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Back from Liberia and ready to tackle women’s issues
By Katrinah Best
IT’S no mean feat when a Barbadian woman, not yet thirty years old, emerges as a prominent voice from an International Women’s Colloquium attended by over one thousand women; amongst them diplomats and global leaders. But then, Lotaya Smith has never had any intentions of living a life which would not stretch her possibilities beyond the ordinary.
When you meet Lotaya Smith, it’s immediately evident that this is a woman who means business. Accommodating within an in-depth discussion of her recent travels to Liberia, West Africa during the week leading up to International Women’s Day, you get the sneaking suspicion that any conversation deviating from the serious matter of women’s issues would just not receive the same level of attention.
She admits that she was a little trepidatious initially at the prospect of travelling to Monrovia, Liberia but her determination to broaden her understanding of women’s issues took precedence, and she found herself forgetting of her anxieties and soon she was enlightened as to the reality of life in the vast, diverse African continent.
She relates some of her first impressions, saying, “When we were first going over the country, we were seeing so much land. There were no houses for a long time. After we got off the plane and met the representatives from the Colloquium, we were then taken to the guest house by coach. The guest house also had a small orphanage linked to it. They take in kids because of the war. The people on the compound were very warm and very interesting."
Indeed, an overall energy was noted on the first day. “Everybody was all excited and they were greeting and hugging you. They were asking where you came from and finding out what the country was all about. Everyone was wondering what this Colloquium would most likely bring,” she shares.
The youth forum, for which Lotaya would become spokesperson in presenting recommendations, consisted of seventy persons. Interestingly, males would also make up some of that number with Lotaya welcoming and appreciative of a group of young men who empathised with and held general concern for the issues at hand.
Discussions would often begin in the early morning and would extend well into the late evening with room to really knock out some of the areas which cause women the greatest injustice, and for which the forum sought solutions. Lotaya surmises that domestic violence is the greatest concern for women, generally, and though Barbados may not fare too badly in the wider international community, work still has to be done in educating and exposing aspects of this damaging issue. However, there was no denying that the experiences within Africa appeared so much more harrowing upon discussion. “They’re trying to battle a lot of issues of rape when it comes to the African countries, so domestic violence is a part of their society and they’re trying to sort it out ... What we did was put forward what we think is required in terms of education and the issue of domestic violence,” she stated.
Such was the level of understanding that ordinary people from society can best contribute to their own livelihood that regular women from the community were also brought in to contribute to often frank exchanges of view. In fact, it was the diversity within occupations and levels of position in society which helped to define for Lotaya where positives could be gained for women, including herself.
She’s most pleased with the fact that Education is figuring highly within the initial recommendations to the Monrovia Declaration. Hopes are that these will impact global frameworks as part of the United Nations (UN) Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security and the protection and advancement of women through conflict.
As the only person representing the Caribbean, Lotaya is also cognisant of the fact that policy responses are not always going to be generic but understands also, that with a limited resource base to address the often unattended subject matter, the room is always there to share and replicate responses. “Interacting with those persons in Africa, you realise they want the same things we want in the Caribbean. It’s just that we’re in separate parts of the world but we’re all alike. We have different goals that we want to achieve but they’re so similar,” she says.
Settled back into work and family life, Lotaya continues to reflect on some of the tremendous lessons learnt through participation in the three-day workshop. She continues to believe that there is a greater role for women to occupy in assisting certain processes. “We as young women, we just sit back and let things happen and we don’t take charge in saying- ‘this is something I should be getting involved with.’ We just let things slide and most of the decisions are made by men. We don’t put ourselves in a position of changing things or in understanding what’s going on. That is why I joined the YWCA. It’s kids, one and it’s also about young women,” she states.
She’s also most optimistic that the signing of the Declaration of Monrovia by the Presidents of Liberia and Finland, will be instrumental in creating the way for a further step forward: “I figure something has to be done now that they’ve made that declaration”.