During the war in Liberia, young Josephine Pannah lived with her three young children in a one-room tent in the Nzerekore refugee camp in Guinea. A Jesuit Refugee Service (JRS) representative identified her family as one of the poorest in the village, making her eligible to apply for the JRS Teenage Mothers vocational training program. The organization supported her to begin a project raising ducks to provide the family with additional income, meat and eggs while she was enrolled in a carpentry program. She attended the adult literacy classes mandated for those who could not read nor write, and on her own she learned the art of tie-dye from the other beneficiaries. A JRS representative doing research on capacity-building noted that Josephine’s technical knowledge about house construction superseded that of most of her male colleagues. She was greatly empowered through the program, and being recognized with an award and a certificate by the major of her village in front of the whole community inspired her to help other women in the same way. When Josephine returned to Liberia in 2006, she opened her own vocational training center, where she now trains young girls and widows from neighbouring villages trades like tailoring, baking and tie-dye. Her motto is: “What men can do women can do even better!” While not provoking a playful battle of the sexes, she has proved to be a strong and confident role model for young women in the community.
After tasting a few of the bakery treats created by women vocational students during his visit to the Montserado Displaced Peoples Camp in 2006, the Liberian Vocational Education Minister noted that the government should find ways to open areas for female employment. Although a tasty pastry may have played a part, there was real value in the recognition by a key policymaker that what is often deemed “women’s work” has real economic value, and that practical training in things like baking and tailoring will enable housewives to both earn an income and continue to manage the home and childcare. For more information about enhancing the policy environment and increasing women and girls’ agency, see pages 5-7 in the Women's Refugee Commission’s Guidance Manual: Preventing Gender-based Violence, Building Livelihoods.