Liberia: Women Rally for Victory On July 8

-Call for unity in Feminist Movement

The death of former Montserrado County Senator, Geraldine Doe-Sheriff on February 9, 2019, created a vacancy at the legislature and many women, especially members of the feminist movement; believe this is a seat that belongs to them. As such, they are therefore rallying to ensure that it is occupied by one of their own.

The death of Rep. Adolph Lawrence of Montserrado County District #15 also created a vacuum that women are also craving to fill.

These two seats are up for grabs, and the women of Liberia and taking no chances. They are therefore rallying their support behind their colleagues, who have braved the storm to contest these vacancies. In their words, failure is no option as they must go all out for the ultimate goals.

However, women who gathered in their numbers at the Women Candidates Town Hall meeting, held at the Monrovia City Hall on Tuesday, June 25, knew very well that achieving such feat would not be an easy task. After all, there are so many odds already working against Liberian women, being a patriarchal society where women are still looked down upon when it comes to leadership roles--evidence by the current composition of the Legislature, where women make up only 10 percent.

The Town Hall meeting was organized by Kvinna Till Kvinna (KTK), OXFAM and UN Women. It was intended for prospective women voters to listen on what they have as their platforms and how the issues of women are highlighted on the agenda.

Interestingly, only two of the four female candidates invited were in attendance. These are Independent candidate MacDella Copper and Madam Massa Massaquoi Kaydor. Representative aspirant Telia Urey of the All Liberian Party (ALP), was reportedly on her way to the event, but did not reach there in time, while Paulita Wie of the Congress for Democratic Change (CDC) sent an excuse that she was sick and could not attend.

Women and unity

"Women cannot succeed in their endeavor of getting on par with their male counterparts in the absence of unity... " was the message that resonated at Tuesday meeting, predominately attended by women.

"But amid all of odds against the women, there are few things, when practiced, can make the impossible achievable," Madam Kaydor, one of two candidates, who graced the town hall meeting said.

She pinpointed love and unity, which she said can alleviate any barrier, as key if women are to succeed in their undertakings in the country.

"We must continue to stand with each other if we are to break barriers and reach our heights. We must continue to cultivate respect, cordiality, integrity and togetherness amongst us," she added.

Madam Kaydor has her focus on empowering some of the disadvantaged youth, especially girls--an area in which she has been working a little over nine years. She also has women empowerment, education, and healthcare on her agenda.

"It is sad that women make up over 50 percent of the voting population, but less than 11 percent percent of members of the House of Representatives, which comprises 73 members," a representative from OXFAM-Liberia, who spoke on behalf of the institution, observed.

"We must rally behind our women candidates. We must support them. This is the way for us to make progress on a collective level," she added.

Better decision makers

MacDella Cooper said women are better decision makers, and therefore, they must be given the chance to lead.

"What makes women better decision makers is that when we are making decisions, we consider everything, including our family, community and country. We must therefore lead," she declared.

On the economic front, she said that it is better to have foreign direct investments rather than depending on donors to strengthen Liberia's struggling economy and empower women who are owners of small businesses. She also named unemployment, education, healthcare and lack of investments as some of the many problems that the country faces.

Cooper: "There are more people who are unemployed in Montserrado County than ever before in our history. There are more kids that are out of schools today than ever in our history. We are lacking healthcare, and also investments in Montserrado now than ever before."

She promised to use her connections, if elected, to find investors and people who have international relations and will not focus on donors.

"I come from a generation that does not believe in donors' funds. What I am interested in is foreign direct investment," Cooper said.

Speaking of donors' funds, Macdella Cooper stated during the Town Hall Meeting that, as a means to financially and economically empower women in Liberia, she introduced Leymah Gbowee, now a Nobel Peace Laureate, to a donor who gave Gbowee US$450,000 on behalf of the Women In Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET).

However, contrary to Ms. Cooper's comments, Gbowee said "no donor has ever donated any money to me for WIPNET. Since my departure from WIPNET in 2005, I have not solicited any money on behalf of WIPNET.

"However, I would like to clarify that Ms. Cooper did introduce me to a US-based family foundation back in 2012, 7 years after parted ways with WIPNET. After a rigorous process, my foundation, the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA) was awarded an unrestricted grant of $225,000 [for] 2012-2017. As a Liberian NGO, GPFA undergoes thorough financial audits each year and financial partners are acknowledged in our annual reports," Gbowee said.

She added: "Transparency is critically important in politics. Even more so when it comes to money. I believe the above clarification is vital to ensure that the record is correct."

Where are the women?

Upon her election in 2005, then President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf prioritized the appointment of women, many of them occupying senior cabinet positions. But there was no clear path forward when it comes to female leadership, and dealing with issues such as gender-based violence, female genital mutilation and early marriages, as Madam Sirleaf commanded the political space.

The Sirleaf administration acknowledged these challenges and, at one point, worked toward overcoming them. Yet, the issues proved to be too complex for a single administration to tackle fully, according to Naomi Tulay-Solanke, a Liberian Feminist gender activist and an Aspen New Voices Fellow.

In a commentary titled, "WHERE ARE THE WOMEN IN GEORGE WEAH'S LIBERIA?", Solanke said that the end of Sirleaf tenure seemed to indicate a reversal of this progress. Twenty-one of the 22 presidential candidates were male in 2017, and only three out of the 22 political parties had women as vice-presidential nominees.

The absence of a woman on the presidential ballot for the UP, according to her, appeared that a backlash against the Sirleaf era was beginning to surface.

Only nine women were elected to fill the 73 House of Representative seats at the polls in 2017, with the only silver lining for the cause of female leadership, perhaps, being the election of Jewel Howard Taylor, a senator then, herself.

At a women event prior his January 22 inauguration, president-elect George Weah promised that his administration would work side by side with women -- a promise that appears elusive as there are only two out of over 22 cabinet ministers he has appointed.

"We believe that women can compete, and we believe that the Liberian women can also perform. When they were requesting for 30 percent, I was proposing 50 percent women participation," the President said at the time.

A disappointed Madam Solanke does not see this happening. "Many of us believed at the time that his statement was an indication of his commitment to secure equal participation for women in the leadership of his government," she said.

The Women Candidates Town Hall meeting was graced by some eminent Liberian women, including former Education Minister, Dr. Evelyn Kandakai, as well as former Maryland County Senator and former Chief Justice, Cllr. Gloria Musu Scott, who urged the contestants to put together a strong team that will properly monitor events on the day of the election.

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