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Quest for ‘ Free Legislative Seats’:A Dangerous Precedence for the Legislature to Set

A few years ago, some former and present Members of the Liberian Senate, including Bong County Senator Jewel Howard-Taylor, Montserrado County Senator Geraldine Doe-Sheriff, as well as Gloria Musu Scott of Maryland and Clara Alpha Jah of Margibi, produced and submitted a draft bill intended to allot – without any struggle, thirty-percent women representation in the House of Representatives.

The bill, initiated by Senator Taylor backed by a few prominent Liberian women outside of the Legislature, first suffered setback when submitted to the Liberian Senate, following which the necessary adjustments were made, not only in the interest of women, but the youth and people with disabilities.

The move is in furtherance of an earlier campaign by a group of Liberian women, who marched on the then National Transitional Legislative Assembly on Capitol Hill in Monrovia, and demanded the inclusion of a clause in the electoral bill to make it mandatory for political parties in the 2005 elections to set aside a minimum of 30 percent seats exclusively for women on their lists of candidates, but that did not work.

Still determined to ensure the success of their campaign, Senator Taylor and others resubmitted the bill – this time around, reducing the number of “free seats without sweat” to far less than thirty due to the adjustments.

And amid the current crisis within the House of Representatives, the Liberian Senate recently passed the bill for concurrence by the House, with allotment of more than twenty seats exclusively to women, the youth and people with disabilities.

Earnestly, while there may be no qualms with the representation of these groups of Liberians in the House of Representatives, the decision by the Liberian Senate to pass the bill may just be too dangerous a precedence.

It is very possible that, in the future, another group of Liberians –for example traditional chiefs, elders and zoes, may rise up to demand representation in the House of Representatives or Liberian Senate.

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Moreover, an addition to the existing seventy-three seats would be an extra burden on the Government and people of Liberia. The fact remains that women play a critical role in transforming the social, political and economic development of any nation – Liberia being no exception and that their involvement in the growth of their villages, towns and districts to transform the nation cannot be disputed, but such must not be through the allotment of “free seats” in the House of Representatives as they may be demanding and also granted by the Liberian Senate.

Like President Sirleaf indicated during the August 13, 2015 National Women Retreat in Marshall, Lower Margibi County, women offer the chance for other women from the house, community, religious centers, the neighborhood, and everywhere to reach out to each other, unite and be stronger in partnership.

“Women can change the world; women can make a difference; women can make things happen; women can move things; women can turn things outside down; women can do it right; but women must act together and women have to support women.”

And so, there should no reason why, in view of the foregoing, in such engagements, they cannot be elected over their male counterparts in the seventy-three districts of Liberia. If Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf could do it up to the top of the nation, now is the time that advocates for “free Legislative seats” emulate her examples rather than to rely on Legislative decision(s) for such societal role(s).

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