UN Women Country Representative, Marie Goreth Nizigama
As Liberian prepared to cast their votes in the Montserrado's Representative and Senatorial by-elections, the UN Women has recently engaged stakeholders to give serious consideration to women leadership and political participation in politics.
UN Women Liberia director, Marie Goreth Nizigama, said the current disparity between men and women in Liberia's politics is not only scary, but also poses a serious challenge to Liberia meeting its international obligations on gender equality and the achievement of the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).
Madam Nizigama made these remarks on last Friday at a By-elections Consultative Meeting held at a resort in Sinkor, organized by the UN Women Country Representative.
She said though the 2008 census placed women at 49.5% of the total population and NEC confirmed that women made up 49% of the registered voters, yet there are currently 9 women in the House of Representatives out of 73 seats and one woman in the Senate out of 30 seats.
For appointed positions, she added that there are two women Ministers out of 19 and with the suspension of the Bong County Superintendent there are two Superintendents out of 15.
"In a few weeks, Liberia will hold By-elections for two vacant seats in Montserrado and next year in 2020, it will be senatorial elections for 15 seats. There are windows of opportunity for all stakeholders who we can leverage to turn the trend of women representation and participation in a positive direction," Nizigama said, rallying stakeholders' support for women candidates in the up-coming elections.
The Swedish Ambassador, Ingrid Wetterqvist, however, encouraged women to be generous to one another as they fight for more leadership roles, even though it is not always easy, as they have to compete with each other because of limited positions or opportunities for women.
She also stressed the importance of the role of men in helping women achieve their goal of promoting and enhancing women participation in political leadership. "It takes the support of men for this to happen; women cannot take this fight on their own because we depend on one another," the Ambassador said.
Ambassador Wetterqvist emphasized the need for changing attitudes, behaviors and values, most especially urging men to avoid allowing women being mistreated in their presence without saying anything. Such attitude, she noted, will give other men the leverage to commit terrible crimes against women.
Gender and Children, Social Protection Minister, Williametta Piso Saydee-Tarr, who also spoke at the occasion, put the low women participation in politics and the huge disparities to lack of interest and support.
According to her, most of the influential women, who are either financially potent or very popular and capable of been formidable forces in elections, are not interested in politics; while those with the zeal are either not popular or don't have the finance to compete with their male counterparts in elections.
She then urged the women to emulate their male counterparts, who are always willing to throw their support or resources behind their colleagues in elections, adding "no one wins elections without support."
Most of the panelists, during the discussion, recommended the crafting of an enforceable gender parity law that will give women some level of leverage in elections to increase or promote women participation in political leadership.
They also argued that political parties should do their part by not being satisfied with just sending women into elections, but sending those that will make impact to the process and supporting them fully during the process.
Starting early awareness of the importance of women's role in leadership, women supporting each other or working as a team, cultivating their interest in politics were the issues that dominated the consultative meeting aimed at improving women's participation in politics.