For more than a decade Liberian women have been lagging behind their male counterparts in all areas of life, but the Gbarnga, Bong County National Constitution Conference (NCC) could likely have set the stage to change this.
The conference delegates unanimously agreed to amend the equality and non-discrimination clause, which would make it different from the current Constitution, where equality of rights is not clearly stated.
In their recommendations to amend certain portions of the Constitution, the delegates stated “Women and men should have the rights to equal treatment, including the rights to equal opportunities in political, economic, cultural and social spheres.”
Gender activist, Madam Ruth Caesar, spent most of her time at the conference campaigning for the recognition of women’s rights to be a major part of the proposed revised Constitution.
Some 600 delegates, including President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and senior executives representing various interest groups from around the country, gathered in Gbarnga last week to discuss proposed amendments to the Constitution, which will be put to a referendum early next year following a review by the Liberian Legislature.
Amending the Constitution is one of the key reforms expected before Liberia can hold the elections scheduled for 2017.
“I hope they will just take our submissions as we’ve agreed,” said campaigner Madam Caesar. “We are generally happy that over 80 percent of our submissions have been taken on board specifically the equality clause which does not exist in the current Constitution.”
Many of the submissions made by women were included in the recommendations submitted to the Constitution Review Committee (CRC) for presentation to President Sirleaf.
The President will later submit them to the National Legislature for concurrence by the Senate and House of Representatives to set the basis for a referendum to be conducted by the National Elections Commission (NEC).
Some of the conference’s recommendations included ensuring women’s participation in governance and national affairs, access to equal economic and social opportunities such as employment and education, and for the Constitution to reflect a gender responsive language by referring to “he and she” in reference to men and women, boys and girls.
They also proposed that the age of marriage for girls be set at 18 years. The proposal for inheritance rights for traditional women also made the constitution amendment list.
A group under the banner, “Women’s Constitution Reform Taskforce,” seeking to ensure a gender responsive Constitution, said in a statement that the “women’s proposals are a critical step towards enhancing gender equality in politics.”
Noting the statistics of female lawmakers, the group said the Senate consists of 30 members, three of whom are women, which represents 10 percent while the House has 73 Representatives, eight of whom are women, representing only 11 percent of that body.
“These figures,” the group said, “bring up women’s representation in the Liberian legislature to a total of 10.6 percent of the number of parliamentarians,” adding, “This percentage is much lower than what is obtaining in other African countries.”
The group suggested that if the women’s recommendations were to be accepted, it would progressively encourage their participation in politics.
But, the National Muslim Council of Liberia (NMCL) called on Liberians to reject the conference’s recommendations, “because the process has no semblance of democratic participation.”
Council members, however, unanimously voted for the gender equality.