Liberia: Low Numbers of Women Elected to the 55th Legislature


Out of the 153 women who ran for legislative seats, only 7 won seats in the incoming 55th legislature, which is a decline of two seats.

A record low number of women have been elected to the legislature, despite a relatively high number of female candidates vying for legislative seats. 

Out of the 153 women who ran for legislative seats, only 7 managed to win elections for the incoming 55th legislature, with seven in the House of Representatives and one in the Senate, far from the breakthrough that many had hoped for.

The House would have 66  males who won elections, and the Senate only has 3 females out of 30 members, with Senator-elect Dabah Varpilah of Grand Cape Mount County being the only newest addition, as she is the only female who won one of the 15 available senatorial seats. 

Out of the seven female legislators, only four are newcomers to the political arena, while three are returning lawmakers who secured reelection.  A total of nine female candidates were up for reelection, but six lost their seats. 

The veteran female legislators who were reelected are Ellen Attoh-Wreh of Margibi County District 3; Moima Briggs-Mensah, Bong County District 6; and Julie Wiah, Lofa County District 1.

The newly elected female representatives are Rugie Yatu Barry and Priscilla Abram Cooper of Montserrado County District 1 and 5, respectively; Marie Johnson, Grand Gedeh District 2; and Binta Massalay of Grand Cape Mount District 1.

The number of women in seats in the incoming House is, however, short by two legislative seats from the current, which was 9 women, and a notable decline in the record number of women elected to the Liberian legislature which, during the 2005 elections, saw the highest percentage of women elected to the Legislature – almost 16%.

Advocates for gender equality and women in politics attribute the “disheartening outcome” of the October 10 polls to a broader issue of gender inequality women face in politics in Liberia, making it difficult for women to crack the male-dominated control of the Liberian political space.

One of the key barriers faced by female candidates in Liberia is the persistent gender bias, which means women often have to confront negative stereotypes and sexist attacks that can erode their chances of winning elections, advocates say.

Additionally, they claim that women legislative candidates often grapple with financial disparities, limited access to influential networks, and a lack of institutional support, making it even more difficult for them to secure their seats in the legislature, which is why it has been heavily male-dominated for so long, with the incoming House expected to have 66 male lawmakers to 7 women.

Many proponents are once again floating the idea of systems as a potential solution to increase women’s representation in political offices. But the idea remains a contentious issue in Liberia, with opponents arguing that elections should be based on merit, not gender, to determine political success.

Liberia, which has a female population that is slightly more than 50% of the country’s 5.2 million people, has long struggled to achieve gender equality in its political landscape, consistently ranking as one of the lowest countries on the Gender Inequality Index and with a remarkably low score among countries with a limited number of women in parliament.

The country’s ranking is expected to drop on the Inter Parliamentary Union, as Liberia currently ranks 163rd of 186 placements on the global ranking of women in national parliaments if the outcome of the October 10 polls is factored in. 

As for the regional average, the country is expected to still remain far below the 26% for Sub-Saharan Africa and 19% in West Africa, as the percentage of women in the Legislature from 2023 is expected to be around 9-10%.

According to advocates, while the sheer number of female candidates was impressive, the October 10 elections results clearly show that the country still has a long way to go to ensure that women have equal opportunities to succeed in the political arena. 

They claim that the underrepresentation of women in politics is a reflection of deep-seated societal norms and systemic issues that have not yet been totally addressed.

The outgoing 54th Legislature, whose term will expire on the second working Monday in January 2023, will see the six defeated female lawmakers who lost their seats to male counterparts take their exit after the constitutional date. The six are Reps. Finda Lasanna; Haji Siryon; Mariamu Fofana; Mary Karwor; and Rosanna Schaack.

Elsewhere, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change of President Weah has failed to retake control of the House as it falls short of the 37 lawmakers it needs to constitute a simple majority.

Out of the 73 seats, the ruling party won 25 seats, which is 34% of the membership of the House, while the main opposition Unity Party won just 10 seats, but the numbers would increase to 14 if the 4 seats won by the Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction, which is in its alliance, are added.

The Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) is behind with 6 seats, followed by the People’s Unification Party (PUP) with two seats. The remaining seven seats were won by seven political parties. Independent candidates, however, won 19 seats.

The failure of the ruling party to flip at least 12 additional seats to retake the House, according to analysts, may cause Weah a problem if reelected, as he will need to please at least 12 of the 19 independent lawmakers to “collaborate” with the ruling party in supporting its legislative agenda.

As for the Senate, the ruling party has increased its position with the election of 6 Senators, which, when added to its existing 5, would increase its numbers to 11 Senators, constituting 38% of the Senate’s membership.