The Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) has embarked on a systematic campaign to ensure the full involvement of women and youth in the operation of political parties in West Africa, especially in post-conflict Liberia.
The ECOWAS members, who also expressed concern over what they termed, “the marginalization of women and youth in national politics, called for the involvement of the “marginalized groups, including women and youth.”
Ambassador Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, Special Representative of the president of ECOWAS in Liberia, told yesterday’s gathering of representatives of political parties in Monrovia that ECOWAS has been at the forefront of supporting the enhancement of the principles of inclusiveness, and opportunity for equal representation, and participation in the political democratic process for all.
In his keynote address at the start of the three-day training for political parties, the ambassador said it was an indisputable fact that women and youths constitute a large population of Africa, “but they are the least represented groups in political parties in their respective countries.”
The conference is being held under the theme on “Mainstreaming Youth and Women in Party Activities, and Media Relations, and Effective Campaign Strategies.”
He said, in Liberia, for example, the participation and representation of women in all party hierarchies and structured leadership has been very low in the history of the country.
“In particular, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA 2003) recognized women’s participation in the peace process by ensuring that women were represented in the Transitional Government. Even with that specific provision, the composition of the Transitional Legislative Assembly had only four women out of 76 members,’ he recalled.
In consolidating the growing desire for gender equality, the 2005 elections’ guidelines proposed that political parties apply a 30 percent quota for women among the list of nominated candidates, he said.
“Though not legally enforceable, the political parties that applied the guidelines in the 2005 elections had the largest numbers of women in the legislature. There was, however, no proper follow-up to further strengthen gains made during the 2005 elections, especially with the election of the first female President in Africa; Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and 14 women represented in the 52nd National Legislature.
He noted that, the good fortune was not repeated in the second elections in 2011, adding, “Although President Sirleaf was re-elected, only nine women were elected into the 53rd National Legislature.
The ECOWAS Ambassador observed that female politicians are still fighting to run on a level playing field with their male counterparts. “Furthermore, political parties are yet to take concrete steps to encourage female membership into their parties through the adoption of the 30 percent gender quotas.
On the issue of youth participation in politics, Ambassador Ajisomo said the right of young people to participate in political parties’ activities and be included in democratic processes and practices is very vital to ensuring the achievement of a stable democratic society.
In Liberia, he said, young people play an active role in political institutions as the “foot soldiers,” “but they are the driving force in terms of mobilizing support for political parties, though I am not sure if they have that much leverage in terms of leadership and decision-making in the parties.”
For his part, National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman, Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya, said the question of limited women participation in political activities is a ‘governance and empowerment issue,’ which is not unique to Liberia.
Chairman Korkoya said there is a global gender equity problem that has been the subject of international discourse across many democracies, ‘old and new.’
He added, “Some countries, like Rwanda and South Africa, have used laws and political innovation to make tremendous gains in empowering women politically.”
According to him, there are countries that have made little progress due to culture, tradition, institutional arrangements, and legal frameworks.
Liberia, as young democracy, according to Cllr. Korkoya, is one that has not done well in increasing women’s participation in the democratic process.
“In fact, it can be argued that the trend of women ascendency to elective public positions has probably taken a downward spiral.
Of the 94 legislative seats in the 2005 elections, the NEC Chairman said, only 13 or 13.8 percent were women.
While the number of Legislative seats increased to 103 in 2011, he recalled, only 13 Legislative seats are held by women.
Political parties represented at the ongoing training workshop include the ruling Unity Party, National Patriotic Party, Liberty Party, Congress for Democratic Change and Movement for Progressive Change.