues in their communities and beyond?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

One of the main challenges facing women in Liberia is their limited access to education, information, and economic resources and opportunities. This is one of the most significant differences between women in our country and those in more developed countries. Therefore, it is crucial to address this issue.

Women and girls in Liberia should have the same opportunities as men and boys. Currently, men attend school to fulfill their potential, whereas women are often expected to stay at home, help their families, or please their husbands.

I believe that by empowering women in Liberia through education, we can narrow the gap that currently places our country at 177 and move closer to the top. Often, access to resources and education is what sets countries that rank in the top 1-10 apart from those that do not.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

What are the most common stereotypes about women in Liberia?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

The patriarchal system often expects women to be ignorant and obedient. Lesbians are often disrespected within this system. An interesting aspect of this system is how it measures its own strength by the ability of its members to reject ideas that may challenge traditional beliefs inherited from ancestors. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why women who demand their rights are labeled as "loud" or "rude," while those who continue to accept their oppression are considered the "best" women.

Harris McKeehan

Thanks to social media, humanitarian issues can quickly become a worldwide topic. What do you think can be done to raise awareness about the situation regarding gender inequality in Liberia, so that people all over the world can contribute to making it better?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Currently, we are trying to utilize social media and new technology. It is clear that this interview is a part of that effort.

While we incorporate new technology and social media into our strategy, we face challenges in a developing country like Liberia, particularly with regard to technology. As the rest of the world advances, we struggle to reach a level where our voices can be heard both locally and globally. It feels as though we're stuck in the 80s.

We have been using social media to bring attention to serious attacks on women's human rights as they occur. For example, we tweeted about the the attack on the former Chief Justice of Liberia and her daughter. Two weeks ago, we organized a protest in response and marched on the streets. Unfortunately, there was limited information spread about the protest. No matter what or how much we tweet, people ignore and disregard us as women.

We find ourselves in a river, struggling with our hands raised, asking for help, but no one comes. Is this the end? Will I become powerless and stop working one day? I come from a place where we started working when women had no rights at all, and we keep working, thinking that we will eventually transform the country. We believe that one day we will have a country where everyone is equal regardless of their gender, role, or economic status in society.

While social media is an important part of many people's lives, it is a luxury here and not available to most. To amplify your voice, you need to be lucky or have enough money to pay someone to tweet about you. However, we remain hopeful that technology can help us avoid our advocacy falling on deaf ears. We will continue to shout, even if no one is listening.

Charity Ketu

What does it take to solve the problem of advocating for women's rights in Liberia? What actions have Liberian men taken to address underlying issues that contribute to the gender gap?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

This system of oppression benefits certain people, and most men have benefited from it. Young men need to understand why change is necessary so that they can become strong allies and use their influence. We realize that while we strive for general equality, we need women in positions of power so that they can participate, be voted for, and vote. We also acknowledge that there is a power dynamic set in a patriarchal space dominated by men. To dismantle this dynamic, we need to engage men who are influenced and have them advocate for the change we desire. Men play a crucial role in achieving overall equality, so it is important to include them in conversations about constructing power and to help them see the importance of even distribution of power.

Gabby Campos

According to some sources, women currently hold only 11% of the seats in Liberia's Parliament. In your opinion, could increasing the percentage of women in office help combat the issue of gender inequality in Liberia? If so, how?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I believe that simply increasing the number of women in parliament does not necessarily change societal views towards women. It is important that women in parliament are knowledgeable and informed. Currently, even with the 11% of women that we have in parliament, many of them still hold onto patriarchal values that they need to disregard.

On the other hand, while some women may prioritize their families, their presence serves as inspiration for young girls who have been told that they cannot achieve positions of power. In my opinion, having more women in parliament is a positive step for women overall. However, if we do not address the underlying issues and educate people, we will not make meaningful progress.

Currently, not enough political attention is being paid to the needs of young women in Liberia.

Dominique Ordonez

How has the Liberian Women's Humanitarian Network, which provides a space for women to engage in collective advocacy and responsibility, helped to close the gap between men and women in politics?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I have personally seen an increase in women's participation in politics. More women are now opting for political positions, which is gradually increasing female representation in politics. However, changing the electorate mindset and the community mindset regarding women as decision-makers is a long struggle. While we have made some progress, we still have a long way to go.

One positive development is that more women are publicly declaring their intent to run for public office. This is a first step to breaking down the barriers that have prevented women from participating in politics. As we continue to meet and participate, we must educate the electorate on the importance of empowering women in positions of power. We must also work with women candidates to ensure that they understand issues related to general inequality, human rights, and women's rights.

We have taken a political stance to intentionally and apologetically respond to women, specifically in humanitarian crises. This approach has allowed us to engage in intergenerational conversations with young girls in the community about taboo topics and gender roles. Through webinars and workshops, we have been able to educate and empower women, and we believe that consistent efforts will shift societal views towards women in Liberia.

I strive to continue educating and empowering women in my community and contributing to society. However, our passion for change is hindered by limited resources. I am optimistic that political change in Liberia will create more opportunities for women to hold leadership positions in both politics and religion, which will command respect and authority in society. This should be our top priority.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Ellen Sally E. Johnson, former President of Liberia, is widely regarded as an amazing leader, known for her strength, independence, and intelligence, particularly in the Western World.

However, it is not uncommon for leaders to be more highly valued outside of their home country. Is this also the case for President Johnson in Liberia?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Currently, many Liberians appreciate the leader and the system in which she operates. Previously, I was critical of her leadership because I believed that it was time for the voices of those who have not been heard to be heard. I thought that she had the power to change many laws and policies, especially those related to preventing gender-based violence. However, she failed to do so, which was disappointing for me.

Now, with the current government's lack of leadership capacity, I have come to appreciate and understand the challenges that the previous President faced. She accomplished a lot, including creating a free space for women, girls, and boys to participate in and amplify their voices.

If you had asked me several years ago, my perspective would have been different from what it is now. In the past few years, I have witnessed a change in the way our leaders govern. Previously, they consistently violated human rights while defending the rights of powerful minorities. Nowadays, they are working to reform and consider the civil rights of all Liberians.

Terri Anderson

As of 2020, Liberia has an average of four births per woman, a number that has remained relatively consistent for some time. You mentioned that your lack of knowledge about the reproductive system as a young adult motivated you to study nursing. Do you think that this lack of information has contributed to the high number of births per woman in your community?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

One of the key issues facing women is the lack of knowledge, as well as the lack of power. Women should have the knowledge and ability to choose when and how many children they want. Unfortunately, in some cultures, girls are forced to marry and have children at a young age, even as young as 12, 13, or 14. This takes away their ability to make choices.

In traditional societies, women often lack the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about their bodies, family planning, their children, and necessary abortions. This deprives them of the agency they need and deserve.

Madeline Yarbrough

What are some of the barriers faced when trying to achieve hygiene and health education in Liberia?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Talking about hygiene was initially taboo, as cultural values had determined social relations for generations without including any discussion of hygiene. However, nowadays, this cultural resistance still exists, particularly among traditional leaders who assume that the knowledge and values being brought into the community are borrowed from the Western world.

Sharing this kind of knowledge with the community can sometimes make you appear as someone who opposes norms and believes in something different. Unfortunately, in Liberia, menstruation is often seen as a woman's problem and is not openly discussed. It is essential to explain that menstruation is a natural biological process that people should be informed about. To effect change, it is important to identify allies in the community, particularly those who hold influence over others. In my case, I found that men who held strong religious and traditional values were the best allies. They enabled me to enter the community and educate both women and girls about hygiene practices and the need for change.

Gabby Campos

What is the reason behind the stigma surrounding menstruation in Liberia, and how can this issue be effectively addressed?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

The stigma surrounding menstruation persists in our society, dating back to biblical times when women were not allowed to be priests or hold positions of power. This traditional value has been perpetuated, and women who menstruate are still not allowed to enter some sacred places. Many women are unaware that menstruation is a natural process, and some still believe that men hold the power to give birth. This marginalization and disempowerment of women is still prevalent in many parts of the world. Women have been denied access to spaces and opportunities simply because of a natural process, and some have even died due to a lack of recognition and understanding of menstruation.

We cannot choose when we have our periods, and men need to embrace and understand that it is a part of our being. As we continue to educate people and provide information, we can work towards breaking down the stigma and empowering women.

Charity Ketu

Miss Naomi, you mentioned that the origin of some issues women face today can be traced back to the spread of new Bible values throughout Africa. Christianity was introduced to Africa by colonizers. Before its introduction, Africans had their own religion and culture, unrelated to Christianity. Therefore, it is worth considering whether women's situation was better before Christianity's arrival. What are your thoughts on this?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I believe that in the past, before the arrival of Western culture, women were considered unclean during their menstrual cycle and were not allowed to touch their husbands due to the idea of blood, which caused panic for many people. This misinterpretation contributed to the perception of women as unclean. Western religions eventually amplified this belief, further excluding women. I think this problem existed even before colonization.

Madison Waggoner

I was wondering how the global pandemic affected the effort to keep girls in school.

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Compared to other countries, we were more prepared for the pandemic. However, we need to also look into how other African countries managed to prevent the spread of the virus using traditional methods. It seems that much of the focus has been on how we managed Covid, allowing us to live stronger lives than people in other developed countries with access to medicine. Despite this, schools were closed during the pandemic. One issue that arose during this time was that many girls became pregnant due to domestic violence, which increased significantly during the pandemic. Sexual violence also increased because most girls lived at home with their abusers during the pandemic. Because we were all asked to stay at home, many girls couldn't go to school where they had a safe space. Instead, they were stuck at home with their abusers, who continued to abuse them.

Terri Anderson

What emotions do you feel when your organizations, such as CHI or Pad4Girls, grow and have a real impact on your community, bringing about change?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

When I am satisfied with my work, I feel that one person can change the world, one step at a time.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out you are the new president of Liberia. What is the first action you would take with that power?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

My first priority would be to amend laws that limit women's participation in all spheres. I would propose new laws that are necessary but currently absent in Liberia, such as health and safety regulations. Additionally, I would introduce laws that criminalize harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), for which we are still advocating. Furthermore, I would order the removal of taxes on sanitary products. These laws will be signed into effect immediately to create an enabling space where everyone's rights are protected and respected, especially those of girls and young women.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Well, thank you very much. It has been a pleasure having you in class. It was inspiring to listen to you and to know that you are changing your country and our world.

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I'm happy to be here and share. Please feel free to call me again whenever you have time, and I'll be willing to come and contribute. Let's have more discussions about the ways we can all change the world.

Lauren Tran

Liberia's Gender Inequality Index score has increased by 0.28, and the country now ranks 177th out of 188 countries. What do you think has caused this increase in inequality?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Thank you for your question, Lauren. Our country is currently ranked 177 out of 188 countries, which is definitely an issue. While we did have the first female president in Liberia for the past 12 years, this was not enough to completely uproot the patriarchal values that are deeply rooted in our society. Even though having a woman in the highest seat of government was a boost for gender equality, it did not automatically change the beliefs and values about women that have been ingrained for generations. After the female president's term ended, many men questioned the impact of having a woman in power and argued that it was time to put men back in charge.

Women's rights are crucial to Liberian society. Unfortunately, inequality is a pervasive issue that goes beyond cultural norms, and the situation is particularly difficult in Liberia. We experienced a 14-year post-war conflict during which resources were monopolized by a powerful minority, while the majority could not even preserve their human rights. Consequently, our society has a complex and traditional system that perpetuates gender inequality. Women are often blamed simply for being women, and men have conditioned society to uphold certain rules and norms that continue to suppress women's rights.

Charity Ketu

As a Liberian woman, what does the feminist movement and feminism mean to you personally? How do you incorporate them into your life and work?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Thank you, Charity. Your question is very interesting. Strong young women in Liberia are advocating for the rights of all women as members of Liberian society. Personally, I believe in gender equality, equal distribution of power, and transforming systems that oppress people living in poverty. I believe that feminist values can improve our societies and help us achieve the goals I have defined previously.

Honestly, it's a safe space where I can interrogate and challenge myself and others, allowing us Liberians to unpack our thoughts without judgment. Personally, the feminist movement has helped me to live that truth in the work I do every day. I'm able to do so thanks to the support and motivation from my community. Their encouragement gives me the motivation to get up and work towards change. We see inequality, but it doesn't have to be that way. If we want our lives to change, we need to get up every day and take positive action. The feminist values that guide us all stem from a desire to strive for positive change. This is essential in the feminist movement in Liberia, and I hope that change is possible.

Harris McKeehan

Thanks to social media, humanitarian issues can quickly become a worldwide topic. What do you think can be done to raise awareness about the situation regarding gender inequality in Liberia, so that people all over the world can contribute to making it better?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Currently, we are trying to utilize social media and new technology. It is clear that this interview is a part of that effort.

While we incorporate new technology and social media into our strategy, we face challenges in a developing country like Liberia, particularly with regard to technology. As the rest of the world advances, we struggle to reach a level where our voices can be heard both locally and globally. It feels as though we're stuck in the 80s.

We have been using social media to bring attention to serious attacks on women's human rights as they occur. For example, we tweeted about the the attack on the former Chief Justice of Liberia and her daughter. Two weeks ago, we organized a protest in response and marched on the streets. Unfortunately, there was limited information spread about the protest. No matter what or how much we tweet, people ignore and disregard us as women.

We find ourselves in a river, struggling with our hands raised, asking for help, but no one comes. Is this the end? Will I become powerless and stop working one day? I come from a place where we started working when women had no rights at all, and we keep working, thinking that we will eventually transform the country. We believe that one day we will have a country where everyone is equal regardless of their gender, role, or economic status in society.

While social media is an important part of many people's lives, it is a luxury here and not available to most. To amplify your voice, you need to be lucky or have enough money to pay someone to tweet about you. However, we remain hopeful that technology can help us avoid our advocacy falling on deaf ears. We will continue to shout, even if no one is listening.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Thank you for your interesting response.

Ellen Sally E. Johnson, former President of Liberia, is widely regarded as an amazing leader, known for her strength, independence, and intelligence, particularly in the Western World.

However, it is not uncommon for leaders to be more highly valued outside of their home country. Is this also the case for President Johnson in Liberia?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Currently, many Liberians appreciate the leader and the system in which she operates. Previously, I was critical of her leadership because I believed that it was time for the voices of those who have not been heard to be heard. I thought that she had the power to change many laws and policies, especially those related to preventing gender-based violence. However, she failed to do so, which was disappointing for me.

Now, with the current government's lack of leadership capacity, I have come to appreciate and understand the challenges that the previous President faced. She accomplished a lot, including creating a free space for women, girls, and boys to participate in and amplify their voices.

If you had asked me several years ago, my perspective would have been different from what it is now. In the past few years, I have witnessed a change in the way our leaders govern. Previously, they consistently violated human rights while defending the rights of powerful minorities. Nowadays, they are working to reform and consider the civil rights of all Liberians.

Harris McKeehan

How can women in Liberia be educated and empowered to take an active role in promoting gender equality and addressing gender-related issues in their communities and beyond?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

One of the main challenges facing women in Liberia is their limited access to education, information, and economic resources and opportunities. This is one of the most significant differences between women in our country and those in more developed countries. Therefore, it is crucial to address this issue.

Women and girls in Liberia should have the same opportunities as men and boys. Currently, men attend school to fulfill their potential, whereas women are often expected to stay at home, help their families, or please their husbands.

I believe that by empowering women in Liberia through education, we can narrow the gap that currently places our country at 177 and move closer to the top. Often, access to resources and education is what sets countries that rank in the top 1-10 apart from those that do not.

Madeline Yarbrough

What are some of the barriers faced when trying to achieve hygiene and health education in Liberia?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Talking about hygiene was initially taboo, as cultural values had determined social relations for generations without including any discussion of hygiene. However, nowadays, this cultural resistance still exists, particularly among traditional leaders who assume that the knowledge and values being brought into the community are borrowed from the Western world.

Sharing this kind of knowledge with the community can sometimes make you appear as someone who opposes norms and believes in something different. Unfortunately, in Liberia, menstruation is often seen as a woman's problem and is not openly discussed. It is essential to explain that menstruation is a natural biological process that people should be informed about. To effect change, it is important to identify allies in the community, particularly those who hold influence over others. In my case, I found that men who held strong religious and traditional values were the best allies. They enabled me to enter the community and educate both women and girls about hygiene practices and the need for change.

Terri Anderson

As of 2020, Liberia has an average of four births per woman, a number that has remained relatively consistent for some time. You mentioned that your lack of knowledge about the reproductive system as a young adult motivated you to study nursing. Do you think that this lack of information has contributed to the high number of births per woman in your community?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

One of the key issues facing women is the lack of knowledge, as well as the lack of power. Women should have the knowledge and ability to choose when and how many children they want. Unfortunately, in some cultures, girls are forced to marry and have children at a young age, even as young as 12, 13, or 14. This takes away their ability to make choices.

In traditional societies, women often lack the knowledge necessary to make informed decisions about their bodies, family planning, their children, and necessary abortions. This deprives them of the agency they need and deserve.

Gabby Campos

According to some sources, women currently hold only 11% of the seats in Liberia's Parliament. In your opinion, could increasing the percentage of women in office help combat the issue of gender inequality in Liberia? If so, how?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I believe that simply increasing the number of women in parliament does not necessarily change societal views towards women. It is important that women in parliament are knowledgeable and informed. Currently, even with the 11% of women that we have in parliament, many of them still hold onto patriarchal values that they need to disregard.

On the other hand, while some women may prioritize their families, their presence serves as inspiration for young girls who have been told that they cannot achieve positions of power. In my opinion, having more women in parliament is a positive step for women overall. However, if we do not address the underlying issues and educate people, we will not make meaningful progress.

Currently, not enough political attention is being paid to the needs of young women in Liberia.

Dominique Ordonez

How has the Liberian Women's Humanitarian Network, which provides a space for women to engage in collective advocacy and responsibility, helped to close the gap between men and women in politics?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

We have taken a political stance to intentionally and apologetically respond to women, specifically in humanitarian crises. This approach has allowed us to engage in intergenerational conversations with young girls in the community about taboo topics and gender roles. Through webinars and workshops, we have been able to educate and empower women, and we believe that consistent efforts will shift societal views towards women in Liberia.

I strive to continue educating and empowering women in my community and contributing to society. However, our passion for change is hindered by limited resources. I am optimistic that political change in Liberia will create more opportunities for women to hold leadership positions in both politics and religion, which will command respect and authority in society. This should be our top priority.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

When attempting to achieve gender equality, are the alternative ideas proposed considered foreign and rejected because they are perceived as Western, rather than traditional?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Gender inequality is a significant problem in Liberia. While some educated individuals are aware of this issue, those in positions of power who take advantage of it do not want the population to be educated. This means that to combat the problem, you are not only working against economic challenges, but also against systematic patriarchy that opposes educating the population.

These individuals fear that educating the population will lead to demands for rights, which they do not want. They actively work against efforts to make people aware of their rights, creating a system that benefits from people's lack of knowledge. As a result, you are fighting an uphill battle to educate a population that lacks knowledge, while also working against a system that seeks to prevent the dissemination of information.

When fighting against a system that refuses to change because certain people benefit from it, the process can be difficult because it involves shifting power. People are often resistant to change that could result in being held accountable for their actions.

Joel Dougay

Do you believe that the initiatives of the non-profit organization you are a part of helps to increase the representation of women in parliament?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I have personally seen an increase in women's participation in politics. More women are now opting for political positions, which is gradually increasing female representation in politics. However, changing the electorate mindset and the community mindset regarding women as decision-makers is a long struggle. While we have made some progress, we still have a long way to go.

One positive development is that more women are publicly declaring their intent to run for public office. This is a first step to breaking down the barriers that have prevented women from participating in politics. As we continue to meet and participate, we must educate the electorate on the importance of empowering women in positions of power. We must also work with women candidates to ensure that they understand issues related to general inequality, human rights, and women's rights.

Charity Ketu

What does it take to solve the problem of advocating for women's rights in Liberia? What actions have Liberian men taken to address underlying issues that contribute to the gender gap?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

This system of oppression benefits certain people, and most men have benefited from it. Young men need to understand why change is necessary so that they can become strong allies and use their influence. We realize that while we strive for general equality, we need women in positions of power so that they can participate, be voted for, and vote. We also acknowledge that there is a power dynamic set in a patriarchal space dominated by men. To dismantle this dynamic, we need to engage men who are influenced and have them advocate for the change we desire. Men play a crucial role in achieving overall equality, so it is important to include them in conversations about constructing power and to help them see the importance of even distribution of power.

Gabby Campos

What is the reason behind the stigma surrounding menstruation in Liberia, and how can this issue be effectively addressed?


Naomi Tulay-Solanke

The stigma surrounding menstruation persists in our society, dating back to biblical times when women were not allowed to be priests or hold positions of power. This traditional value has been perpetuated, and women who menstruate are still not allowed to enter some sacred places. Many women are unaware that menstruation is a natural process, and some still believe that men hold the power to give birth. This marginalization and disempowerment of women is still prevalent in many parts of the world. Women have been denied access to spaces and opportunities simply because of a natural process, and some have even died due to a lack of recognition and understanding of menstruation.

We cannot choose when we have our periods, and men need to embrace and understand that it is a part of our being. As we continue to educate people and provide information, we can work towards breaking down the stigma and empowering women.

Charity Ketu

Miss Naomi, you mentioned that the origin of some issues women face today can be traced back to the spread of new Bible values throughout Africa. Christianity was introduced to Africa by colonizers. Before its introduction, Africans had their own religion and culture, unrelated to Christianity. Therefore, it is worth considering whether women's situation was better before Christianity's arrival. What are your thoughts on this?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I believe that in the past, before the arrival of Western culture, women were considered unclean during their menstrual cycle and were not allowed to touch their husbands due to the idea of blood, which caused panic for many people. This misinterpretation contributed to the perception of women as unclean. Western religions eventually amplified this belief, further excluding women. I think this problem existed even before colonization.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

What are the most common stereotypes about women in Liberia?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

The patriarchal system often expects women to be ignorant and obedient. Lesbians are often disrespected within this system. An interesting aspect of this system is how it measures its own strength by the ability of its members to reject ideas that may challenge traditional beliefs inherited from ancestors. Therefore, it is not difficult to understand why women who demand their rights are labeled as "loud" or "rude," while those who continue to accept their oppression are considered the "best" women.

Madison Waggoner

I was wondering how the global pandemic affected the effort to keep girls in school.

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

Compared to other countries, we were more prepared for the pandemic. However, we need to also look into how other African countries managed to prevent the spread of the virus using traditional methods. It seems that much of the focus has been on how we managed Covid, allowing us to live stronger lives than people in other developed countries with access to medicine. Despite this, schools were closed during the pandemic. One issue that arose during this time was that many girls became pregnant due to domestic violence, which increased significantly during the pandemic. Sexual violence also increased because most girls lived at home with their abusers during the pandemic. Because we were all asked to stay at home, many girls couldn't go to school where they had a safe space. Instead, they were stuck at home with their abusers, who continued to abuse them.

Terri Anderson

What emotions do you feel when your organizations, such as CHI or Pad4Girls, grow and have a real impact on your community, bringing about change?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

When I am satisfied with my work, I feel that one person can change the world, one step at a time.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Imagine waking up tomorrow and finding out you are the new president of Liberia. What is the first action you would take with that power?

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

My first priority would be to amend laws that limit women's participation in all spheres. I would propose new laws that are necessary but currently absent in Liberia, such as health and safety regulations. Additionally, I would introduce laws that criminalize harmful traditional practices like female genital mutilation (FGM), for which we are still advocating. Furthermore, I would order the removal of taxes on sanitary products. These laws will be signed into effect immediately to create an enabling space where everyone's rights are protected and respected, especially those of girls and young women.

Juan Carlos Sola-Corbacho

Well, thank you very much. It has been a pleasure having you in class. It was inspiring to listen to you and to know that you are changing your country and our world.

Naomi Tulay-Solanke

I'm happy to be here and share. Please feel free to call me again whenever you have time, and I'll be willing to come and contribute. Let's have more discussions about the ways we can all change the world.

Thank you to Charity Ketu, Lauren Tran, Harris McKeehan, Gabby Campos, Dominique Ordonez, Terri Anderson, Madeline Yarbrough, and Madison Waggoner for participating in the interview.


 


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