President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf has warned “women rights” advocates here to be careful about what goes into the Constitution, as there may be problems of implementation if everything they desire goes into the Constitution.
“I started by saying the Constitution being what it is, one has to be careful that what you have in it can be respected and implemented. And when you have a Constitution that carries everything in it, subjecting it to decisional and interpretational issues you have a problem of implementation,” President Sirleaf warned women advocates.
She sounded the caution at the John Gbessie Beach last Thursday, 13 August after receiving a document from Liberian Women headed by Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell demanding certain exclusive rights for women and children for Constitutional consideration, over fear that if a male president succeeds President Sirleaf, he might not give ears to their wishes.
The Liberian leader observed that the results of the Gbarnga Constitutional Review conference early this year thus, in fact, carry many of those things that the women had presented to her in a document last Thursday, August 13 in Boys Town, Margibi County.
She said the 25 major areas of revision finalized in Gbarnga are now being sent to the Legislature, and there is no doubt that many of the issues calling for equal participation, equity, justice and affirmative action for women and children are inclusive.
In the document handed over to Minister Cassell for onward presentation to President Sirleaf, the women representative Madam Ruth Caesar, reechoed the points presented to the Constitutional Review Committee, including equal opportunities, rape, inheritance rights, domestic violence, statutory, traditional or custom and the common law marriages.
“The Constitution of Liberia does not define the right of a child … and if we cannot define the right of a child, then we cannot talk about children in that context,” Madam Caesar said, demanding that the Constitution spells out how can children be disciplined.
According to Madam Caesar, the women at the CRC in Gbarnga, Bong County also agreed that the Constitution guarantees the rights of traditional women – meaning that they should not only receive inheritance when they are married or widowed, but children should inherit properties from their parents.
But in response, President Sirleaf reminded the women that there are a multiple and legal ways on how a country achieves its objectives. Among them, she said, the Constitution is the paramount law of the land, stressing that “this is why one is very careful about how he/she amends this so it doesn’t become something that you change all the time.”
She indicated that the other way is through statute or law, policies, strategies, programs and projects, adding that some of what the women anticipate can simply be achieved in other ways through statutes. “Our 1986 Constitution is now up for revision; and that process has been ongoing for the past two years, one year. The last meeting in this regard sponsored by the Constitution Review Committee headed by … [Cllr.] Gloria Scott was the meeting in Gbarnga – I trust that many of you were there, and that many of you conveyed many of the sentiments that you are expressing today,” President Sirleaf noted, strongly admonishing the women to act and work together, because women can make the world move.
President Sirleaf added that she was aware that what touches everybody’s heart is how women will be better represented, particularly in the Legislature; but she was equally bold in stressing that “you all didn’t vote for the women; you’ll didn’t vote for them, so why you want put it on me?” she asked, as she wondered why they allowed women representation in the Legislature to decline.
She suggested that better representation will not be achieved by women just venting their feelings every time, but to go to the pool and vote. –By Winston W. Parley