More Women Running in 2017, but Women’s Participation Falls Short of 30% Benchmark

A female presidential aspirant – MacDella Cooper.

Despite twelve years with a female head of state, Liberia has yet to consolidate the gains it made in the political advancement of women when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first elected woman President in Africa in 2005.

The amended Election Law stipulates that a political party “should endeavor to ensure” that its governing body and candidates include at least 30 percent women–as a suggestion rather than a standard, compliance with the law is difficult to measure, much less enforce. Only one party has reached the 30 percent threshold for women candidates – the Liberian Restoration Party. This party is also the only one to field a female presidential aspirant – MacDella Cooper.

But Ms. Cooper’s achievement, in fact, highlights a step backward in female participation in Liberia’s presidential contests. In the 2005 and 2011 polls, three women stood for the top position, and in both years, one of them, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, won.

In the end, the percentage of female candidates on the parties’ final lists was just under 16 percent–far short of the 30 percent threshold.

Nevertheless, the 156 women candidates running for a seat in the House of Representatives do add up to a 50 percent increase over the 108 female legislative candidates in the 2011 elections. And, six parties have chosen women as their vice-presidential candidates.

The NEC’s efforts to encourage parties to nominate 30 percent women included a June Memorandum of Understanding, signed by all but five parties. Three parties covered all or some of the fees women candidates had to pay to take part in legislative races. In addition, the commission extended the deadline for candidate nominations, paving the way for the entry of 40 new female legislative candidates.

Despite the election law’s nod towards 30 percent participation and the efforts of both Liberian and international groups to support them, Liberian women interested in political office face serious cultural and political obstacles. In several instances female aspirants were blocked at the primary level; some were promised an uncontested run, then surprised at the primary by hand-picked male opponents; still, others successfully won primaries but were then re-challenged. The above examples of discrimination practiced by some political parties led many women to seek out nominations from smaller, newly formed parties – or to stand as independents.

NDI’s observers have also documented numerous instances of women candidates being subjected to personal criticism, whisper campaigns, and derogatory statements based on their gender. There were also at least two instances of verbal threats against women candidates in the pre-election period reported to observers, one instance of physical intimidation, and several instances of personal attacks on social media.

Source: NDI Liberia

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About Cholo Brooks 7284 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists.