Gender and Participatory Governance: Pathways for Sustainable Development in Liberia

Women in cue to participate on a live Talking Bus show on women participation in elections

.... Gender equality is the concern of every meaningful society that respects human rights and the rule of law. Participatory governance especially with gender responsive budgeting and continuous leadership role of women in the central and local government administrations will be good pathways for sustainable development.

Romeo D.N. Gbartea, PhD.

Gender and participatory governance are socio-economic and political variables that can improve sustainable development.  Throughout the history of mankind, constructive efforts have been made to strengthen gender practices through participatory governance.

The discrimination is higher against women as they are less exposed to education, and the formal work sector and are bound to the household sector only. Social inequality has made women victims of domestic violence and sexual assault (Jacobson, 2011).

It has to do with where men and women manage power which could make the governance process much more comfortable through the provision of basic socio-economic services. For governance to be participatory, it requires a bottom-to-top decision-making process that involved all stakeholders. What makes it wrong is that when the stakeholders do not consider the priorities of the people they represent. It breeds chaotic governance that disallowed sustainable development to be realized. 

When participation has a grassroots establishment in the sub-national structure, it facilitates a decentralized governance system and it serves the basis to respect all genders. It is the active involvement of citizens or community members in local government administration. Sustainable development is a central concept for our age and it involves understanding the world and solving social problems. (Sachs, 2015).

Sustainable development concentrates on the social, economic, political, and developmental programs that are designed and implemented by local or the central government for present and future generations (Gbartea, 2021). The applicability of gender and participatory governance will surely serve as pathway to sustainable development when the necessary mechanisms are put into the truest perspective.   

Thus, this journal paper shows how gender and participatory governance are pathways to sustainable development. The historical perspectives of African development and Gender cases are considered. Sustainable development goal 5 is clearly reflected coupled with progress and challenges. Significant statistics are provided to strengthen the work. It specifically addresses gender and participatory governance, sustainable development, Gender Discrimination, Conclusion and Way Forward. 

Gender and Participatory Governance

Many times, the concept of Gender is seen from the perspective of women's leadership but it relates to the role of males and females making progress toward our everyday activity or work. The concept of Gender refers to the social relations between men and women (Haralambos and Holborn, 2004). Gender relates to the expectations and norms guiding behavior, characteristics and roles that are suitable for males and females.

 It makes a distinction between how men and women should interact and the attributes associated with being male or female. These expectations are socially and culturally organized and are learned through the socialization process, with some consistency across cultures about the roles and men and women. Gender inequality occurs as a result of laws and policies which do not apply equally to women and men (Odebiyi and Akingbade, 2020).

Gender equality is not just about women but addresses the similarities and differences between women and men’s experiences and perspectives; and gives equal value to each other. Gender is about one’s rights, responsibilities and opportunities not being dependent on either sex (Anyanwu 2013; Leduc 2009; Gupta 2000).   

In Liberia, the nature of gender is seriously respected in the governance process and through basic interactions. The Liberian culture respects women and continues to provide the opportunity for them to manage a government with their counterpart. The Local Government Act (2018) of Liberia, emphasized that Local Administration shall take proactive measures to reverse discrimination against men and women. The uniqueness of respectability for women in the oldest Africa Independent country is such that no man sits while a woman stands on the bus, party, gathering, or anywhere. 

President Tubman appointed Angie Elizabeth Brooks to the United Nations, thereby making her to serve as the first female president of the United Nations General Assembly in 1969. Ruth Sando Perry served as interim president of Liberia during the Liberian crisis thereby making her Africa's first woman to act as head of state (Kraaij, 2015 & Chakatiba, 2013, South Africa History online, 1996).

The Friends of Brumskine (FOB), a civil society organization in Liberia advocated and worked that Nyonblee Karngar-Lawrence is the first female senator of Grand Bassa County and the Political Leader of Liberty Party (Gbartea, 2021). There are challenges in Gender practices and advocacies but there should be coexistence for the basis of sustainable development. 

Participatory Governance

Participatory governance can stimulate the quality of service (Muriu, 2012). The participation of individuals and groups is applicable and significant not only to demand accountability from leaders but also from the people who are their local leaders (Sawyer, 2005). 

The decentralization policy of Liberia shows how the greater participation of the Liberian people will enhance developmental processes (Sirleaf, 2012). The challenge of participation widens underdevelopment for the country and the sub-national structures. Participatory governance helps the effectiveness of service delivery. When those who are managing the country, considers gender equality and participation, it will always help sustainable development.

 Sustainable Development 

Sustainable development refers to the social, economic, political and developmental programmes that are designed and implemented by the county government administration or the central government for present and future generations. Sustainable development meets the needs of the present without compromising the ability of future generations to meet their own needs (Brundtland, 1987).

The perspectives of sustainable development in Africa was such that the continent is endowed with abundant natural resources, although the development strategies around the continent have been shaped around the exploitation of these natural resources where they have presented as blessings and curses. African countries, during the pre-colonial period, utilised their indigenous knowledge to ensure their development. Despite the slowness of development, Africa had a stable socio-political system.

The colonial period was a time when its natural resources were needed to feed the Industrial Revolution hunger in Europe and the Americas. It remains questionable whether or not this exploitation was done for sustainable purposes or otherwise. However, after many years of these countries achieving political independence, the economic and development policies remained (Popoola, Olaniyan and Olayide (2014). 

The United Nations member states in 2015 adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development for peace and prosperity for people and the planet, now and into the future. This strategic intervention developmental international policy, with 17 goals and 169 indicators, emphasized ending poverty and other deprivations with strategies that improve health and education, reduce inequality, and spur economic growth geared toward climate change and working to preserve our oceans and forests (UN, 2015).

The United Nations Sustainable Development Goal 5, stressed that gender equality is not only fundamental human right, but a necessary foundation for a peaceful, prosperous and sustainable world. However, some basic statistics have been proven that more efforts on gender equality will have to be exerted to achieve the objective of 2030. When it comes to participation women's share is slightly over one third in local governments. Unfortunately with this slow pace, it has been predicted that it would 40 years for women and men to be represented equally in national parliaments or legislative branch of Governments in different parts of the world. Other challenges are sexual and reproductive health and gender responsive budgeting (SDG website, 2022). 

Gender Discrimination   

Rout and Panda (2007) emphasized that achieving Gender parity has become a great concern for the world today. When all people both men and women have equal access to services and resources, enjoy equal rights, and get equal opportunity to develop capabilities without any bias or preferences, then the development of the country would be faster. It strengthens countries' abilities to grow, reduce poverty, and govern effectively.

Notwithstanding that there are considerable efforts in advocacy, the creation of awareness, and different strategies and programs. Gender discrimination remains pervasive in many dimensions of life worldwide. Though the nature and magnitude of the discrimination vary from country to country, in no part of the world gender parity is completely achieved in legal, social, and economic fronts. Gender gaps are widespread in access to and control of resources, economic opportunities, power, and political voice. 

It has been shown from many research that gender equality remains difficult scenario in spite of the progress that has been made in different parts of the world, including in West Africa, Sahel and other parts of the world. Some of the West African countries are: Burkina Faso, Cabo Verde, Gambia, Ghana, Guinea-Bissau, Mauritania, Senegal, and Sierra Leone have closed the gender gap in primary school enrolment (Ferrant, 2018).

In Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf served as the first female president in Africa. During her leadership, the 2030 agenda for sustainable development was launched with prioritizing the importance of a bottom-to top decentralized or participatory governance initiative through an integrated sustainable development Goals (SDGs).

The Liberia Gender policy (2009) emphasized that Gender disparities and imbalances are common in every sphere of life. Furthermore, the policy posits that in most cases, women are disproportionately and unfairly represented. This leads to a variety of social problems that can be associated with gender inequality and imbalance such as unequal gender relations and power relations, lack of access to basic services, economic disempowerment, low participation in decision-making, lack of access to legal and judicial services as well as vulnerability to HIV and AIDS.

Gender inequality and women‘s marginalization in Liberia are maintained and sustained by traditional and religious perceptions of women as subordinate and men as superior. It further indicated that Girls and boys, women and men are socialized and culturally ascribed different and rigid roles, duties, and responsibilities regarding the division of labor, access, and control over resources and decision-making positions.

These are transferred to schools, the community, and workplaces. They, subsequently translate into gender inequalities, gender biases, and discrimination in society, some of which are projected in high incidences of GBV against women and girls; persistent abuse of the rights of women; sexual abuse of the girl child, and teenage pregnancy; girls dropping out of school; women‘s excessive poverty and dependency on men; and over-burden of workload on women. All of these limit women‘s effective participation in society and benefit from development. 

Conclusion and Way Forward

Gender equality is the concern of every meaningful society that respects human rights and the rule of law. Participatory governance especially with gender responsive budgeting and continuous leadership role of women in the central and local government administrations will be good pathways for sustainable development.

When the locals elect their leaders, it would enhance poverty reduction in the counties. The Local Government Act did not effectively alter the political marginalisation created by the centralised authority at the local administration level. Liberians should be appreciated for significantly considering women in the governance process. 

Proper child’s development by both genders will enhance brighter future for the generations, thereby achieving sustainable development. The reluctance in the development for child’s growth and governance challenges create too many deviant in the society.

This awkward scenario can breed serious social problems. Social problems provide an imbalanced society and hindered sustainable development. Through all these analytical thoughts, good governance is the key to sustainable development. Essentially, it has been seen critically that Gender and Participatory Governance are pathways to sustainable development especially when the rule of law and the attributes of good governance are implemented.