Monrovia – Most Liberian women will not replicate the political feats of Liberia and Africa’s first female head of state and many may struggle to compete with their male counterparts in a country where men have dominated the job market since its independence.
Report by Alpha Daffae Senkpeni, [email protected]
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has heralded the concept of women empowerment since her ascendency although several issues including limited resources and social perceptions are impeding the progress of female empowerment within the technical education sector.
“We are confident that it (vocational training) is coming and that too will make a major contribution to the Liberian people,” noted President Sirleaf in November 2015 when she spoke at the dedication ceremony of the refurbished facility of the Monrovia Vocation Training Institute (MVTC).
Although the Liberian leader expressed confidence, at the ceremony, she was also cagey about the maintenance of the facility, but for now, there’s a major concern looming: the low enrollment of female students at the school.
21 years old Yamah Somuku, a graduate of MVTC is now an instructor at the refrigeration and air condition department of the school; she reckons fear as a major impediment preventing lots of potential female students from aspiring for Technical Vocational Education Training (TVET).
“Fear of how people will take them; fear of how they will fit in the outside world…, this is what hindering most girls’ willingness to come and do vocational education,” she said.
Yamah suggests that such obstacle should be eradicated if female attachment t with technical institutions across the country will improved and translate into women’s contribution to national development.
“If the education of women into TVET is hinder, the progress rate of Liberia will be low, even though Liberia will stay be on a successful path but the country will struggle because of this problem.”
The current enrolment statistic at the MVTC shows there are 244 females out of the total of 2,759 students. Yamah was one of six female graduates fortunate to have extended training in China; she asserts that the current admission of females is quite impressive as compare to her days as students.
MVTC Director, Wilfred S.K Payne says technical education is a new phenomenal not just in Liberia but the entire sub region adding that it is associated with contemporary challenges especially for females which he also admits are pretty much unrepresented at the MVTC.
Payne’s optimism about stakeholders mitigating the barriers is supported by his expertise in TVET but the core issue of perception that ‘vocation is preserve for failure of academics’ – academic college education – is thwarting TVET’s progress.
“Sometimes they feel that the hard labor work that is associated with vocational school – they are not willing to do it,” asserted female student, Klubo Harris. Klubo, speaking in a rather exciting mood said many of her friends refer to her as ‘man-woman’ ever since she enrolled at the vocational school.
“Some of my friends see me that way (tomboy) because I’m dressed in a uniform like a man and doing the kind of work men do so they look at me as a man,” she said smiling, but was quick to add, she’s never deter by such public perception.
“I see the method of training of girls who have graduated from this school and how they are able to support themselves also motivates me to become a technical person too,” a confident 20 year old Klubo, learning refrigeration and air-conditioning added courageously.
She says some of her friends have drop out of school for several reasons but one of her very few female course mates, 25 years old Kpeze W. Mowolo, is inspired to stay at MVTC because she wants financially independence.
“These days we have found out that there are many men working while many women are just liability on men because we (females) are not career people,” she said.
“Some girls are relying on men while some of them just don’t want to do hard work but for me I think it is better to do something on your own then to depend on someone all the time.”
In Liberia, the job market is dominated by men – a country with close to 4 million people. And a 2010 labor survey report by the Liberia Institute for Statistics and Geo-information
Services (LIGIS) shows that 47,000 women are recorded as paid employees nationwide, compared to 148,000 men.
The United Nations stats also show that women account for two thirds of the world’s 774 million adult illiterates for the past two decades.
Gender disparities in adult literacy rates remain wide in most regions of the world, according to the UN, and the world body also stressed that making improvements during the next decades will eventually raise literacy levels.
Experts say Asian countries like Malaysia and Philippians are progressing out of technical education, but measuring the progress of the aspect of the millennium development goals associated with women empowerment is critical to improving the living situations of Africa’s poorest populations.
In Liberia, there are increasing concerns about the country reducing its human resource gap, and the looming challenges impeding female enrollment at one of Liberia’s biggest vocational institutes is crippling the stride.
Outlining his views on factors responsible for low female participation, the MVTC Director told FrontPage Africa during an exclusive interview recently that most females with negative perception of vocational training often degrade females whose are aspiring.
“Because of this femals are easily carry away, and some say their friends will degrade them so they show less interest in TVET,” explains the MVTC Director.
But for Yamah, who was born unto a family of Technicians, is optimistic that despite the complicated challenges dogging the increment of female participation into technical education, there’s a bright future ahead.
“I know that a girl doing TVET is on a successful path especially as the country is continuing its reconstruction process, so female being part of that process means it can be successful,” she said.
However, Yamah and her collogues confidence must be complimented with material resources backed by government policies in order to lure more of ‘their kind’ from across the country into technical training.
Ahead of the requisite support to technical institutions like MVTC and others TVET School across the country, experts like the MVTC Director Payne say sensitizing female about skill training will yield vital progress.
“What we have started to do is to create more awareness and sensitize female (that) TVET is the surest way to help Liberia – there is no gender bias,” Payne assured, adding that his administration is making progress in getting partners and donor support while hailing government for its support to the institution.
China spent US$9 million to construct the new buildings on the MVTC campus on Somalia Drive, Paynesville City and the facility was dedicated in November 2015 but in early this year just before the resumption of classes there were concerns about setbacks due to the lack of adequate support to MVTC.
Established in 1978 by a World Bank Educational Fund, MVTC has trained many Liberians by providing 80% practical and 20% theoretical training in TVET trades, including carpentry, masonry, electricity, plumbing, drafting, computer literacy, fine art, auto and heavy duty mechanics, among other skill sets.
The newly refurbished facility is equipped with modern facilities designed to meet the needs of training many young Liberians, and the head of the institute is rather optimistic bridging the gap between male and female students.
“We are seriously working with the MYS Senior Management to ensure that female students get scholarships or financial aid, to attend MVTC because over the years, we have observed that some of the students who enrolled here could not continue because of school fees, transportation and other reasons,” explains Mr. Payne.
“Women must be discouraged and should not also be robbed of these chances.”