By Fahnie S. Kollie
— as we celebrate International Women’s Day
On March 8 of every year, the world usually gathers to reflect and celebrate women’s achievements. People around the globe dress in purple, green, and white to celebrate how far women have come in society and how they’ve accomplished so much in different spheres of life including politics, business, health, science, education, technology, etc.
Liberia on Monday joined the rest of the world to celebrate this year’s International Women’s Day (IWD) under the theme: “Choose To Challenge”. I have seen several posts on social media in commemoration of this great day. I have also listened to officials of government, civil society actors, women advocates, activists, and Liberians, in general, discussing the historicity and importance of this day.
As we celebrate this day on the 8th of March, I would like to soberly reflect on these questions: What have women actually achieved especially in the area of political leadership? What is there to celebrate when it comes to women’s participation in the decision-making process of our country?
Ride with me as I quickly run you through the hard and sad facts. Liberia has poorly performed in the promotion of women in political leadership. According to the UN Women, Liberia ranks 40 out of 54 African countries in terms of the number of women in parliament and 149 out of 191 countries worldwide.
In 2017, Liberia held its Presidential and Legislative elections which brought Pres. Weah to power. There were 20 candidates vying for the presidency. Interestingly, Madam MacDella Cooper was the lone female candidate in the race. Also vying for 73 seats in the House Of Representatives were 984 candidates of which 156 were women according to the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Shockingly, only nine (9) female candidates were victorious. Sadly, Hon. Munah Youngblood died in 2020 leaving the number of females in the lower house at eight (8). The upper house currently has one female senator (Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence) out of 30. This number is expected to increase if Madam Gbotoe Kanneh of Gbarpolu County is certificated by the NEC. During the recently-held mid-term senatorial elections, political parties did not feature many women candidates.
Interestingly, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change(CDC) whose standard-bearer is a self-proclaimed feminist-in-chief didn’t feature a single female candidate on its party’s ticket. As though zero support to promoting women in political leadership is not enough, women who intentionally challenged the odds and struggled to participate were violently attacked on many occasions. This bad precedent violates Article 11 of the 1986 Constitution, Article 7 of CEDAW, and Article 21 of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights.
The horrible situation with Mrs. Cornelia Kruah-Togba and Sen. Nyonblee Karnga Lawrence during the District #13 by-election is also an instance to reference. The attack on candidate Telia Urey during the District #15 by-election is worth noting. Most recently, the harassment and torture of Madam Gbotoe Kanneh, a female senatorial candidate in Gbarpolu County, still remains fresh on the minds of Liberians.
These are just a few cases where woman candidates were viciously attacked. All these statistics clearly show the huge gender gap and discrimination against women in politics in Liberia despite our country being a state party to several regional and international legal instruments which are concerned with women’s participation in political leadership. To name a few, The UN Convention on the Elimination of all Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW); The International Covenant on Civil and Political Rights (ICCPR); The African Charter on Human and Peoples Rights (ACHPR); The Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
It is sad that Liberia has reneged on its national, regional, and international commitments in ensuring equal participation for women in politics. IWD is not only a time to celebrate women but also a time to call for change. As we celebrate this year’s IWD, we would like to challenge our president, legislators, and justices to step up and ensure that women fully participate in the political process. It is time for our Legislature to swiftly revisit all those legislations that have failed in the past which ‘aimed’ to promote women’s political participation.
We are calling on our Legislature to revisit “The Affirmative Action for Equitable Participation” and the Representation Act of 2016 which aims to create 21 new seats with 15 reserved for women and three(3) each for persons with disabilities and youths. It must also revisit the 2010 bill entitled, “The Gender Equality in Politics Act” which provides that there shall be no less than 30 percent and no more than 70 percent representation of each gender in national elected offices and heads of principal and subsidiary organs and structures of each registered political party in Liberia. This bill also provides for a special incentive funding system created by the government and made available to political parties that meet the minimum requirements of women’s participation in the party’s leadership.
The Legislature and Judiciary must enact/enforce specific penalty(ies) for political parties that would be in non-compliance to section 4.5 of the new elections law (NEL) which was amended by the Legislature in 2014. We are calling on the President to augment the number of female cabinet ministers in his government. We all have a responsibility to ensure that women are afforded equal and fair opportunities in the political space of our country.
As Constance Motley said, “something which we think is impossible now is not impossible in another decade”. I envisage a time when the Liberian Parliament would be like the Rwandan parliament where women account for 61%. I envisage a time where the speaker of the house and the senate pro-tempore will be women. I envisage a time where political parties will feature more women candidates. It is possible!
We can achieve it and we will achieve it. In the words of Michelle Bachelet, “A better democracy is where women do not only have the right to vote and to elect but to be elected”. This is the kind of democracy that we are fighting for. The face of power must change! Women deserve a seat at the decision-making table and we must demand it! Liberia will be a better and safer place when women are given the chance to lead!
Happy International Women’s Day to all women! Let’s keeping fighting together. Gender equality is achievable! #choosetochallenge #womenleadershipiskey #womenmustlead
About The Author:
Fahnie S. Kollie is a pro-Child and pro-Girl advocate. She is a senior student of the University of Liberia studying Mass Communication and an Honor Scholar of the Lux-In-Tenebris Scholars Program. Fahnie is also a graduating senior of the Peter Quaqua School of Journalism. Fahnie can be reached via [email protected] or 0775069741.