2021 - 16 Days of Activism

Musu Diamond Kamara: When one woman is affronted, all of us are affronted (Liberia)

In 2014, Musu Kamara stood for election as president of her high school student council. What happened on the eve of the vote would shape her path in life.

That day, the high school principal cancelled the election, announced a new one would be held and asked that only boys apply as candidates.

Musu Diamond Kamara: When one woman is affronted, all of us are affronted (Liberia)

Musu and another girl who had campaigned would not be allowed to run. “Everybody felt disenfranchised,” Musu recalls.

That year there was no student election at her high school in Monrovia, capital of Liberia in West Africa.

The seeds of Musu’s enthusiasm for human rights had been planted.

Excelling in science, Musu embarked on post-secondary environmental studies after graduation.

Prompted by the high school events and motivated by her life as the daughter of a single mom, Musu also volunteered for women’s organizations.

One of them was the Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH). That’s where she was mentored from volunteer to program manager, her current position. And that’s where she found her passion.

“Human rights, it’s my life’s work,” Musu said in an interview. She is 24.

Her political activism ranges from inclusion of youth in decision-making bodies to increased representation of women in the national legislative bodies, which now stands below ten per cent.

Her women’s rights advocacy and program work are focused on the active participation of women and youth in governance, violence against women, notably economic empowerment of women so they will be less vulnerable to domestic violence.

Since 2017 Musu has worked with more than 2,000 women and girls on women’s participation in political activities and in decision making, election monitoring, access to justice and the prevention of sexual gender-based violence with Oxfam under the Funding Leadership Opportunity for Women Project.

In 2019 ORWOCH won another grant that added programs for economic empowerment and dismantling harmful social norms. It provides seed funding for young women for business and agriculture activities.

For example, a woman opened a new tailor shop. She had a sewing machine but not a lot of fabric or customers. She now makes new clothes and has customers. Others are involved in soapmaking, building small structures to improve their livelihood, reducing their risk to domestic and sexual violence in the community of Peace Island and Liberia at large.

Though she takes time to recharge in nature, especially enjoying the beach and the sea, Musu is dedicated to her vocation. There is always a lot to do.

“Abusers don’t go on holidays,” she noted.

On Facebook Musu describes herself in a burst of enthusiastic alliteration as “a fierce feminist, an astute activist, a hardy humanist, an electric environmentalist.”

Social media is an important and effective tool to amplify women’s voices around the world, she said. “When one woman is affronted, all of us are affronted.”

Social media is central to some of the campaigns Musu has been involved in.

One is the Enough Excuses Liberia campaign that challenges the ways society normalizes and accepts sexual violence against women and girls. The campaign also challenges victim blaming and shows that duty bearers must be held accountable to provide protection and justice for survivors.

For another campaign called #WeAreUnprotected, supporters wear black every Thursday to express solidarity with survivors of sexual violence, highlighting the challenges that survivors face to access justice, the persistent culture of impunity and the need for resources to fix the system.

That campaign was originally established in response to the Unprotected report by ProPublica in October 2018, detailing the rape and horrific sexual abuse of girls at the More Than Me Academy, a school run by an American NGO in Monrovia.

Growing up with a single mother was an adventure of love, distress, and challenges, Musu said.  She learned tenacity early. “She always pushed me,” Musu said. She is preparing to resume a radio show where young women share their experiences. And she is applying to law schools.

“We’re in a culture that says women should be in the home,” she said. Still, she’s encouraged as attitudes among young women are changing before her eyes. Many know their rights and that they can monitor implementation of promises and laws. They reject the idea that politics “is none of our business.”

What are your sources of inspiration and motivation?

I draw my inspiration from different women – my mom, my boss, Liberian Nobel laureate Leymah Gbowee who shares life stories I can learn from the media – and from my peers and from nature. You can learn from every person.

The best advice I’ve ever received is from my mother. When I graduated from high school, I lost my dad and I felt broken. I asked my mom many questions about walking into adulthood. She told me to always keep God close and keep fighting no matter what’s going on. So that has always been my guide and goal. There will be times that you will not be successful but it’s important that you always keep fighting.

In the Sister-to-Sister mentorship program, Fahima Hashim said hindrances are just hindrances — you either choose to go through them or go around them. Always keep moving. Always keep trying. Always keep improving yourself because nobody is too old to inspire the world or too young to inspire the world. Any age can make a difference.

What advice would you give to other young women activists?

One thing I’ve always encouraged activists to do is create a space for other people from behind. I’m grateful I have a boss, Mmonbeydo Joah, who mentored me from a volunteer to a media and advocacy officer, to now managing programs. There are so few opportunities for young women out there so it’s always important to share resources, share opportunities, talk to them when you have the time.

Inspire others because there will be a girl who can make a lot of difference. She’s down there and she’s just looking for somebody to tell her ‘Hey, get up, you don’t have to be at that place, you can do better – the world is looking up to you.’ Because sometimes people’s experiences make them stuck to a place where they feel so depressed.

So, I always tell my young colleagues there’s a lot of work that we do and we cannot do it by ourselves. It has to be collaborative. It has to be in coordination. It has to be putting hands together to be where we want to be because as young people we can change the narrative if we combine resources and work together.

How significant are relationships with international organizations?

What that provides is visibility and solidarity. In the Nobel Women’s Initiative Sister-to-Sister mentorship program, for example, we highlighted the use of social media platforms in the case of Mozn Hassan from Egypt, one of the human rights defenders whose rights were violated. Even if one woman is affected, it means all of us are involved.

Musu Diamond Kamara and Ounaysa Arabi are featured guests in the podcast series When Feminists Rule the Word - Season Three: Let's Talk About Power.

Ounaysa Arabi was among the women on the front lines of the 2019 revolution in Sudan. But the post-conflict promise of gender justice was merely a slogan used by men in power to attract international funds, she says. "They just want the money and they just put it into their pockets."

No matter how difficult, Musu Diamond Kamara of Liberia urges other young women to "rise up in spite of the challenges, in spite of the abuses, the social sanctions, the harmful traditional gender norms."

Both women counsel that change takes time. Witnessing, in your own life, the change that you are working for would be awesome, says Ounaysa, but it's okay if you won't.

Martha found her guests so strong and determined that "I wouldn't like to be your enemy."​​

Click here to listen to their bold and inspiring voices.

LEARN MORE

Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH)
Enough Excuses Liberia
#WeAreUnprotected

Twitter: @MusuD.Kamara1
Facebook: https://www.facebook.com/dmuslyn.kamara