-Term CSDF implementation as exclusionary
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as a woman, may have blazed one of the toughest trails when she ascended to the highest pinnacle of political authority in Liberia, but that does not mean that all is well when it comes to women issues in the country.
Madam Sirleaf's ascendancy to the presidency did not in any way mean all of the marginalization and deprivation that women faced for centuries were taken away. After all, they even still face some major challenges, if not even more, especially as it relates to being on par with their male counterparts, be it in national or local decision making processes or equal representation.
Ellen may have fought a good fight, but she is no longer in the spotlight, and therefore, no longer holds unto herself the influence and power, though she could still work from behind the scene. This indicates that other women, specifically the younger ones, have to take up the mantle to continue from where the former president and other brave women left off.
And this is exactly what a group of women from across the country has begun, because they want to be more involved in the governance of the country's resources, especially at the local levels.
Known as the Women Coalition for County Development (WCCD), the women say that they are no longer waiting to be served on silver platter; they are now determined to take the bull by the horns, and if even deem fit by the head if that is the only way they will have the space to form part of decision making processes at the local levels.
The WCCD is a conglomeration of 34 women organizations, which is a mechanism to campaign against, and address the low participation of women in decision-making, and to push for actions that would help close existing gender gaps in the management of the County and Social Development Fund (CSDF).
WCCD Coordinator for Montserrado County, Madam Miatta Darwolor-Thomas, said the group intend to push women's issue to the height in the implementation of the CSDF.
She said while the CSDF has a good intent, its implementation has been largely exclusionary, especially for vulnerable women and disabled groups.
"We therefore demand a sit as women at the County Sitting where decisions around the funds are taken," Mrs. Thomas said.
According to her, the group sees the CSDF as a development framework intended to improve the living standard of all citizens through locally driven initiatives that bring services closer to communities,
"We are here to highlight issues affecting women and their involvement in the CSDF across the country," she said.
The CSDF is allocated to all the 15 counties. During the UP administration, US$3M was appropriated annually for the counties. But the purpose was being compromised due to conflicts arising from mismanagement, conflict of interests and corruption.
The County Council in each of the 15 counties determines the equitable and effective method of allocating of the funds belong to the county. It also decides on and target specific areas and types of program/projects on which the funds are spent.
The county superintendent and the county council, in consultation with the county legislative caucus usually convene the county sitting in the provincial capital--a meeting that usually takes places when lawmakers are on their annual breaks. The council is usually presided over by the chairperson of the county Legislative Caucus.
However, selection of delegates for the county sitting is based on equal members of officials from the traditionally communities, statutory districts, and administrative districts municipalities. This is where the women want to be included so their voices will not only be heard, but that they will be an integral part of the decisions that are made at the sittings.
According to the Montserrado Coordinator, Liberia is at the next stage of its recovery after over 14 years of violent civil conflict, it is important for Liberians to take steps to address inequalities that continue to affect women as such factors do not only contribute to the underdevelopment of the country.
As a group, our vision is to see a better and peaceful society where women, men, boys and girls have voices in economic governance and equal opportunities to resources.
She however noted that WCCD does not take for granted the little efforts that have been made as a result of the CSDF.
"However, if we can produce a whole cake, why settle for a slice?? The CSDF is for the citizens, thus it will benefit us, women, in particular, if we have a permanent seat and voice in the county sitting to articulate our issues," she said.
In a baseline survey recently commissioned by the Liberia Women Media Action Committee (LIWOMAC), only 32 of 381 people interviewed acknowledged being aware of the CSDF in their county. Of the 32 who attested knowledge of the framework, a griming statistics show that only six is making impacts in their communities.
The baseline report further unraveled that the structure of the CSDF governance, the county sitting delegates selection, participation of women and opportunities to make the CSDF gender responsive is minimal. These are startling statistics thus call for urgent remedies.
As a coalition, we are concern about this trend and have determined that there is a need for an approach that integrates women, girls and other vulnerable members of society.
We must join hands together to develop our counties. "To do so, women must have a strong voice and presence in decision making around the CSDF. We are therefore urging women, whenever we are, to take serious interest in the management of this development framework. It is our business and yes, it is our right.
The women also called on the relevant stakeholders/authorities to be more transparent about the CSDF initiative and associated processes by providing proper education and increase information to the people.
As we commemorate the official launch of our coalition and campaign, we want laud the UN Democracy Fund, the chief sponsor of the initiative and its partners for the training and organization of these events.
The group currently operates in seven of the fifteen counties.
These include Bomi, Bong, Grand Bassa and Nimba, Margibi, Montserrado and Grand cape Mount counties.
The group also seeks to promote national and local level dialogues among women, policy makers and other stakeholders.