— Former President Sirleaf tells female political aspirants
Former president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on women aspiring for seats in the Liberian political arena not to do so by second guessing but rather with a clear vision that will lure electorates in their direction.
“You have to come to elections with a strong vision that will persuade voters to support you,” Johnson Sirleaf told scores of female aspirants who are poised to contest in the upcoming presidential and legislative elections.
The former President believes that without vision, a candidate cannot persuade the public to vote for them or support them, even if they were to win.
“If you don’t have vision you will not be able to carry the messages that will convince those who have to vote for you, those who have to support you not only through your process of election but be with you when you finally take office,” she said.
“One must make an agenda plan properly before entering the race in order to boost your candidacy that attracts people to you," she said at a gathering held at the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Center for Women hosted by the Swedish Embassy, in association with UN WOMEN.
It was a high-level diplomatic discussion about how political parties may help to make it easier for women to participate in politics.
Sirleaf became the country’s 24th president in 2006 and Africa's first female head of state. Her win brought an inspiration to many women around the world and attracted over US$16 billion in foreign direct investment and hundreds of millions more in foreign aid to Liberia.
During her two-term presidency, many women ascended to leadership positions, and headed various ministries and agencies.
“I was not a woman president. I was president of a nation that includes women in leadership,” she said.
Liberia has no strong political laws to support women running for office. Women are often ridiculed and judged not because of their competency, but their gender, speech, lifestyle and dress code, feminists and other women rights groups have often said.
The worst of these is sexism, which is widespread in Liberian politics and has been promoted with little repercussion. Given that Liberia continues to have one of the lowest rates of female political participation in the world, this reality has become a fact of life for women who choose to run for office.
Women’s rights activists have observed that sexism still significantly contributes to the exclusion of women from politics. Most women find it challenging to participate in political debates and voice their opinions without feeling threatened or intimidated.
Section 4.5 (1c) of the electoral law of the National Elections Commission 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.
But this law has consistently been disregarded. Only few out of many have women candidates as running mates. Despite recent efforts to increase awareness of diversity and gender, little progress has been made to address this issue in the country’s political sphere.
The 2017 presidential election is a case in point, with none of the 20 presidential candidates being women. Additionally, only 10% of the candidates for the House of Representatives were women, further highlighting the need for action to address gender disparity in Liberian politics.
“The National Elections Commission is an important part that has to be independent and let me say that when I was President, we had an election commission that was independent and in which they would say that there was no interference by the executive,” said Sirleaf.
The event was interspersed with a panel discussion moderated by Comfort Lamptey, UN Women Country Representative. Rev. Luther Tarpeh, National Chairman of the opposition Unity Party; Montserrado County Senatorial Aspirant Victoria Koiquah of the Alternative National Congress (ANC); Moima Briggs Mensah, Representative, Electoral District #6, Bong County; and Rosana Schaack, Representative, Electoral District#1, Rivercess County all served as panelists. They pledged to support and endorsed the provision of 30 percent seats for women candidates.