Legal, political and women’s advocates in a very engaging but uncompromising manner have urged the House of Representatives to make the gender-unfriendly 1986 Liberian Constitution to be gender-friendly by amendment of the “he, person, Liberian and citizen” to “he/she or his/her.”
The experts have argued that the Constitution is the supreme and fundamental law of the country and its provisions are binding on both males and females throughout the country, therefore it should not be silent on women and children.
Atty. Arthur Yeanay told lawmakers yesterday in Ganta to endorse Proposition 19 of the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) which says: “The Constitution and all legal documents should carry the pronouns he/she.”
He said lawmakers should allow the proposition to form part of the referendum and to enable the constitution for the governance of the country to be gender neutral and gender friendly.
Atty. Yeanay said “It is unacceptable for the constitution to be masculine, knowingly that there are women in the country. The gender unfriendly constitution needs to be changed to “he or she” and “his or her.”
He further admonished the lawmakers to consider Proposition 21, which says: “Women should have access to equal economic and social opportunities (employment and education).”
He argued that the passage of Proposition 21 would “encourage literacy and eliminate disenfranchisement (exclusion) of women (in the workforce).”
The lead gender lawyer, Dr. Nevada Ricks, said the lawmakers should not consider ‘Proposition 23’ which states that “People in prolonged co-habitation should enjoy marital rights.” Cllr. Ricks said the proposition promotes immorality, promiscuity and defiles marriage.
She stated that the constitution should rather ensure women’s participation in governance and national affairs by attributing quotas to women thereby endorsing ‘Proposition 18,’ which says: “The Constitution should ensure women’s participation in governance and national affairs.”
She also commented on proposition 16, stressing that children’s rights should be revisited so that they do not interfere with parental duty to discipline their children.
Cllr. Annie Swen, in a very strong tone said the Legislature must pay no attention to ‘Proposition 18’, which says “age of marriage for girls should be at least 18 years old,” arguing that the law already exists in the Domestic Relations Law that the age of legal consent for a male is 21 years and 18 years for a female.
She also said Proposition 22, which states that the constitution should guarantee inheritance rights for traditional women should be ignored because it is also in the country’s statutory laws.
Former lawmaker turned women’s advocate, Madam Ruth Perry, and Gender Minister Julia Duncan Cassell strongly differed with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on ‘Proposition 25,’ which says: “Customary laws should be made constitutional.”
Minister Cassell said half of Liberia’s population is women and the other half are brought forth by women so the lawmakers should promote propositions that promote women.
The retreat continues today with additional experts to help the House’s Joint Committee on Good Governance, Judiciary and Election and Inauguration make an informed report to Plenary on the passage of propositions to form part of the gazette and referendum.