New Democrat (Monrovia)

Liberia: Women Reinforce Advocacy for Equality

A three-day symposium on gender issues that impact the 1986 constitutional reviewing process got underway in Monrovia yesterday with women groups calling for the preservation of certain basic rights in the Constitution seeking equal participation in political governance.

The women's zealous advocacy began despite a legislative action squashing a bill seeking 30% representation of women at all levels of governance.

At the opening of the program, Susan Williams, a visiting American Professor from the Center for Constitutional Democracy, Indiana University, described a constitution that does not address the issue of women in any country as "undemocratic."

At the YMCA Conference Hall on Broad Street, where women from diverse advocacy groups gathered to begin a three-day forum and symposium organized by the Law Reform Commission, Governance Commission and the Constitutional Review Committee to enhance a discussion on gender issues that impacts the 1986 constitutional reviewing process, Prof. Williams viewed the constitution as the foundation of a stable and prosperous democracy.

According to her, women's issue is an integral part of any good constitution without which, she emphasized, one cannot build a strong country.

"Women are over 50% of the population of Liberia. Any constitution that does not include women's perspective and address women's concerns cannot be called democratic," she said, pointing out that many countries have neglected this fact by excluding women from their governance process.

Liberian women were direct victims of the 14-year civil conflict that ravaged the country. Many were left completely traumatized with no hope or educational opportunities to upgrade themselves after the conflict.

Some still continue to suffer as a result of gender related violence meted out to them by their male counterparts in spite of all mechanisms and efforts put in place by the government to empower and protect them.

Despite these hurdles, the women remain undaunted as they continue to press for equal participation in the governance process. They also called for equal rights to natural resources and opportunities, protection against violence and abuse by other people, freedom from violence and discrimination, the right to own property and access to justice.

Also speaking, Cllr. Deweh E. Gray, Vice Chair of the Law Reform Commission (LRC) said the forum was aimed at kicking off a discussion of gender in "constitutional making."

"We have a lot of issues as women that we need to capture as we go about the reviewing process of our constitution. We have to bring a strong case for issues to be raised. At the end of the day, these issues would be collated and given to the Constitutional Review Committee (CRC) to form part of their reviewing work," she said.

For her part, Cllr. Sundaiway E. N. Amagashie, a woman advocate, said though Liberia has a woman President, they are not fully represented in the governance process of the country.

"Women are not fully represented in government. We have a female president but women are not up to 50% in government," she disclosed.

Adama Bah Jawando, an advocate from the United Muslim Women (UMW), suggested that a clause that should ensure the protection of both gender in the participation of the governance process of Liberia should be included in the constitution during the reviewing process.

"A clause which would ensure that more than 70% of each gender is not represented in government should be included in the constitution during the reviewing process," she said.

Martin Toe, a representative of the Foundation for Human Rights and Democracy (FORD) and one of the male participants at the forum, said that the new constitutions should also look at the issue of prostitution and indecent dress code which, according to him, has now become common amongst teenage girls in the country.

"You drive at night, you'll see girls as young as 13 looking for men as customers. I think that's another issue that we must look at if we are to review our constitution. Laws must be included in the constitution to curtail such practices amongst our youthful population," he suggested.

The women also called for a provision in the constitution that would protect their rights to customary marriage and their rights to security and protection.

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