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Constitutional Reform- an opportunity to enhance women’s rights

Women in Liberia will have an excellent opportunity to make their voices heard when a referendum on constitutional reform is held next year, said Counselor Gloria Musu Scott, who chairs Liberia’s Constitutional Review Committee (CRC).

Just recently, Counselor Scott presented the recommendations of the National Constitution Conference to the Liberian President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, following many months of consultation with a wide range of community representatives throughout the country.

The constitutional review process, supported by UNDP and other key development partners such as UNMIL, USAID and UN Peace-Building Fund, was due to take place last year, but had to be postponed because of the Ebola crisis. CRC’s public consultations with Liberians were not only intensive, but also of enormous range and depth.

During the conduct of the CRC review process, a team of Commissioners led by Cllr Scott, reached15 Counties and 73 electoral districts, the Diaspora (Ghana &USA), and hosted meetings and conferences with many other national role players and sector groupings including, but not limited to Political Parties, Civil Society& the Media, Elders & Traditional Leaders, Women, Youth, People with Disabilities, the Religious Community, Business Community, Security Sector etc.

Other than formal meetings and consultations, Liberians from all walks of life were also inspire to participate through radio call-in, toll free call-in, visitation to CRC head offices, etc. After all these engagements, the Committee had interacted with more than 45,000 participants, with 18,424 (11,768 males & 6656 females) participants recorded from meetings in 15 counties and 73 electoral districts which amounted to at least 56,729 (36,976 males & 19,753 female) suggestions.

The participants were representatives of sector groupings whose membership range from at least one hundred to several thousands thereby creating a multiplier effect of more than a million participants. “Because of the postponement caused by Ebola, a referendum on proposed constitutional changes is now likely to be held in 2016,” explained Cllr Scott, “Just one year ahead of the next national election.”

“It is a good opportunity for women to “make some noise”, she added. “If men seeking office don’t support women’s rights, they won’t be able to count on their votes in the 2017 election.” There are currently only 11 women representatives in the Liberian parliament out of a total of 103. “So we will need male legislators to be women-friendly, if reforms are to be passed into law,” said Cllr Scott.

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Enacting a law that would give equal status to ‘traditional’ marriage is one example of constitutional reform recommended by the CRC. Under existing law, women in traditional marriages, generally living in rural areas, have no right to own property.

“In practice, this means that if a woman’s husband dies, her brother-in-law may take over her property, and may even take her as his wife” intimated Counselor Scott. The right to share in proceeds from minerals resources found on individual and customary land is one of the most prevalent views recorded at almost every single meeting held by the CRC.

The current Liberian constitution holds that private property rights should not extend to any mineral resources on or beneath their land or under the sea. These mineral resources shall belong to the republic, says the constitution.

Following the year-long public consultation process supported by UNDP, the CRC recommends an amendment to the natural resources provision, which entitles the owner to a percentage of the income generated by such resources.

For instance, a Canadian-registered company, Aureus Mining, is currently building Liberia’s first gold mine in Grand Cape Mount. “People want to know what the benefit of this excavation will be to the community,” said Cllr Scott. “Projects like these can have an impact on security and farmers may lose their land. “People want to know how they will be compensated. There is a feeling that taxes are paid to Monrovia and nothing comes back. “If people are blessed with natural resources, let them feel the difference.”

Despite the heated debates generated during the CRC consultations, Delegates voted on all 25 proposals with majority voting for example, on the reduction of Presidential tenure from six to a four year term; Senatorial tenure from 9 to 6 years; Representatives 6 to 4 years.-Press Release

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