By Jerromie S. Walters

With only three of the nine female incumbents of the House of Representatives that are certain about their return to Capitol Hill, six new females are expected to join the 55th legislature comes January, 2024.

Though this may sound impressive, it doesn’t seem worth being venerated at a certain extent- as it has met a significant decline in the number of female incumbents at the legislature.

The elections of Bintu Mansaray District 1, Grand Cape Mount, Gbessie Feika Sonii, District 3, Grand Cape Mount, Marie Johnson, Grand Gedeh County, Konobo, District #2, Rugie Barry of District 1, Montserrado County, Prescilia Cooper, district #5, Montserrado county, and Dabah  M. Varpilah, Grand Cape Mount (Senator), come as backup to the end of the governance of six female incumbents that have been defeated.

Currently, there are 11 out of the 103 members of the 54th National Legislature. Following Liberia’s October 10, 2023, legislative and presidential elections, only three of the nine women of the House of Representatives were fortunate to have been re-elected. 

But with the inclusion of the five new females that recently got elected, it places their figure at eight females at the House of Representatives.

On the other hand- the Liberian Senate will now have three females, of the thirty members, as Dabah  M. Varpilah has replaced Grand Cape Mount County current Senator Varney Sherman.

The defeated incumbents 

As the National Elections Commission (NEC) has so far exhausted the tallying of over 99 percent of the total votes cast during Liberia’s October 10, 2023, legislative and presidential elections- women representation at the legislature has not experienced a decline neither has it been increased, as about six (6) of the nine (9) incumbents of the House of Representatives (HOR) of the 54th legislature have suffered defeat, while six are expected to join the 55th legislature.

It’s undoubtedly clear that the current number of women at the 54th National legislature of the Republic of Liberia is way beneath the 30% gender quota women have long yielded. But sadly, their quest has confronted another crucial setback with more incumbents being defeated than those that are expected to join the 55th National legislature.

With official results gathered so far from the National Elections Commission (NEC)- it vividly show that several other female incumbents including- Rustolyn Suacoco Dennis,

Montserrado County District #4, Bomi County, District #1 representative Finda B. Lansanah, River Cess County District #1 Representative Rep. Rosana G.D.H. Schaack, Bomi County District #3 Representative Haja F. Siryon, Grand Bassa County District #2 Representative Mary Karwor, Lofa County District #4 Representative Mariamu B. Fofana  will not join the 55th legislature.

This was also clearly shown when few of them conceded defeat even before the National Elections Commission (NEC( commenced with the pronouncement of official results.

Amongst them was current Montserrado County District #4 Representative Rustolyn Suacoco Dennis.

Liberia has made significant progress in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment in recent years. However, despite these efforts, the representation of women in legislature remains limited. The effects of more women in Liberia suffering defeat in legislative elections, despite not being fully represented in the legislature, are worth exploring.

Howbeit, many believe that the defeat of these female incumbents was prompted by their inability to live up to their constituents’ expectation (s). Sadly, it comes as a major setback for hundreds of other women who have mustered the courage toventure into politics, especially when they have always been told that they (women) can’t do the job.

Despite the increasing interest of women participating in legislative elections, the actual representation of women at theLiberian legislature remains disproportionately low.

Currently, women hold only a small fraction of seats, (11 of the 103 members) hindering their ability to influence decision-making processes effectively. This paradox raises questions about the factors contributing to women’s defeat and the potential consequences for gender equality in Liberia.

The defeat of more women in legislative elections, despite not being fully represented in the legislature, has implications for women’s empowerment in Liberia. Limited female representation hampers the ability to address issues that directly affect women, such as gender-based violence, access to healthcare, and education. It also perpetuates a cycle of underrepresentation, making it harder for future generations of women to break through political barriers.

While Liberia has made progress in promoting gender equality and women’s empowerment, the underrepresentation of women in the legislature remains a significant challenge. 

The defeat of more women in the recently ended legislative elections, despite their limited representation, underscores the need for continued efforts to address sociocultural barriers, provide financial support, and promote gender equality within political parties. Only through these collective actions can Liberia truly achieve women’s full and equal representation, leading to a more inclusive and equitable society.

The failed 30% gender quota

Prior to the elections- a memorandum of understanding (MOU) was entered into by and between the National Elections Commission and Registered Political Parties, operating under the laws of Liberia, and represented by their respective Chairmen/Secretaries General, which served as their commitment to the 30% gender quota.

Under the MOU, the parties agreed that Political Parties, Coalitions and Alliances would have produced and adopted a Gender Policy reflective of the relevant  legal instruments supporting gender  balance and increased women participation in representative politics towards the 2023 General Elections, as highlighted in consultative engagements amongst the parties to the MOU.

Though the various parties assured their commitment to the MOU, there was nothing genuine to hold them accountable accountable, following their failure to abide by the MOU. As we also highlighted in few of our previous articles, the parties intentionally ignored the significance of the MOU during their respective primaries.

Unarguably, this appears as a mockery to the fight for a just political atmosphere for every gender, especially women, as the existence of the  MOU have just been like several other Women’s rights protocols LIberia has signed but still struggling to adhere to. Though one might describe the MOU as a step ahead, however, the fact that it has absolutely no legal consequences, makes it a toothless bulldog.

How parties violated it

Like several major political parties we followed up on, the opposition Unity Party failed the 30% gender quota, as they produced 11 female candidates out of a total of 61 candidates. In the just ended elections- the Unity Party produced 1 female senatorial candidate (14%) and 6 male senatorial candidates (86%). At the representative level, the party produced 10 female representative candidates(19%), and 42 male representative candidates (81%). 

Like them, the ruling Coalition for Democratic Change (CDC) produced 12 females out of 70 candidates. The CDC produced a female vice presidential candidate, 11 female representative candidates (16%) and 56 male candidates (84%). The party also failed to produce a single female senatorial candidate, even though they produced 12 male senatorial candidates (100%).

In addition to the UP and the CDC- the Collaborating Political Parties (CPP) produced 16 females out of 59 candidates in the recently ended elections. The CPP produced female vice presidential candidate, 2 female senatorial candidates (33%) to 4 male senatorial candidates (67%), and 13 female representative candidates (25%), to 38 male representative candidates (75%).

Howbeit- pundits believe that the MOU signed by the political parties would have buttressed the struggle for an increased women political participation, if the President had signed the new elections law.

The new elections law

Section 4.5 (1c) of the New Elections Law mandates Political parties to submit not less than 30% of either gender for their candidates’ listing to NEC.

The amendments in question sought to make 30% of gender representation mandatory.  It would have empowered the National Elections Commission (NEC) to fine or delist any political parties that failed to adhere to the gender quotas.

The Gender quota clause, which is a special legislative measure to redress the historical marginalization of women from political life, comes as women struggle to gain equal representation in the legislature. 

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