Tuesday, 02 May 2023 14:34

Women and 2023 Election: Why Must Women Get Fully Involved Featured

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By Dr. Akiah P. Glay Dormoh

In Liberia, there is a famous adage that says “Anything a man can do, a woman can do even better”. This adage was manifest in the 2005 general and presidential elections when, Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, took the helm of the Liberian Presidency and became the first woman to be elected as an African head of state after an electoral process dominated by male candidates.

Although it wasn’t all rosy for the ‘iron lady’, as she was often referred to, especially taking over a country with a dysfunctional infrastructure, system, and checkered international image, she rallied support and repositioned Liberia as a respectable member of the international community.   If there is a lesson to be learned from Liberia’s experiment of women’s leadership, it is that women have what it takes to deliver the kind of transformative leadership a country need. 

 Background

Women play a critical role in the body politics of Liberia. This is so because the 2022 census result indicates that the total population of Liberia is 5.2 million (5,248.621)[1]. Out of the total population, 50.4% (2,644,450) are male and 49.6% (2,604,171) are female, which means, the ratio between male and female population is at 5 percent. Considering the margin, the need for equal participation cannot be more emphasized. Equal participation overall is much needed in Liberia because it breeds a more shared economy and enhances development and also alleviates poverty, especially among the most marginalized group (the women precisely). Women as they are the most vulnerable groups.

The national and local governments can support women’s political participation in multiple ways, but firstly, they need to consider specific measures that will overcome barriers of gender discrimination; especially, specific gaps in capacities or resources that prevent women from competing effectively.

And the fact that Liberia has gained great recognition as being the first nation to elect a female president and in the 2017 election, elected a female vice president. This could have set the pace for more women’s involvement in politics. However, women’s representation remains low in most institutions in Liberia. Whether in private or public institutions, it is largely dominated by males.  Currently, women occupied 11% of the 103 seat[2]s in the National Legislature, 20% of managerial positions in public institutions, and 20.1% of senior and middle managerial positions in the government. Liberia ranked 156th of 162 countries[3] on the Gender Inequality Index and 94 on the Global Gender Gap. The aforementioned statistic shows a crisis of under-representation of women in the public sphere in Liberia given that women and girls make up close to 50% of the total[4] population. Without affirmative action legislation, and enforcement mechanisms structured to help address women’s participation in elections, Liberia’s democratic, development, and equality goals will not be achieved.

Biases Against Women Politicians

There are various reasons for the under-representation of women in political institutions. Stereotyping, or assigning characteristics to political leaders of a certain group is considered one of the many factors. For instance, females are seen as kind, mothers, warm and compassionate, whereas males are typically viewed as assertive, tough, and competent. Although the extent to which these stereotypes help or hurt female candidates electorally is debatable. Perhaps, they could indicate that women are often not considered ‘leadership material’. Particularly, voters tend to show a preference for stereotypically[5] masculine traits over feminine characteristics when determining who should hold high office.  Secondly, even when women are brave enough to enter politics, female politicians face a paradoxical challenge. Here are classic examples, In 2019, Ms. Telia Urey ran for the District 15 Representative seat but was faced with several forms of discrimination.  Again, Cllr. Charlyne Brumskine's intention to[6] run in the 2023 Representative election in Grand Bassa County has begun to alarm death threats. Long before now, her excellency Madam Ellen Johnson Sirleaf testified of being victimized throughout her political career.  True be told, gender equality contributes immensely to speedy growth and development. It is about time Liberians think deeply to equalize the margin between males and females. The mechanism to have an equitable society should be at the peak of all political parties and the government. Though gender biases cannot be eliminated overnight, concrete actions can be taken toward eliminating all forms of gender biases. Before effective changes can be made, it is imperative to recognize how power is structured in electoral institutions, political parties, the media, and in our everyday lives but we have a way forward through legislation.

Legal Framework that can set the Pace for more affirmative actions in the 2023 Election

Article 5 of the 1986[7] Constitution of Liberia makes provisions for the national unity of Liberians into one body politic and for the enactment of laws encouraging the participation of all citizens in government including women and men. Also, national policies have been adopted to address different aspects of women’s political participation and representation such as the National Gender Policy (2018-2022)[8] that commits to promoting gender parity in all spheres of governance, the affirmative action policy, and legislation for women’s participation, and the National Government’s Pro-Poor Agenda for Prosperity and Development (PAPD) (2018-2023). Specifically, Pillar One: Power to the People seeks to emphasize the political participation of women at the national and local levels to reach a target of 30% by 2023. Internationally, Liberia has adopted a range of regional and international legal frameworks on the advancement of women’s political and civic rights at local and national levels, including ratification of the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and its Optional Protocol; adoption of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action; and ratification of the Protocol to the African Charter on Human and Peoples’ Rights on the Rights of Women in Africa (The Maputo Protocol). These frameworks provide a perfect reason for vigorous affirmative action especially when taking into account the  2005 gender quota [9]that mandates political parties or coalitions to endeavor and ensure that the governing body and its list of candidates have no less than 30% of its member from each gender. 

Conclusion

Meaningful participation of women in politics and decision-making brings different perspectives and experiences to addressing national problems. In order to address many different issues women and men are faced with, equal representation is required. Liberia will not be able to meet the myriad of development challenges it faces if women are not at the decision-making table. UN Women Executive Director [10] Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, seeing the need for equality in politics commented on the 2021 Women in Politics data and said “No country prospers without the engagement of women. We need women’s representation that reflects all women and girls in all their diversity and abilities, and across all cultural, social, economic, and political situations. we still need bold decisive action across the world to bring women into the heart of decision-making spaces in large numbers and as full partners. There’s no doubt this can and should be done. It should be done now.”

To conclude, now is the time to take action against stereotyping and promote gender equality in all political parties across the country, especially during the formulation of political parties’ leadership.

 

[1] https://liberia.un.org/en/220493-liberia-announces-provisional-results-its-5th-national-population-and-housing-census

[2] Country Fact Sheet | UN Women Data Hub

[3] Liberia (unwomen.org)

[4] Liberia announces provisional results of its 5th National Population and Housing Census | United Nations in Liberia

[5] https://journals.sagepub.com/doi/full/10.1177/2041905819838147

[6] Charlyne Brumskine alarms death threat - Liberia news The New Dawn Liberia, premier resource for latest news

[7] Liberia 1986 Constitution - Constitute (constituteproject.org)

[8] The Liberia National Gender Policy (fao.org)

[9] Liberia: Amended electoral laws (2014) — (aceproject.org)

[10] https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2021/3/press-release-women-in-politics-new-data-shows-growth-but-also-setbacks

Read 5235 times Last modified on Tuesday, 02 May 2023 14:59

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