– River Gee women have their say on elections and constitutional reform
For the past six months, electoral reform has been “in everybody’s mouth.’’
Having played host to a community forum and town hall meetings on the topic, as well as sending representatives to the recently concluded NEC southeastern regional consultation, River Gee has not been absent from the dialogue.
Surprisingly, it is the women, including some who have never before been politically engaged, who have taken the lead in matters of electoral reform.
Take Alice Sopah for example, a disabled resident of Nyanwriken, District 2, who has not voted for the past three election cycles. “To get to the polling center, I will have to cross a large river. During the dry season the river tide is low but during rainy season the river is flooded by September and up to October. So since I became an eligible voter in 2005 I have not voted. I want to be part of the process, but I don’t want to risk my life.
“As a citizen I should be able to vote no matter what part of the country I live.”
With senatorial elections a little more than one year away, the women around her are doing their part to help her get a chance. They all agree: “We taking this election business serious.”
“If a leader elected is the leader for everybody, then the government must ensure that everybody can participate in the process of electing a leader. We cannot stop the raining but we can change the law,” interjected Helena Torh Turo, National Coordinator of the Southeastern Women Development Association (SEWODA).
“With the experience of working in the five southeastern counties for more than ten years, I know that women in hard-to-reach communities cannot fully participate in election processes due to the timeframe set in the constitution.”
“The challenge of traveling during the rainy season is one of the reasons women do not vote,” attested Elizabeth Green, a native of Glarro and chairperson for women’s affairs on the River Gee Traditional Council.
Regina Saytue, President of the county association for rural women, termed the situation as a regional and national issue that needs to be considered with urgency. “If the government wants the association to promote the electoral process, then it is cardinal to revisit the constitution.”
Along with changing the timing of elections, the women would like to see considerations of other constitutional and elections law amendments in line with the Declaration of Principles for International Election Observation endorsed in 2005, and as per the recommendations following the 2017 general election. These include a reduction in the tenure of elected officials and making it mandatory for political parties to nominate not less than 30 percent women, as well as new possibilities such as the public funding of first time women candidates.
They are calling on the government and the National Elections Commissions to explore “every possibility” for addressing the legal, political and financial factors that inhibit or marginalize certain citizens from serving the country through elected office.
“Level the playing field so that everybody that is qualified can get their chance. Some will win, some will lose. Some will make Liberia proud,” Beatrice T., a District 3 entrepreneur, said.
Elections, be they general, senatorial or special/by-elections, are crucial determinants of democracy. Irrespective of how peaceful or transparent an election process may be, if it does not reflect an aggregate number of the total population eligible to participate (vote and contest), then the will of the people has not been truly or fully expressed.
Without due process to incorporate a full spectrum of the population, whether women, persons (living) with disabilities, or persons living in remote communities, electoral reform and sustainable democracy will fall short of the mark.
Tenneh Kamara-Subah in River Gee County contributed to this story.