“Violence Undermines Election Integrity”

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Participants posed shortly after the opening session in Gbarnga, Bong County

A cross-section of Liberian women has described violence against them during elections as a “threat to the integrity” of the county’s electoral process.

The women, who are in Gbarnga, Bong County, for a two-day workshop, said violence undermines inclusiveness and their political representation.

The workshop, organized by the National Elections Commission (NEC) with support from the United Nations Women, is held under the theme: “Promoting Inclusive and Safe Environment for the participation of women in Elections.”

The workshop runs from April 1-2, 2021, and intends to enable public actors to have an understanding of the Violence Against Women in Elections (VAWiE) Protocol and Action Plan.

Atty. Nathan P. Garbie giving an overview of the gathering said the objective of the Action Plan is to support the implementation of the protocol between NEC and the registered political parties to address violence against women in an election in Liberia, adding that “The expected results cannot be achieved without collaboration and support of key stakeholders including security agencies, judiciary and citizens in general who are key actors in the electoral process.”

Garbie said the Action Plan has the objective to address the drivers of violence against women in elections and politics while promoting leadership and political participation.

He said the limited participation of women leadership in elections since 2005, particularly during the 2019 by-elections and 2017 general election, is related to the persistent prevalence of violence against women.

Boakai A. Dukuly, one of NEC Commissioners, told participants that violence against women during elections affects women’s participation as voters, candidates, election officials, activists, and political party leaders, and it undermines the free, fair, and inclusive democratic process.

Giving reference to a report released by UN Broadband Commission, Dukuly disclosed that violence against women is a ‘problem of pandemic proportion which found out that 73 percent of women online have been exposed to or experienced some forms of violence.

Dukuly said violence against and women or Sexual and Gender-Based Violence (SGBV) that prevents women from exercising their political rights or reaching their goals is not done by a single person but starts within communities before going to the national level.

“Violence against women is observed in all sectors including the Judiciary, Legislature, and Executive, and that is the reason why when women are harmed, people sit and do nothing about it, even the state actors,” he said.

He said with all of the difficulties women faced, those women who fight back, are always successful, adding that “Women need to do more because they are in majority which gives them the power to elect themselves during the elections period.”

Dukuly said among 86 countries that were included in a survey, only 26 percent of law enforcement agencies have been able to take action when there is violence against women.

He named culture resistance, discrimination, patriarch, weak legal framework, impunity of criminals, and unequal social power structures as reasons behind violence against women.

Marayah Fyneah, Coordinator for the Liberian Women National Political Forum, said violence in elections is not something new because it dates as far back as 1985. 

Giving reference to two by-elections involving Telia  Urey and another female candidate who was violated without redress, Fyneah said it has contributed hugely to violence against women in every election, presuming that the saturation may be increased during the 2023 general elections.

Fyneah said, “Out of the 103 lawmakers, there are only 10.  So, we need to rise and ensure that come 2023 elections, we have not less than 30 women lawmakers in both houses.”

She said since men are not willing to accept the endeavor to ensure that women are included on the party’s ticket, women should not vote for them but strengthen one another to have equal seats at the table.

Speaking on behalf of the female candidate’s Grace B. Scotland, a senatorial candidate of Sinoe County during the 2020 election drew the attention of the public to understand the importance of women’s representation.

Scotland blamed NEC for most of the violence against women because according to her, it started with the staff that they sent in the field and the NEC has allegedly refused to investigate them properly. 

“NEC officials are not conducting this training because they love women or are interested in women representation; they are hosting it because this is where they can get money from. They are the main perpetrators of the violence against us in the field and they do not even investigate their staffs after that violence against us,” she said.

Evelyn K. Dennis, the Administrative Assistant at the National Commission on Disabilities, said women with disabilities have experienced much violence during elections and are excluded from every decision. 

She said it is important that more emphasis be placed on people living with disabilities to ensure that political parties allow them to participate as a means of giving them space at the decision-making table.

The consultation brought together participants from the Civil Society, women in politics, political party representatives, female candidates, People Living with Disabilities, local election magistrates, law enforcers, and the media.

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