The Inquirer (Monrovia)

3 July 2014

West Africa: ECOWAS Expresses Concern

The Economic Community of West African State (ECOWAS) has expressed grave concern over what it termed as "the marginalization of women and youth in national politics."

Delivering the Keynote address at the start of a three-day training for political parties on Mainstreaming Youth and Women in Party Activities and Media Relations and Effective Campaign Strategies, Amb. Babatunde Olanrewaju Ajisomo, Special Representative of the President of ECOWAS in Liberia said ECOWAS has been at the forefront of supporting the enhancement of the principles of inclusiveness and opportunity for equal representation and participations in the political democratic process.

Amb. Ajisomo noted that it is an indisputable fact that women and youths constitute a large population of Africa but they are the least represented groups in political parties in their respective countries.

He said in Liberia, the participation and representation of women in all party hierarchies and structured leadership has been very low in the history of the country.

"In particular, the Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA 2003) recognized women's participation in the peace process by ensuring that women were represented in the Transitional Government. Even with that specific provision, the composition of the Transitional Legislative Assembly had only four women out of seventy-six members,' he recounted.

Amb. Ajisomo added that in consolidating the growing desire for gender equality, the 2005 elections' guidelines proposed that political parties apply a 30 per4cent quota for women among the list of nominatedcandidates.

"Though not legally enforceable, the political parties thatapplied the guidelines in the 2005 elections had the largest numbers of women in the legislature. There was however no proper followup to further strengthen gains made during the 2005 elections, especially with the election of the first female President in Africa; Madam Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and 14 women in the 52ndLegislature.

He noted that that good fortune was not repeated in the second elections in 2011, adding that although President Sirleaf was re-elected, only nine women were elected into the 53rd Legislature.

The ECOWAS Ambassador observed that female politicians are still fighting to run on a level playing field with their male counterparts. "Furthermore, political parties are yet to take concrete steps to encourage female membership into their parties through the adaption of the 30 percent gender quotas.

On the issue of youth participation in politics, Amb. Ajisomo said the right of young people to participate in political parties' activities and be included in democratic processes and practices is very vital to ensuring the achievement of a stable democratic society.

He said in Liberia, young people play active role in political institutions as the "foot soldiers" he went on: "They are the driving force in terms of mobilizing support for political parties, but I am not sure if they have that much leverage in terms of leadership and decision-making in political parties."

Also speaking, National Elections Commission (NEC) Chairman Cllr. Jerome George Korkoya said the question of limited women in political participation is a governance and empowerment issue, which he said is not unique to Liberia.

Chairman Korkoya said there is a global gender equity problem that has been the subject of international discourse across many democracies, old and new. He added, "Some countries, like Rwanda and South Africa, have used laws and political innovation to make tremendous gains in empowering women politically.

The NEC boss said there are countries that have made little progress due to culture, tradition, institutional arrangements and legal frameworks. Liberia, a young democracy according to Mr. Cllr. Korkoya, is one that has not done well in increasing women's participation in the democratic process. "In fact, it can be argued that the trend of women ascendency to elective public positions has probably taken a downward spiral.

He among other things added that in the 2005 election, of the 94 legislative seats, only 13 or 13.8 percent were women. In 2011 according to NEC boss, while the number of Legislative seats increased to 103, Legislative seats only 13 are women.

Political parties represented at the ongoing training workshop include, the ruling Unity Party (UP), National patriotic party (NPP), Liberty party (LP), Congress for Democratic Change (CDC), and the Movement for Progressive Change (MPC). Others are the Free Democratic Party (FDP), Victory for Change Party (VCP), the Union of Liberia Democrats and the Alternative National Congress (ANC).

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