Liberian women following the leadership influence of Bong County Senator Jewel Howard Taylor and others are seeking assistance from the media promote the passage of the “Affirmative Action for Equitable Participation and Representation Act of 2016.”
At a forum held recently with media institutions, Senator Taylor said women have been marginalized in government and are considered men’s property. She is therefore calling on the media to help change that perception.
She said if the 21 constituencies called for by the Act is implemented, the call for 30% women’s representation in parliament across Africa will be addressed.
The Act, among other things, seeks to allot 21 special legislative constituencies in the country to be contested for by women, youth and the disabled.
The women are contending in their plea that if the call for the twenty-one constituencies to be created is accepted, it should be enforced in the forthcoming 2017 presidential and legislative elections.
Fifteen of the special legislative constituencies, the Act notes, should be exclusively allotted to women, with one constituency in each county.
It further states that three of the constituencies shall be for youths, with a female representation, and three for people living with disabilities. The Act also suggests that one of the constituencies for the physically challenged group should be set aside for a female.
Those hoping to occupy the requested seats are subject to eligibility criteria set by the Constitution and Election Laws of Liberia. The Act also said upon its passage, the National Elections Commission (NEC) will formulate the requisite procedures and guidelines to ensure a free, fair and transparent process governing the elections.
In Section 4 of the proposed Act, the election of representatives for the 15 Special Legislative Constituencies exclusively allotted to women shall be held during the same time of the presidential and legislative elections, while the election of representatives for the three special legislative constituencies for the youth shall be held 30 days after the legislative elections.
In pursuit of equality in representation as being requested exclusively for females, there remains an answer as to what happens if all seats allotted to youths and persons with disabilities are won by women.
It does not also clarify what happens if the imposed female candidate is not the choice of the electorate.
The allotment of these seats to be contested at different times also has the propensity to inflate government’s expenses, and the NEC to conduct the elections.
The Act, moreover, does not state whether or not the allotment of seats to different categories of players will fall within the Joint Resolution that established 73 electoral districts in 2010.
The allotment of constituencies to the categories of people as called for by the Act may also contradict the Liberian Constitution. Chapter VIII Article 77 of the 1986 Constitution states: “Since the essence of democracy is free competition of ideas expressed by political parties and political groups as well as individuals, parties may freely be established to advocate the political opinions of the people.”
Meanwhile, the Affirmative Action for Equal Participation and Representation Act appears to be a subset of the Gender Equity Bill that has suffered passage in the Legislature.
That bill also seeks to allot 30% representation in government for Liberian women. It is also not clear why the Legislature has taken so long to pass or throw out the bill; however, the intent when considered thoughtfully has some constitutional implications.
Article 8 of the Constitution states: “The Republic shall direct its policy towards ensuring for all citizens, without discrimination, opportunities for employment and livelihood under just and humane conditions, and towards promoting safety, health and welfare facilities in employment.”
While Article 8 may be used to qualify the implications of Chapter VIII Article 77 of the 1986 Constitution, the allocation of seats to these groups – women, youth and the disabled – is discriminatory in its essence and a violation of Article 18, which states: “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 all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work.”