To celebrate International Women’s Day, Fern interviewed our newest Board member Korto Reeves Williams, who is renowned for her work advancing women’s rights and tackling gender inequality.
She is currently the Global Head of Women’s Rights at ActionAid International, where she has worked since 2007. She is part of the African Feminist Forum, and a co-founder of the Liberian Feminist Forum.
Korto’s academic research includes Beyond Mass Action: A Study of Collective Organising Among Liberian Women Using Feminist Movement Perspectives.
Originally from Liberia, Korto is now based in Nairobi, Kenya. Fern is delighted to welcome her to our Board.
If you don’t integrate
women’s rights, you
can’t call it sustainable
“I come from a society that’s deeply patriarchal, and this played a key part in my life growing up.
When I was 13 years-old, my dad dropped a book on me, which was about the inequalities in Liberia, particularly political repression. Until then, having been raised in one of the largest slums in Liberia, I was completely unaware that I had privileges. In fact I still had access to things that so many Liberians don’t. The book opened my mind to many things including that in the ladder of society, women and girls are on the bottom rung.
I wanted to be a lawyer and work on issues of inequality. But then we had a civil war, which uprooted my plans, and those of my generation. I had to wait a decade to complete college. During the war I saw that women bore the brunt of the violence and brutality. I made a commitment that, when it was over, I would challenge the society built on patriarchal values.
My inspiration comes from my life and the history of Liberia. Calling myself a feminist feels like the natural thing: it gives me clarity of purpose and gives me the power to change the direction of the story.
It can be really difficult to speak out about these issues and say ‘No, there is an alternative’. But we have to. There are many challenges in building a feminist movement in Africa, and globally.
I am one of the co-creators of the Liberian Feminist Forum. We’ve done a lot of work challenging the structural oppression and trying to change the systems and structures that only serve 50 per cent of the population [men].
For example, women bear the burden of care. Boys are given preferential treatment with respect to access to education, and girls grow up facing the embedded patriarchal view that a woman is not supposed to have an education. Boys are sent to school because they feel like they represent the future of their family line, and girls are seen as less important. Public services are privatised by governments and reinforce the dire levels of poverty women, girls and gender non-conforming people face. Women have a limited role in defending territories and the ecosystem they rely on for their livelihood and as an energy source. Concessions with multinational corporations are marked by a lack of accountability to people living in rural areas, which increases displacement and marginalises women from community decision-making spaces.
Integrating women’s rights into protection of the forest is non-negotiable and must be at the centre of the work we do on sustainable development.”