EJS Vows to Support Women’s Fight for Equal Representation In Governance -Will Work “in Shadow” to Elect More Women Legislators

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In a country with a population size of 5 million people, Liberian women surprisingly share nearly equal population size ratio with their male counterparts, on a scale of 100 females per 101.09 males, according to H. Plecher’s November 2020 population statistics review on Liberia. Yet, despite having such an equally proportioned population ratio with their male counterparts, Liberian women, due to the highly patriarchal, male-dominated nature of the society, continue to be marginalized, most especially when it comes to holding public office. The election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in 2005 and her subsequent reelection in 2011 provided a window of opportunity for the increased participation of women in governance. But the outcomes of past elections and the most recent special midterm senatorial elections in Africa’s oldest republic show far less women participating in the process. Determined to change the lot of Liberian women, four years after leaving office, Nobel Laureate and Africa’s first female president says she is fully prepared to support the women of Liberia to gain their rightful seat at the table of governance, starting with the National Legislature where important decisions are made that affect the lives of the entire five million population of the country.

Pledging to the work with the women of Liberia, especially Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor who is also President of the Liberian Senate, former president Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf said, despite her ascendency to the highest office of the land few years ago, which was a landmark achievement for the women of Liberia, females still remain challenged as it relates to equity, most especially being equally represented at the level of the Liberian legislature where key decisions are made that affect the lives of millions of the citizenry.

“We all have to work for 2023. Our Vice President will be leading the charge. I will be in the shadows, but I will be behind her. My people, just watch us. We’ve been waiting for a long time, patiently. We are going to remain good mothers and good wives, as part of the function that God gave us. We’re not running away from that part. But we’re just saying, in addition to doing the cooking for you, we want to be able to make the laws for you. To all of you sisters, I will make you strong. I will make you dedicated and committed,” former president Johnson-Sirleaf vowed.

Noting, however, the enormity of the challenges in bringing about a paradigm shift in women representation in governance, Madam Sirleaf further enjoined her colleagues to work harder in achieving this goal.

“We now have a challenge in Liberia to change the place where, while we elected a woman president, we did not elect enough women representatives and senators to carry on the process. That is our challenge, and we have to work harder,” former president Johnson-Sirleaf said.

“We have to work against the pushback, because the pushback is real. Those who have seen women progress move too fast to their acceptance and satisfaction are beginning to push back. They say: ‘no! no! no! After all men have always been in charge. So we not mind women having a little bit of good satisfaction and expressions here and there, but we cannot let them take charge’. But this is not a business about taking charge. It is a business about equity. It is a business of ensuring 50 percent of the population have equal rights and equal opportunities to be able to compete on the basis of their own capacity, their own strength, and their own contribution to society. That’s what we look for from people, whether you are a man or a woman. Because many women have those qualities that far exceed the men. We must always look for where the quality is. If a woman is stronger and better than a man, men please put her in charge,” the Liberian leader reasoned.

Making the statements Friday, January 22, 2021 during the induction of members of the Board of Directors of the Women NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) at Musu’s Spot in Congo Town, President Sirleaf blamed the sorry state of women in governance to the stereotypical role that the male-dominated society of Liberia has assigned to the women of the country.

“And it comes back to stereotyping. It comes back to something that is deep rooted. It starts in the home, where every woman’s work is not valued in gross domestic product. We’ve got to change that. It comes from the homes where men regard women as their property. We have to change the attitude of men. And that stereotyping has carried on for time immemorial; it’s nothing new.    Fortunately, we’re seen some breakthroughs recently. And the various breakthroughs are from forces of women, starting with women in the Scandinavian countries where equality has been established, and is now a matter of something that is natural, very normal, to a point where it’s beginning to spread. But of course, COVID-19 has exposed the inequalities and injustices in the world, with women being one of those affected. Which now brings us to focus on how do we deal with this problem; how do we bring to realization the equality of women; the value of women; what they contribute to a nation’s development?” Madam Sirleaf stated.

“Today, all of us have a role to play. Our fathers, our brothers, our uncles have a role to play because they have wives and they have daughters – and they want to make sure those daughters excel to the place where they can join the ranks of the women leaders that we have.

“I want to applaud WONGOSOL and the women who have led the long processes of bringing realization to women leadership and to taking leadership; women who have been at the forefront of my election, and to whom I say, the victory was not mine. The victory was theirs. And I am sure the same applies with the Vice President,” Madam Sirleaf further reasoned, noting that Vice President Howard-Taylor’s work is already cut out for her, with the recent election and inauguration of America’s first female black Vice President.

“Our vice president now has a colleague, and she has to now build the relationship with her colleagues, so that together they can progress even more,” Madam Sirleaf intoned.

Making remarks, Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor acknowledged the challenges facing women with regards to their equal representation at the level of the Legislature, but expressed hope that things can turn around for the better provided the women are ready to work.

“As we look at 2023, the way forward is important. If we do not have women in positions of trust, we will continue to be where we are. The power is in the Legislature. It is in the Legislature where the decisions that will transform our lives are made. If women make up 48 percent of the electorate, we can have an all-women Legislature,” she stated hopefully.

The induction of the WONGOSOL board members included Madam Julia Duncan Cassell, Chairperson; Madam Facia Harris, 1st Vice Chairperson; Madam Marayah Fyneah, 2nd Vice Chair; Madam Miatta Darwolo Thomas, Secretary, and Madam Laura Kiekpo, Treasurer.

Other board members inducted included Madam Victoria Koiquah, Member, and Madam Salome Tulay, Member.

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