Op-Ed: Liberia Has Traded in the ‘Old Ma’ for a Female VP and a First Lady but Is That Enough?

By Aisha M. Dukulé |

Ms. Aisha M. Dukulé

Liberia should be spearheading the inclusion of women in governance and politics. Liberia gave birth to two Nobel Peace Laureates, activists Leymah Gbowee and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. The election of Liberia’s first female Vice President came immediately at the end of the African continent’s first female president’s tenure.

However according to the Institute for Security Studies, in Liberia, “less than 10% of people participating in politics are women”.

Before the end of her presidency, President Johnson Sirleaf, courageously signed the original Domestic Violence Bill (DVB) which included a ban on female genital mutilation (FGM) after it had been killed by the male dominated Senate in the 52nd and 53rd legislatures, illustrating the extent and limits of power of the female executive.

This Executive Order although courageous amid the cultural pushback from some proponents of rural tradition, was still a bitter sweet pill for some female activists as it is to only last for a year.

With currently only two female senators, Madam Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence of Grand Bassa and Madam Geraldine Doe-Sheriff of Montserrado, out of the 30 that represent Liberia’s 15 counties, the Domestic Violence Bill (DVB) may see the same fate it found in both the 52nd and 53rd legislature —- unless the power of the female executive wills itself through Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor, known for her strong vocal advocacy for women.

As Senator, Vice President Jewel Howard Taylor pushed for both the DV Bill and Gender Parity to be passed into law and has sworn to adamantly protect the rights of the women of Liberia. Yet should the women of Liberia once again be made to depend on a single “iron woman” to secure the many rights protected and granted by these bills? This a better Liberia does not make.

The Domestic Violence Bill (DVB) illustrates the need for more female inclusion in government and politics at every level in Liberia.

Weah’s administration has so far appointed one woman to his cabinet Hon. Williametta Piso Saydee Tarr, as the Minister of Gender and Social Protection, a position also held by a woman in Sirleaf’s government, whilst maintaining heavyweights such as Mary Broh Director General of GSA and Florence Brandy as superintendent of Montserrado. This hopefully is the beginning of a pattern, as several deputy and assistant positions have also been filled by women.

This election cycle of the 1,026 approved candidates, only 163 were women. The Bong County and Montserrado County seats left open by the President and Vice President provide an opportunity for another two female senators to join the chorus of women on Capitol Hill, a win which more than likely will depend on support from either of them.

However, Liberians must also look further than elections and government appointments to remedy Liberia’s lack of female decision makers. The lack of female political inclusion is a just a symptom of Liberia’s many other issues:  In Liberia, 32.8% of females compared to 62.4% males are literate, and 48% of Liberian girls fall pregnant before the age 18. No matter what other initiatives and policies are put forth there can be no equality in politics as these kinds of disparities continue to exist.

The new administration can and must engage civil society groups who understand the issues affecting Liberian women, who can help develop policies and solutions to issues while maintaining a dialogue with the communities they serve.  Pro-poor politics should mostly embrace women issues, because they are at the core of poverty.

The numerous new female grassroots groups that came to existence during the electoral campaign, older organizations such as the Women in Peacebuilding Network, or the pro-female advocacy group New Narratives which held a round table dialogue on gender inequality in politics and government in Liberia just last week, are looking to be engaged and apart of Liberia’s political discourse and decision making.

Issues of gender must be combated at the local level, at the grass-root level, in community where empowerment tackles the root causes of female poverty, because as Liberia has seen, just having one “powerful” female in the executive office is simply not enough.

Aisha M. Dukulé is a Liberian writer and communications professional, during the 2017 general and presidential elections, Ms. Dukule’ served as  National Presidential Campaign Communications Coordinator for Mr. Alexander B. Cummings and the Communications Manager at the Center for Liberia’s Future which conducts research on at-risk populations in the Mano River Union. Ms. Dukulé can be reached at aishadukule@yahoo.com.

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