By Michael W. Gharib

The Capitol Building made a huge announcement in February 2022. The House of Representatives in Liberia ultimately passed revisions to the existing election legislation, allowing political parties and the National Elections Commission to commit to increasing the number of women participating in elections. The news appeared to be too good to be true, yet it was. The amendment was passed by the Liberian House and forwarded to the Liberian Senate for approval, where it is presently awaiting action.

If the Senate approves section 4.5 of the proposed bill, two things will happen: political parties will be required to have at least 30% of either gender on their candidate lists or risk not participating in elections; and the NEC will now have legal authority to reject any candidate list that does not meet the 30% threshold.

Several initiatives at affirmative action for women in politics have failed since 2005, including gender quotas and reserved seats. The modifications to the 2014 New Elections Law essentially incorporated a voluntary party quota. In later years, the goal was to change the election legislation to include explicit language requiring political parties to adhere to the 30 percent gender quota, as well as an accountability mechanism allowing the NEC to reject candidate lists that fell short of the requirement.

“A list of candidates presented to the commission for an election should attempt to have no less than 30 percent of the candidates on the list from each gender,” says Section 4.5 (1) (c) of the New Elections law before the change.

The word “endeavor” is problematic, and it needed to be modified before any substantial shift in women’s political engagement could take place.

And it was here that UN Women, with funding from the Canadian government, stepped in to provide various forms of assistance to appropriate organizations.

The UN body in charge of gender equality and women’s empowerment used a multipronged approach in its Women’s Political Leadership and Empowerment (WPEL) Project, providing subject-matter expertise to strengthen the case for increased women’s political participation and leadership, as well as technical assistance to improve government institutions’ and civil society organizations’ internal institutional and advocacy capacity.

The WPEL Project was a four-year initiative that aimed to increase the proportion of women in politics and decision-making. It operated from 2017 to 2022.

Expertise in a specific field

The law’s phrasing has improved thanks to UN Women’s assistance. “A list of candidates presented to the Commission for an election shall contain no less than 30% of candidates from each gender,” it now adds.

Campaigners argue that the word “must” has more legal ramifications in terms of requiring parties to comply.

Lisa Kindervater-Sieh works with UN Women in Liberia as a senior expert on women’s political involvement. For her, the most crucial component of making the amendment effective is getting the language correct.

“According to the text, a political party must make every effort to ensure that at least 30% of the list is made up of people of both genders.” The phrase “endeavor to ensure” is a bit of a misnomer. So, for the last few years, the question has been what it means for a political party to endeavor—by what standard can the NEC evaluate if a political party has truly strived to include women on their list? There’s also no provision in the current law that specifies the NEC must reject party listings if they don’t fit that criterion. Very few parties have crossed that threshold without such robust language and accountability measures.”

“The WPEL project’s goal of boosting women in politics stems from the fact that women in Liberia are underrepresented in decision-making. It has to do with women’s ongoing underrepresentation in decision-making. Liberia now has only 11 percent female legislators. We had roughly 14 percent in 2005. Are we going backwards in terms of female leadership? To achieve this right, we need to start reforming existing laws, which includes improving their language.

Both Lisa and Nyasha say that women’s political engagement has made the least progress since it necessitates changing power structures, and individuals in power, of course, do not want to share power.

“For decades, this issue has been at the forefront of the Liberian women’s struggle.” “It’s a challenging process to persuade males that they don’t have to lose in order for women to gain; that when more women are represented, it benefits men, communities, and nations,” Lisa observes.

Technical Assistance for Building Institutional Capacity

The 2022 milestone achievement in improving women’s political involvement and leadership took a lot of work. In contrast to 2010, the NEC proposed the 2020 amendment after a series of cooperation and interactions with partners.

The adjustment to Section 4.5 of the new election legislation, according to Joseph Kou Gaye, the NEC Commissioner with oversight responsibility for gender, was made possible by UN Women’s cooperation.

The project collaborated with the NEC’s women section to create functioning rules and regulations, such as the Political Party Codes of Conduct and the Inter-Party Consultative Committee. This comes on top of assistance for the establishment of the VAWiE/P Protocol on Violence Against Women in Elections and Politics.

“On the 18th of February, we had roughly 26 registered political parties sign in Grand Bassa County, which was a tremendous commitment from Liberia’s male-dominated political parties.

“We’ve seen a lot of progress, and we believe it’s due to behavioral change rather than political participation. I can honestly state that we have made significant progress “Nyasha, a UN Women unit head and specialist in women’s political engagement and leadership, agrees.

Manakabay K. Donzo, NEC Senior Gender Officer, agrees that implementing gender activities at NEC would have been challenging if UN Women hadn’t intervened. “UN Women has acted as a pillar for us. “Frequently, we do not have funds in the budget for the gender department. UN Women has always been supportive of us. Despite the fact that the gender part of the budget was not funded during COVID-19, UN Women was present at all times.”

Because of UN Women’s training and support, members of the Women’s Legislative Caucus feel they are now better positioned to cooperate with their male colleagues in the Legislature.

Honorable Moima Briggs-Mensah is the electoral district # 6 representative for Bong County. She also holds the distinction of being the first female to lead the Bong County Legislative Caucus. Moima never hides her gratitude for UN Women’s help as the head of programming at the Women’s Legislative Caucus.

“Whenever there has been a training, UN Women has performed admirably. They taught us a lot of topics and provided us with the necessary exposure. We learned how to engage a crowd from them. We gained confidence in politics as a result of their training. Politics is about talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking and talking As a result, they’ve been a huge supporter of the Women Legislative Caucus. But we still expect more since, as you are aware, we will be holding a pivotal election in 2023 “Moima explains.

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