By: Frank P. Martin
MONROVIA: The National Coordinator of the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia, Madam Mariyah Fyneah, said the low number of women representation at the Liberian Legislature—where major national decisions are made is worrisome.
She said, the situation is also tantamount to silencing women whose voices are not being heard loud and clear.
Addressing scores of women in the Township of Gardnerville, the female Legislative Caucus Coordinator said there is “poor women representation at the legislature”, leading to misrepresentation of women and partially taking decision that favor males over their female counterparts.
Madam Fyneah: “We have only nine female legislators at both the House of Representatives and the Senate, among the 93 male legislators—which is very bad for us when it comes to national decision making. With the nine female lawmakers, you think they can override their male lawmakers who are in good number?”
She made these remarks early this week when thousands of women gathered on a local field in the Chicken Soup Factory Community along the Japan Freeway, outside Monrovia.
She alleged that one reason men feel frightened to see equal participation of all genders into national decisions- making is because women possess good managerial skills and good sense of humor.
“Remember, we are good managers and good caretakers. And these qualities are with us everywhere we go to serve our fellow human beings. Nothing has ever stopped us from success; yet some guys don’t want to see us at the highest decision making table to share our perspectives on issues confronting the Liberian people,” she averred.
She referred to former President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf; Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor; Liberty’s embattled Party Political leader, Senator Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, etc, who, she said, have proven the theory of women political participation right over the past decades in the Liberian body politics.
“I want you to follow other women of Liberia’s footsteps by trusting yourselves with every decision you make today. When I say trust yourselves, I mean you should wake up from your comfort zone to challenge your male counterparts who are taking decisions on your behalf today. You think when a male rape a female, and another male is presiding over the case, what you expect?” she asked.
However, she cautioned women across the country to hold together in supporting each other with commitment in order to produce more female leaders from the October polls.
“We have to support each other; hold together with commitment and dedication if we have to overcome this menace that continues to marginalize and subject us to decisions that don’t favor us and have silent our voices in national decisions-making over the years”, she acknowledged.
In accepting the Caucus Coordinator’s plea, the President of the Women Network for Empowerment, Madam Lucy Davis said they are committed to supporting women leadership.
“Nothing more we can do without women empowerment to stand shoulder-by-shoulder to make independent decisions that will have triggered down effects on the livelihood of the people who are struggling to have access to equal justice and opportunity”, the women group President noted.
Talking on women empowerment, Madam Davis said her organization was established with the aim to give women equal opportunity that would alleviate poverty and create job opportunities for women.
“This group is meant to advocate for women empowerment and give them equal access to opportunities including financial empowerment, the dispensing of equal justice, etc.,” she disclosed to thousands of residents of the Gardnerville Township, where Network was launched, May 15, 2023.
However, the 54th Session of the National Legislature has an enormous opportunity to represent the interests of Liberian women and advance Liberia’s record of women’s leadership in Africa and globally through the passage of a mandatory gender quota in the New Elections Law that is currently on the agenda of the Senate.
But this opportunity was probably dashed by President George Manneh Weah following his vetoing of a progressive amendment to the new election law.
The amendments in question sought to make 30% of gender representation mandatory. It would have empowered the National Elections Commission (NEC) to fine or delist any political parties that failed to adhere to the gender quotas
Gender quotas are a type of “temporary special measure” to accelerate women’s substantive equality with men, and achieve the necessary structural and socio-cultural changes to redress the historical marginalization of women from political life.
While vetoing the amendment and several others made to the NEW Election Law, President Weah said that the amendments were in conflict with already existing constitutional provisions, and other laws, saying he prefers the law staying the way it is.
“The country is just seven months away from the 2023 general and presidential elections. As such, certain changes in the elections law at a time so close would tend to send mixed signals to the electorates and present the potential to cause delays in elections processes,” Weah said.
The President’s veto of the bill, which comes more than five months after the bill’s passage by the Legislature, can be overridden by members of the legislature, depending on how many lawmakers maintained their previous support for the bill.
But this would not be the case, as the 54th Legislature is on break and it remains unclear whether, upon their return, they would attempt to override the veto.
Meanwhile, Liberia already has the great distinction of being the first African nation to elect a female president, and currently has a female Vice President. However, state institutions remain largely male dominated and, globally, Liberia is ranked 156th of 162 countries on the Gender Inequality Index and 163 out of 185 countries on the list of women in national parliaments. Whereas the average percentage of women in national parliaments is 26% for sub-Saharan Africa and 17% in West Africa, in Liberia women make up less than 11% of the 103 seats in the National Legislature. These statistics represent a crisis of under-representation given that women and girls comprise 50% of the population (2008 Census report). Without affirmative action and legislation to help address the exclusion of women from the national legislature, Liberia’s democratic and developmental goals will not be achieved, according to UN Women.
Liberia has adopted a range of regional and international legal frameworks on the advancement of women’s political and civic rights at local and national levels, including: ratification of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol; adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; and ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (The Maputo Protocol).
As a member of the African Union, Liberia is also expected to implement the AU’s 50/50 gender parity principle. As a member of the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), Liberia is also expected to implement the Protocol on Democracy and Good Governance, and Gender and Elections Strategic Framework and Action Plan, which includes adopting progressive electoral law reform, including affirmative action/gender quotas for elections at all levels.
Nationally, Article 5 of the Constitution of Liberia makes provisions for the national unity of Liberians into one body politic and for the enactment of laws encouraging the participation of all citizens in government.
National policies have been adopted to address different aspects of women’s political participation and representation. The National Gender Policy (2018-2022) commits to promote gender parity in all spheres of governance and adopt affirmative action policy and legislation for women’s participation, as does the National Government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) (2018-2023). Specifically, Pillar One: Power to the People seeks to increase political participation of women at the national and local levels to reach a target of 30% by 2023.