To mark this year’s International Women’s Day celebration, a group of civil society organizations, led by women’s rights groups and networks assembled outside the National Elections Commission (NEC’s) headquarters in Sinkor and released a communique calling for reform on New Elections Law Section 4.5 (b) and (c).
Section 4.5 (1b) of the New Elections Law printed on 15 December 2014 states that a political party or coalition in its submission to the commission of its list of candidates for an election should endeavor to ensure that the governing body and its list of candidates has no less than 30 percent of its members from each gender.
Further, Section 4.5 (1c) states that a list of candidates submitted to the Commission for an election should endeavor to have no less than 30 percent of the candidates on the list from each gender.
The Concerned Women’s Rights Groups and Networks say they have problem with these provisions in the New Elections Law because the language “endeavor” as used in the law is unfortunately unclear and there is no mechanism for the NEC to enforce the law or hold parties accountable.
Reading the Communique on behalf of the Women Rights Groups, Ms. Facia Harris warns that without positive action to reduce the barriers to women’s representation, Liberia will likely not reach gender balance in the Legislature in this century.
“We are calling on the National Legislature to act now! Prioritize the passage of the electoral reform propositions, with specific attention to 4.5b,c. Remove the “endeavor” and include a mechanism for enforcement,” she says.
In response to a question if the advocacy could also prevail on electorate to vote more women candidates to public offices in the absence of the legislation, Facia says those are affirmative actions that they can take later.
“The first instance is for our laws to provide for equal participation in elections. And the first step is to ensure that we have a law that states that men and women should be equally represented, then we can move to step two to voters,” she adds.
Ms. Harris argues that the issue of getting voters to vote women is an ongoing activity, saying lots of civil society organizations and political parties are available at different times that will put up women candidates.
At this point, she says getting the electorate to vote is not what they want, but they want a law which they can fight to enforce.
“The fact is, women do not have equal opportunity to contest or to win elections. And without concrete actions to address these barriers, we will never reach gender equality in politics,” she says.
She stresses that electoral reform is needed to strengthen New Elections Law 4.5 b and c, as she recalls that in 2005, the “Guidelines Relating to the Registration of Political Parties and Independent Candidates” stated that each party “shall ensure” that 30 percent of its candidates be women.
According to Facia, it is no coincidence that the elections of 2005 saw the highest percentage of women elected to the Legislature with almost 17% in the Senate and 13% in the House of Representatives.
In the last 15 years, she notes that the percentage of women in the Senate has fallen to 3%, noting that overall, the percentage has steadily declined since 2006, falling to 14% in 2011, 12% in 2014, and 11% in 2017. In 2020, she adds, women make up less than 10% of the entire Legislature.
In 2017, Ms. Harris recalls that only one of the 24 registered parties or coalitions met the 30% threshold.
Globally, Ms. Harris states that the percentage of women in national parliaments has doubled since 1995, but women still only make up 25% of national parliaments. In West Africa, this percentage falls to 14%, and in Liberia, it falls even lower– to under 10%, she adds.
In Liberia’s Legislature, she says there are just 10 women and 93 men, lamenting that while half of Liberia’s population is female, nearly all of Liberia’s lawmakers are men, suggesting that women face many more barriers to enter politics than men.
“Late night meetings, ‘cash violence’, and sexual harassment are too common in political processes. Too often, violence against women is used to keep them out of politics, and to keep them in lower positions. Sometimes women are stopped from participating in politics,” she says.
Also responding to a question, Wretta A. Pope Kai, the NCSCL Chairperson – elect says the word endeavor means a lot, demanding clarity and the need to put into place punitive measures so that political parties make sure that women candidates are placed on the list of political parties before presenting it to NEC.
Giving the introduction, Ora Barclay Keller from the Girls for Change listed numerous organizations that have endorsed the communique including Organization for Women and Children (ORWOCH); Paramount Young Women Initiative (PAYOWI); Liberia Elections Observation Network (LEON); Foundation for Community Initiatives (FCI); Young Women Organization for Improvement;
Girls for Change Organization; Helping Our People Excel (HOPE); Her Voice Liberia ( HVL); Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL); Network of Peace and Security Women in ECOWAS Countries (NOPSWECO); Sisteraid Liberia Women Solidarity Inc. (WOSI); RESPECT Liberia.
Youth Coalition for Education in Liberia (YOCEL) Attached.By Winston W. Parley