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.