Most people would say that they have one, entire organizations are centered on the idea of one, and now, in Liberia, women can draw strength from them. Role models can have major impacts on the people around them and can serve to strengthen communities in ways that other approaches cannot. It’s the classic school of thought, “if she can do it, then I can do it.”
In 2007 the UN tried a gender experiment by sending an all-female, Indian police force into Liberia to aid women. They chose Liberia because it has been an area of intense sexual violence against women. The UN recognized that women are often more traumatized then men in times of conflict, because they are victims of sexual abuse. They brought in the women peacekeeping forces to aid Liberian women in ways men cannot: to provide security and comfort, to teach them self-defense, and to assist them in seeking medical care.
The program seems to being showing signs of success, as troops were just replaced last week as part of a rotation. Although the stories have been heart-wrenching at times, troops provide not only essential services to women, but also serve as role models for the population. The idea of a strong woman doing the same job as a man, and doing it just as well, can be extremely inspiring. More numbers of Liberian women are joining the police force now, for example. Liberia also boasts the only female president, an extraordinary achievement for a country so plagued by sexual violence.
At Barakat, we understand the importance of role models. All of our teachers are locals; many of them women, and some even graduates of Barakat’s programs themselves. We make a special effort to train women in the area of human rights, so they can pass on their knowledge of their rights and their confidence in themselves.
The UN ought to take on more experiments like the one in Liberia. With strong role models that promote healthy values in women, societies can grow in unimaginable ways.