‘Liberia Will Be Better Served With Gender Balance in the Legislature’

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L-R: River Cess Co. District #2 Rep. Rosanna Schaack and Represent Women Director, Cynthia Terell

Says Rep. Rosana Schaack

In a June 2019 interview with Represent Women, Hon. Rosana Schaack stated that the diversity of experience and perspectives that women would bring to the Liberian governance process is central to addressing the entrenched development and social issues facing the country.

The Rivercess County District #2 Representative and Chair of Women’s Legislative Caucus believes gender balance could transform the Liberian legislature, adding new dynamism to better serve the needs of all Liberian citizens and residents. Further, she sees constitutional reform as the most effective means of securing gender parity or balance.

While Liberian political parties have adopted a 30% quota regarding women candidates, it is enforced and neither internally nor by the electoral management body, NEC. The voluntary quota has yielded little result, with the party system itself as a barrier to women’s involvement in politics. Schaack therefore considers it time for the country to move in the direction of “more permanent, constitutional action” to support women’s political aspirations.

Represent Women works to increase women’s representation in elected office and advocate for systemic reforms in US voting systems and legislative practices so that more women can contest and lead. According to the organization, Rep. Schaack’s visit was a reminder of the global challenges to women’s leadership, and the potential of democracies.

Internationally, the concept of gender balance is recognized as a fundamental element of sustainable development and accountable governance. Women are entitled to equal citizenship and political participation, but historical and cultural biases hinder their rights — leading to a detrimental ‘gender gap’ that impacts women and the nation as a whole.

According to the World Economic Forum Global Gender Gap report (2016), “women’s engagement in public life has a positive impact on inequality across society at large, fosters greater credibility in institutions, and heightens democratic outcomes’’.

“Across all countries, making full use of women’s capabilities paves the way to optimizing a nation’s human capital potential. This is evidenced in the strong relationship between the Global Gender Gap Index and the Human Capital Index. Few of the top performers in the Human Capital Index have succeeded in maximizing the development and deployment of their nation’s talent without also narrowing their gender gaps’,’ the report said.

Quota systems have proven an effective means of narrowing the gender gap.  They are used as a form of affirmative action or equal opportunity measures to address the historical under-representation of minority or marginalized groups, in this case, women.

Opponents of quotas consider them unnecessary, or discriminatory. Some critics even see them as a manipulation of the democratic process, which only serves to undermine the legitimacy of women who enter office as a result. On the other hand, quota advocates point out that intervention is necessary because gender biases continue to exist, imposing very real systemic and institutional barriers to women. Parliaments, they say, should reflect the country they serve — and harness the resources and skills of all segments of society.

According to Grand Cape Mount senatorial aspirant, Kula V. Fofana, legally there haven’t been a lot of instruments to protect, encourage or support women’s participation in Liberian politics. “There’s a need for political and legal reform which will give women the opportunity to contest – this will be an important milestone in our history,’’ she said.

The core idea behind quota systems is to ensure that female participation is more than tokenism, where a select few are “permitted entry”.

”Reserved seats’’ are an example of legal quotas mandated in a country’s constitution to regulate the number of women elected. They set aside or reserve a certain number or percentage of legislative seats that other groups are not eligible to contest. Another example would be an electoral quota that legally require political parties to meet an established minimum for the share of women on their candidate lists. This approach may include incentives to support parties to find suitable women candidates, and legal sanctions for their non-compliance. Voluntary quotas are essentially what is in place now, with individual parties agreeing that women should comprise a certain proportion of candidates nominated (30%).

In Rwanda the political gender gap was addressed through constitutional reform, which instituted a quota of 30 percent female representation in all decision-making bodies. In the Parliament, 24 of the 80 seats in the Lower House were reserved for women to be elected by an innovative special electoral college composed of voters from local women’s councils and district councils, according to UN Women.

Rwanda’s Chamber of Deputies is presently 64 percent female, making the country the leader in parliamentary gender balance, not just for Africa, but the world. The country is rated 6th out of 144 countries included, when it comes to addressing the gender gap. Since the introduction of the “Reserved Seat” quota system in 2013, Rwanda has likewise seen a rise in its HDI Ranking, from .5 to .524, or 158th out of 189 nations researched in 2017.

Presently in the US (placed 51st in terms of closing the gender gap and 13th on the HDI and), twenty-five percent of the Senate is female, while women represent twenty-three percent of the House of Representatives. In the current Liberian Legislature, 11 out of 103 seats (11%) are occupied by women; and Liberia places 114th in terms of gender gap and 181st on the HDI.

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