The women in WIPNET played a crucial part in the efforts to bring peace to Liberia. This Monday they celebrated the ten-year-anniversary of the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement in a ceremony in Centenial Memorial Pavilion, Monrovia. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Susanne Mannberg.
Thousands of Liberians gathered on Monday to celebrate the tenth anniversary of the signing of the peace agreement that ended the bloody, 14 year long, civil war. ”Today, we are celebrating that we can feel safe” said Roseline Toweh from the women’s rights organisation WONGOSOL.
The Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement, was signed on 18 August 2003, in Accra, Ghana, by the then Liberian government, the armed groups LURD and MODEL, and all the political parties. The Liberian women’s movement has been world renowned for its vital part in bringing peace to the country, including a sit demonstration outside the negotiating halls in Accra, when the women refused to let the different parties out until they had agreed on terms for peace.
In the aftermath, though, it has proven harder for women activists to gain ground for women’s rights, a situation described as “back to business as usual” by one activist in the report Equal Power – Lasting Peace (2012) on obstacles for women’s participation in peace processes.
“Celebrating feeling safe”
However, this Monday was dedicated to celebrating the years gone by, when Liberians haven’t been forced to live in the midst of war.
”We can always discuss whether we have a just and stable peace or not. But what we are celebrating today is that we can feel safe. My children can leave our home in the morning and I know that they will come back in the evening. I don’t have to look over my shoulder, always being afraid of someone following me. We can sleep soundly at night. That constitutes true wealth and is what we rejoice in today” said Roseline Toweh, newly elected chairwoman of WONGOSOL.
Rural women awarded
The celebration of the anniversary in the capital Monrovia, started with a march through the city, organised by, among others, Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organisation WIPNET. This was followed by a ceremony in the Centenial Memorial Pavilion. Among the guests of honour were President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, as well as the signatories of the peace agreement, and representatives from the transitional government, the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS), United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) and the political parties.
All received awards for their contributions to the peace agreement. And the women was not forgotten.
”We must give a special thanks to all those women – Mothers of Africa – that, no matter rain or burning sunlight, continued their relentless efforts to achieve peace” said Liberia’s Minister of Foreign Affairs, Augustine Kpehe Ngafuan.
Women from rural Liberia also recieved recognition in the form of an honorary award. Then, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf declared a moment of silence to remember all of those who died during the war, those who paid the price for the peace and were missing in this celebration.
Talks on factors behind peace
WONGOSOL was one of the organisers behind the ceremony in Monrovia. Similar ceremonies were conducted in all of Liberia’s 15 counties. During the week preceding the celebration, WIPNET arranged public prayers and lit candles for peace. WONGOSOL have organised talks all over Liberia, trying to identify the factors behind the peace being sustainable. Ministries and the international community have organised open meetings to discuss how to maintain the peace and how to further include young people in the development process.
Since young people were the primary target group of last week’s campaign, football games and similar activities have also been arranged.
Liberia's President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is one of several high political officials, who have voiced their support for the new Gender Parity Bill. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Christina Hagner.
Last Thursday, female parliamentarians in Liberia presented a draft law on equal representation of women and men in politics. A women’s movement more united than ever, is behind the draft.
In the last elections in Liberia, in 2011, women lost seats in the Parliament. The few female parliamentarians lost out to men, partly because they lacked knowledge of the political process and were not sufficiently organised. Male parliamentarians also joined together across party lines to shut women out.
But the women’s movement didn’t give up and now women’s organisations and women parliamentarians have produced a draft law, the so-called Gender Parity Bill, proposing that each sex must have a representation of at least 30 percent in decision-making bodies. Last Thursday, the proposal was introduced to the Parliament. A decision is scheduled to be taken in January 2014.
Wanted 50 percent quota
A quota law has been discussed for some ten years, but has been met with resistance from both men and women, explains Susanne Mannberg, Field representative in Liberia for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
”Part of the women’s movement was adamant to have a law with a 50 percent quota. They had to fold now. What this draft says is that there must be at least 30 percent from each sex.”
Susanne Mannberg believes that a draft law proposing a 50 percent quota would have faced too much resistance from men to be adopted.
Push through before elections
Support for the 30 percent quota law has been unusually high, among politicians and within the women’s movement equally. The latter is keen to push the law through the Parliament before it’s time for Senate elections in 2014 and presidential elections in 2016. The probability of the next president being a woman is not great.
”The women’s movement has realized that if it doesn’t move forward now, it will never happen. This is their only chance” says Susanne Mannberg.
Backed by high officials
Among the politicians who have backed the draft law are President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Senator and former First Lady Jewel Taylor, several influential male senators and the Speaker of the Parliament.
Many also expressed their support of the proposal when the new secretariat of the Women Legislature Caucus was inaugurated in the capital Monrovia last Tuesday. The Women Legislature Caucus is a group of women parliamentarians from all political parties and they have coordinated the work with the draft law. The group has existed in the Parliament for a long time, but has previously had limited influence.
”Now they are overjoyed to have the secretariat up and running” says Susanne Mannberg.
Trainings for women parliamentarians
The secretariat will review all key legislative proposals from a gender perspective. Its five employees will also help women parliamentarians to write speeches and provide training in negotiating and how to write formally correct answers to questions from committees etc.
”In Sweden, you automatically recieve this type of training when you are elected to the Parliament, but that’s not the case in Liberia. Without this type of training it can be difficult for women to really penetrate the political system. Liberia also has no local political bodies, which otherwise is a common way for women to get into politics” says Susanne Mannberg.
Another important task of the secretariat will be to strengthen the contact between the women’s movement and women parliamentarians.
Among those who helped draft the parity bill were the organisations AFELL and MARWOPNET. The umbrella organisation WONGOSOL with 105 members, has also been involved since the beginning of the process.
In June, Kvinna till Kvinna co-hosted a donor conference to find financial support to the secretariat and to a nationwide campaign to raise awareness of the bill.
”The campaign is for making people aware of what the law means and why it is important. The literacy rate is very low in Liberia, so you have to use many different channels to reach out” says Susanne Mannberg.