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Local NGO (COPDA) Strengthens Women Capacities to Embark on Advocacy in Mines-Affected Areas in Nimba

Melvin L. Suah

By: Melvin L. Suah/Radio Nimba Manager/Phone#: +231776841898

Nimba County Liberia: – The Local Civil Society Organization, Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy (COPDA) has challenged women of mines affected communities in ArcelorMittal-Liberia operational areas in Nimba County to engage in constructive advocacy for the betterment of their communities.

The women are organized under the group called Community Development Management Committee (CDMC) and it comprises women of Gbapa, Lugbeyee, Makinto, Bolo, Sehyi Geh, Liagbala, Camp-4, Bonlah and Zolowee.

The mines affected community women are craving for government and the mining company to provide job opportunities and undertake major developments in its operational areas in Nimba targeting women.

Speaking to cross section of women at a one-day Advocacy and Capacity Building Training on December 9, 2022 in Yekepa, the Program Officer of the Justice and Peace Commission (JPC), Ms. Agnes Togba said the ability to effect change is always a sacrifice. Other people that brought changes in their communities and the society did not give up because of family and other personal issues, she noted.

It is rare in Liberia for women to embark on a successful advocacy, although they are on record for contributing to ending the civil conflict by reportedly locking doors on warring fraction leaders in Ghana and demanding them to sign the peace deal.

We are training you people to adopt the mindset of achieving even bigger things. To engage ArcelorMittal-Liberia and the government to undertake major development projects in your communities and bring changes, Ms. Togba told the women. 

She spoke on the topic “Negotiation Techniques for Community Leaders”.

Also speaking to the women, the Youth president of the Young Men Christian Association (YMCA) Yekepa branch, Charles Flomo encouraged the women to use the four basic components of advocacy which he said if carefully utilized can effect change. He named them as public campaigning, media work, capacity building and lobbying.

People who endeavor to do advocacy should set a proper agenda. Their advocacies should benefit the group members and the society, Mr. Flomo asserted. Speaking on the topic, Advocacy Techniques for Social Development in Communities: How can Community Leaders Begin to Actively Engage Duty Bearers, Mr. Tokpah called on all women to hold together and have a coordinated agenda. According to him, engaging with stakeholders can be made easy when done collectively. Women can achieve anything if they come together, he emphasized.

Nimba is one of the counties in Liberia with low women representations in parliament and key government ministries and agencies, a situation COPDA wants it to be reversed in the coming years.

The YMCA Youth President said advocacy should based on evidence of the problem, stressing that lots of good things can be achieved if advocacy is well structured and properly organized. Any advocacy that is not properly planned can never be implemented to get its desire outcome, Charles indicated.

For his part, the Executive Director of GERAD A. Thomas Tokpah also made presentation on the Freedom of Information Act. Mr. Tokpah informed the participants that access to information was important and creates the way for advocacy.  In 2010, the FOI law was enacted.  It is a right guaranteed under the Liberian Constitution and the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.

According to Mr. Tokpah, Information can be sought to inform on the following, the rights of people, why roads are not good, AML on employment, contract, payment, operations, where taxes paid go and do, County Social Development Funds, to whom it is given, how it is used, equipment bought, etc.

He further narrated that there is other information that cannot be accessed. The YMCA Youth leader names some of them as number of weapons, victims of rape, how factory manufacturers produce and how company (AML) does the blasting.

Under the same law, there is some information of security nature which cannot be disclosed or provided. One just cannot ask for such information and be provided answers. Specifically, information of national security nature, Mr. Tokpah disclosed.

With these numerous challenges, women can team up for advocacy purpose, Know and understand the FOI Law, know where to get the information needed and know how to plan and engage the issues. Women are good managers and highly influential, you can get the necessary information you need and do what you wish with joint effort, he emphasized.

The Committee for Peace and Development Advocacy has been working with women of ArcelorMittal-Liberia mines affected communities in building their capacities to become strong advocates and participate in major decision-making processes and even take up appointed and elected positions in the county.

COPDA, a Yekepa-based civil society organization, is implementing a program in the mines affected communities of ArcelorMittal-Liberia in Nimba County known as ‘Advancing Women’s Participation in Political Leadership and Accountability in ArcelorMittal-Liberia operational communities’, with support from the National Endowment for Democracy (NED) based in Washington DC, United States of America.

Meanwhile, the women through their Chairlady Helen Weanquoi has lauded COPDA for the empowerment. She assured the organization of their commitment to effect change in their communities. Mrs. Weanquoi indicated that members of the community Development Management Committee (CDMC) will work along with relevant stakeholders and ArcelorMittal Liberia to ensure that some of their concerns are adequately addressed. Communities around the world giant steel company operational areas in Nimba County sometimes decry the lack of basic social services, although the company has started a robust community engagement approach to tackle those problems.

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