As Liberian women join their counterparts around the world to celebrate International Women’s Day, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has urged them to attach seriousness to their right to vote if they want to be counted in Liberian politics.
President Sirleaf made the statement at the Antoinette Tubman Stadium (ATS) on March 8. She promised to provide vehicles to facilitate the transportation of women to various locations to carry on their registration so their presence would be felt in the upcoming Special Senatorial election.
This year’s International Women’s Day was celebrated under the Global theme “Equality for Women, is Progress for all,” while Liberia’s theme was: “Mentoring for Transformation.”
“We will work with the Gender Ministry to organize a registration drive that would help transport all women to their respective areas of voting,” she promised, saying, “If women want to see more women in government, you have to vote and put them there.”
Making humorous comments on her inauguration promise for “Papa to bring home black plastic bag,” President Sirleaf said “I promised in 2006 that papa would come home with black plastic bags; but apparently papa passes to many places with the plastic bags before finally going home. This is why we now empower women to come home with the bag.”
Also speaking at the women’s day program was Foreign Minister, Augustine K. Ngafuan. Minister Ngafuan said he thought it was a shame for so few women to be in the National Legislature.
He stated that he would coordinate with the Legislature to enact a law to encourage more women to be represented in politics by forming a Constitution Referendum.
Also speaking at the ceremony was President Pro-Tempore, Gbehzohngar Findley, who urged women to work towards their success in politics and not to sit with folded hands.
Pro-Temp Findley stressed that while he fully supports women’s participation in politics, they still have to work hard and sell their qualities and qualifications so voters, who would be convinced to elect them in power.
President Sirleaf and other women’s rights advocates have crafted a bill known as the “Gender Disparity” bill. This bill seeks 30% participation of women in key public or electable positions. To this date the bill is still languishing in the House of Representatives.
During the first debate over the bill last year, some lawmakers took exception to it and described it as “unconstitutional” because it discriminated against one group (men) in favor of another (women).
Chapter III Article 18 of the Liberian Constitution says “All Liberian citizens shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work.”
From that political standpoint certain lawmakers argued that every Liberian, regardless of any of the differences mentioned in Constitution, has the right to participate in election by contesting and that setting a percentage for a group according to sex was discriminatory.
One prominent Liberian woman, Madam Mary Brownell, commented last year that she would not support the bill because aside from the constitutional questions it poses; it has the propensity to make women lazy.
According to the veteran Liberian educator, more women would see their gender as a prerequisite to occupying positions in government and the private sector. Madam Brownell said some of these women would start showing reluctance to become qualified and become competent enough to compete with their male counterparts.