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Ellen: Yikes - my first experience as a speaker at the World Urban Forum

Tuesday, April 15, 2014 - 10:32

This week I'll be posting views young participants at the World Urban Forum 7. The event convened by the UN-Habitat and hosted by the Government of the Republic of Colombia and the Municipality of Medellin held this year is a memorable and insightful gathering. Todays post is written by Ellen Ziah from Liberia; She’s a 27year-old activist to end the issue sexual harassment and violence against women and girls in the universities and public spaces.

This is her experience:

On Wednesday April 9, 2014 at about 4pm in the Yellow Pavilion room 4, all the speakers gathered in readiness of our long awaited day and moment - today I would also become a speaker at the World Urban Forum! Setting up took us about 20 minutes when our host Miss Cecilia from UN-Habitat arrived in the room and called the session to order. At exactly 4:30pm the session began and with a number of over 80 guest and invitees already seated.

Tension filled the room from the onset as we quickly arranged ourselves in the order of presentation. In the mist of all the anxiety, one thing was certain: that our countries depended on us to present the real issues that confront the daily lives of women and girls, their vulnerability, concerns and recommendation in creating safe spaces for all.

It was indeed a tense moment for me as I said a little prayer and had a drink of water to ease my stress

Fortunately for me, I was in the second position. Therefore I had time to relax and listen to the first speaker Miss. Tahmina from Bangladesh, who presented on issues of violence in safe spaces in Bangladesh. Interestingly, most of the issues, she highlighted, seemed similar to that of Liberia except for the fact that Liberia suffered a 14 years civil crisis whichheavily impacts the violence experienced by women today and their persistence.

After about 20 minutes of clearing the air on all issues of major concerns, she humbly paused and took her seat. I immediately began my presentation as I was introduced by the host. I firstly began by applauding the government and people of Colombia for warmly welcoming us to their country and then went straight into business. Liberia, the oldest country in West Africa and its history of protracted civil conflict, deplorable living conditions, persistent violence and abuse against women and girls at every level of the society and most importantly, the lack of safe spaces for women and girls in urban communities were of key focus.

After 10 minutes of sharing I had presented my experience as a young female student living the capital city of Liberia, Monrovia. The city holds holds 32% of the country's population and the most congested city in Liberia and with related issues of crime and violence, inadequate transport system, weak zooning system, water and sanitation problem, lack of justice for the poor, transactional sex for grades and employment, sexual harassment and violence against women, poor lighting conditions, lack of women-friendly services, vulnerability of women with no education and skilled training among other issues.

This was quite a lot to cover in 10 minutes, but I felt satisfied to make recommendation to all actors and our international partners to aid in the process of a change for better life of all city dwellers, especially women and girls, who are being constantly harassed and live in fear. Within 25minutes of a full discussion I then paused to give audience to the next speaker from Brazil.

The session adjoined at 6:30pm as it climaxed with a questions and answers session of our meeting.

In the evening, Vandana our global Safe Cities coordinator suggested we go to a popular part of town for preferential dinner treatment - which we wouldn't say not to! So we ended the day with lots of laughter, pictures taken and with maximum fun.

It's a day to be much remember.