Women Political Participation and Leadership

Female aspiring candidates attend a workshop in Liberia
Aspiring female candidates  attend a workshop in Liberia. Photo credit - UN Women Liberia - Gloriah Ganyani

Women’s representation in public office remains low and so does their participation in elections as candidates. There are nine female and 64 males in the House of representatives, two females and 27 males in the House of Senate of the Bicameral national legislature. There are five female and 14 male ministers in the cabinet and this under representation cuts across local government. There is no obligatory gender provision yet in the elections law nor temporary special measure in the constitution. The provision in the electoral law on Section 4.5.1c states that, “A list of candidates submitted to the Commission for an election should endeavor to have no less than 30% of the candidates on the list from each gender.” An obligatory and enforceable provision without the clause ‘should endeavor’ rather ‘shall have’ is before the Senate after passing in the House of representative as part of the electoral law reform bill. The electoral system of First Past The Post (FPTP) (an electoral system in which votes are translated into seats) makes it even more difficult for the few women who get on party ballots to stand a chance of winning and there has been heightened incidences of violence against women in elections which further shrinks the space for women’s political participation. It is in this context that the work of the women political participation and leadership pillar in Liberia is focused.

Based on the achievements of women in politics and lessons learned to date, the Global Flagship Program Initiative (FPI) Theory of Change (ToC) envisions a four-pronged strategy under Goal 1 of the Entity’s Strategic Plan 2020-2024 “Women lead and participate in all areas of decision-making: (1) support development and implementation of robust legal frameworks and administrative arrangements that promote gender balance and facilitate women’s participation; (2) expand the pool of qualified and capable women to run for election; (3) transform gender norms so that women are accepted as legitimate and effective leaders; and (4) support women leaders in gender-sensitive political institutions to attract, promote and retain women leaders, and highlight the constructive contribution they make to decision-making.

Under this four-pronged approach, prong one supported the electoral bill reform agenda and its passage. A strong lobby and advocacy partnership with the women’s legislative caucus of Liberia (WLCL); Ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection (MoGCSP); civil society organisations (CSOs) and the National Elections Commission (NEC) and Communications company- Vivacious Consultants resulted in the passage of the Electoral Reform Bill inclusive of the obligatory 30% gender quota by the House of Representatives in February 2022.  A spotlight was placed on a Protocol and action plan for violence against women in elections and politics (VAWiE-P) prevention and response working with NEC, which resulted in political parties signing to endorse the guideline as a working document ahead of the Lofa by-election in May 2022 and 2023 general elections.

On prong two, the pillar has 225 mentees from the 15 counties of Liberia trained under the young women political leadership mentoring program. This program bridges the gap between women leadership and young girls taking cognisance of the intergenerational discourse and co-creation of a diverse cadre of women political demagogues. The program established a national young women political council which considers sustainability of the program. Support also resulted in the establishment of a leadership clinic and website for training and support of female candidates. The pillar also supported the compilation of a data base of women with competencies in the various sectors of the economy with the MoGCSP to support gender balance in government.

Prong three focused on support to visibility of the work of the women leaders in the legislature and social norms change working with the Women’s legislative Caucus of Liberia, media and communications on women’s political rights. The media communications included, billboards, radio skits, jingles on women’s rights to participate in politics and facts on women’s representation in public life. Skits and messages were translated to vernacular in efforts to reach out to communities at local level.

Prong four focused support to women wings and CSOs to know and demand their political rights and spaces in the party leadership; engage and influence reforms in political parties’ constitutions and guidelines for gender equality provisions.