A coalition of women groups in Liberia are calling for the mandatory enforcement of Section 4.5 of the National Elections law, which compels political parties to ensure a minimum of 30% female representation.
The group, comprising some of the country’s most prominent women’s rights organizations, claimed that the law needs to be enforced to address the historical underrepresentation of women in politics and promote equal participation.
“In 2018, the percentage of women remained stagnant at 11% and dropped below 10% in 2021. However, following a by-election in November 2021, there was a slight increase to just fewer than 11%. Currently, the percentage stands at 10.7% and we want to see an increase in the upcoming election in October 2023.”
Liberia is one of several African countries holding elections this year. Women’s right advocates and activists have constantly called for the full implementation of the election law, but only few political parties have abided.
There are over fifteen active political parties in the country, including the Liberty Party, Unity Party, All Liberian Party, People’s Unification Party, Alternative National Congress, (ANC), (the Collaborating Political Parties), and Movement for Democracy and Reconstruction Party, which will challenge the incumbent Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) of President George Manneh Weah.
While only CDC and the ANC have females as their vice running mates, the rest are both male candidates. Some time ago, the National Elections Commission (NEC), political parties and the UN signed a memorandum of understanding to ensure a minimum of 30% female representation for October 10 elections.
Christiana Wayon, Medica Liberia’s Advocacy Officer, said while the MoU represents significant progress and high level of commitment from political parties and the NEC to ensure gender parity in the upcoming elections, it is important to note that the MoU is not binding and does not grant the NEC the authority to hold parties accountable for non-compliance.
Women make up a huge number of the country’s population, but they are often less represented in politics. The country is currently ranked 162 out of 185 on the Inter-parliamentary Union’s list of women in national parliaments with women occupying less than 11 percent of the 103 seats in the Legislature despite constituting more than 50 percent of the population.
The percentage of women has also fallen since 2006 — a trend that correlates to a decrease as male candidates are often preferred over female candidates.
The 2017 presidential election is a case in point, with none of the 20 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.
“Evidently, in the previous election in 2017, only one out of twenty-four parties or coalitions met the 30% threshold,” said Wayon.
However, the group is worried whether the amendments would meet the consent of a majority of the political actors in our jurisdiction.
“The signing of the MoU presents a valuable opportunity to demonstrate compliance with Article 2 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance. The majority of political parties, alliances, and coalitions and the National Elections Commission, have shown their agreement by signing the MoU.”
Additionally, she added the legislature’s passage of the bill — inclusive of section 4.5 and the president’s approval — suggests the interest of major political actors to amend section 4.5 of the New Elections Law.
According to Wayon, the signing of the MOU by the majority of political parties, alliances and coalition, along with the commitment of the NEC, has a commendable level of dedication to gender equity measures.
However, she said the MOU’s non-binding nature and the potential legal challenges based on Article 2 of the ECOWAS Protocol on Good Governance underscore the importance of taking additional steps to address the issue.
To address these challenges, the group has recommended that members of the House of Representatives prioritize the approval of the portions of the bill related to section 4.5 of the National Elections Law that were approved by the President and finalize the legislative process and president George Weah to publicly declare his approval of the portions of the bill related to section 4.5 of the National Elections Law and ensure that it is printed into handbills in a timely fashion.
Also, they want all political institutions that are party to the aforementioned MoU to take the lead in disseminating the content of the MOU to their constituents and publicize their support for the amendment of section 4.5 of the National Elections Law and National Legislature should notify ECOWAS of the intent to pass the amended version of the Elections Law.
“We firmly believe that implementing these recommendations will contribute to a more inclusive and representative political landscape in Liberia, empowering women and promoting democratic values.”
Medica Liberia, Progress and Opportunities for Women’s Empowerment and Rights (POWER), the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL), and the African Women Leaders Network Liberia Chapter said the representation of women in the legislature has witnessed a decline over the years, with a decline from 16% in 2006 to less than 13% in 2012 and further down to 11% in 2014.