LIBERIA’S SIDE EVENT DURING THE MARGINS OF THE
SIXTY-FIFTH SESSION OF THE COMMISSION ON THE STATUS OF WOMEN
HON. WILLIAMETTA E. SAYDEE-TARR
MINISTER OF GENDER, CHILDREN AND SOCIAL PROTECTION
GREETINGS / PROTOCOL:
I am pleased to welcome all of you to Liberia’s Side Event during the margins of the Sixty-Fifth Session of the Commission on the Status of Women. As we all may be aware, this occasion presents us the opportunity to monitor and review the progress and challenges made as it relates to member states’ commitment in attaining the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, as well as other protocols on the rights of women. This is also a period when we reflect soberly on how far we have come in promoting the rights of women, nationally and globally.
As we celebrate this year’s event which is being held in the United States of America from March 15th -26th under the Priority Theme: “Women’s full and effective participation and decision making in public life as well as the Elimination of Violence for achieving Gender Equality and the Empowerment of all Women and Girls” and Review Theme: “Women Empowerment and the Link to Sustainable Development”, respectively, it is important to note that significant gains have been made despite the tremendous challenges that we continue to experience globally in attaining gender equality. The government and other important actors have made some level of progress in ensuring women’s participation and the provision of empowerment opportunities for women.
As we celebrate this side event today, I must say to you that the gains we have made, though significant, still remain insufficient. The barriers that prevent effective participation of women in the economy and in political decision-making still persist, thereby widening the gap of gender inequalities. Though we have been able to pose a tough challenge to our barriers by producing some outstanding women leaders, under-representation of women at all levels of decision making, gender mainstreaming, physical violence against female candidates during elections, statutory legal provisions, limited education, and the lack of access to funds are some of the many issues which are still posing a threat to women’s political participation and leadership.
Ladies and gentlemen, whilst key achievements include the establishment of Gender and Social Inclusion Unit in various Ministries, Agencies, and Commissions to bolster gender mainstreaming in our national governance process, revision of the National Election Commissions’ Law requesting Political Parties to have at least 30% and the establishment of village loan clubs to aid women who are engaged in petty trade are stand-out achievements Liberia has made over the year, but we must continue to demonstrate a stern commitment to promoting women participation, particularly in decision making.
Historically, there have been greater barriers between men and women in participating in the economy in different geographical locations. These barriers ranged from uneven pay, opportunities for advancement to unbalanced representation in important decisions that affect them. Evidentially, there exists a huge social disparity between men and women in Liberia. For instance, women living in rural areas have less access to credit, inadequate farming inputs and tools, limited access to markets, limited or no training, inadequate environment for agricultural extension, limited access to technology and information, limited or no leadership participation in agricultural cooperatives and other land and agriculture-based decision-making processes which could help to empower them and form part of decision making.
For over 100 years after Independence, the women of Liberia were denied the right to vote or excluded from politics in every form. In 1948 when these rights were given, due to cultural barriers, low level of education, lack of confidence, and several other tribulations afflicted the participation and inculcation of women. This problem did not only affect the women of Liberia but the world at large. After several attempts to increase women’s participation in the various branches of Government, in 2005, Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf broke the glass ceiling by being the first female to be elected as Africa’s first woman Head of State. This has motivated several other countries to elect women to the highest offices of their country.
Despite this gain, Liberia, like many democracies, still faces many challenges relating to equitable women’s political participation, gender mainstreaming, governance, and decision-making deficits. There are several other institutional mechanisms that limit and hinder women in their quest for equitable political participation. Some of these problems are statutory legal provisions, limited access to funds, internal political parties’ policies, and limited education.
Evidently, we have seen at the local and community levels, even up to the highest levels of government, women are often underrepresented in leadership positions, left without a voice in decision-making, and are often ignored by electorates. Now, representation of women in our House of parliament continues to decline; in 2011, despite a female president, there were four (4) females out of 30 senators; whilst out of 73 Representatives were 8 females. In 2017, 3 female senators out of 73 and 9 female Representatives out of 73. Presently, out of 30 senate seats, only 1 is a female and out of 73 representatives seats, 9 are females. On this platform, we want to recognize and thank His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah for providing opportunities to women to serve in key-Ministerial positions, as well as Heads of Agencies and Commissions or being placed in top leadership positions within the Executive Branch of Government.
The issues of women, girls, and children remain a priority for the Government of Liberia and the Government has been working tirelessly with support from partners to address, effectively, these issues. So far, as a country we have:
- Provided business skills training and establish Village Saving loans to women living in rural areas targeting thousands of these women;
- We have also provided social cash transfer to 3,451 beneficiaries in Maryland and Grand Kru Counties of which women accounted for 81.72% (2,820);
- The Government of Liberia has launched the 50 Million African Women Speak Platform, a digital platform that can be used by women entrepreneurs to exchange ideas, foster peer-to-peer learning, mentoring, and the sharing of information and knowledge, enabling access to financial services and market opportunities between urban and rural communities and across borders;
- The Government of Liberia launched the Gender Disaggregated Statistics Survey, which will provide accurate data on the Health, Education, and Agriculture sectors that will be used for budget planning processes. Subsequently, this information will also enable the Government of Liberia to develop better policies, plans, and interventions to address the identified existing gender gaps;
- The Government has established Gender and Social Inclusion Units within Ministries, Agencies, and Commissions to ensure the mainstreaming of gender issues within planning and implementations;
- The National Gender Responsive Planning and Budgeting Policy was developed and in full swing;
- During the previous year, we provided life-skills training for about 180 at-risks adolescent girls;
- The Government will also be developing a Gender Equality Profile that will provide statistical information on the gender disparity in the Country.
- Additionally, in 2016, the women of Liberia submitted an affirmative action bill called “THE EQUITABLE PARTICIPATION AND REPRESENTATION ACT OF 2016” to the House of Legislature requesting extra 21 seats in the Parliament exclusively for women, youth, and persons living with disabilities. The House of Legislature passed a motion approving seven (7) new seats, which indicated that there would be five seats for women to be divided among five regions, while the youth and persons living with disabilities will have their respective seats. To date, this has not been implemented, but engagement to make this come to fruition through the passage of the law has started again.
- Also, the National Elections Commission revised their elections law requesting all political parties to endeavor to have no less than 30% of the candidates on the list from each gender/sex.
It cannot be overemphasized that women’s enhanced participation in governance structures is viewed as the key to redress gender inequalities in societies, based on the fact that women have different visions and concepts of politics owing to their sex and their gender roles as mothers. Therefore, it is certain that women in politics will bring a special caring focus and female values to politics once the enabling environment is provided and we can improve on our production and dissemination of gender statistical data that will help us as a country to monitor our development and raise consciousness amongst us on gender disparities and interventions.
We are now in the 21st century and Liberia has come of age. We have made minimum gains in dismantling the barriers, which hold one gender superior to the other, thereby respecting the dignity of all. However, much more needs to be done, in a timely manner, to guarantee for all, on a sustainable basis, a SPACE at the national decision-making table.
Again, as a government, we want to reemphasize our stance in preventing and responding adequately to violence against women, particularly sexual and gender-based violence. On this occasion, we want to thank our partners for the support made thus far in supporting initiatives of ending violence against women and girls. It can be recalled that in September of last year, the Government of Liberia and Partners developed and endorsed an Anti-Sexual and Gender-Based Violence Roadmap 2020-2022, aimed at addressing the scourge of rape and other forms of sexual and gender-based violence in the country. During the launch of the Roadmap, His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah committed to providing a DNA machine amongst others to help in the adjudication of rape cases. Today, I once more want to thank His Excellency Dr. George Manneh Weah and the Government of Liberia for purchasing a brand new DNA machine; which we believe will assist prosecutors in dispensing justice to rape survivors/victims whether alive or dead.
We applaud all actors for their resilience and commitment in ending all violence against women and girls, as well as promoting women’s full and effective participation and decision-making in public life and the empowerment of all women and girls, which are paramount for sustainable growth and development. We take keen note of the recognition of our work as a Ministry mandated to protect, promote and empower women, girls and children, and we can assure all of our partners that we shall continue to take up the mantle of leadership to ensure the elimination of violence against women and promote their well-being.
With these said, again you all are welcome as we participate attentively during our country’s side event during this 65th Session of the Commission on the Status of Women wherein Liberia’s progress and challenges in terms of Violence Against Women, Women’s Empowerment, and Political Participation would be highlighted in the form of a panel discussion.
Thanks for your kind indulgence.