Weah’s Veto Disappoints AFELL -Over 30% Gender Representation Law

MONROVIA – The President of the Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia (AFELL), Atty. Philomena T. Williams has expressed disappointment in President George Manneh Weah for vetoing the New Elections Law, section 4.5, that calls for 30% affirmative gender representation.

The AFELL president expressed her disappointment in President Weah at the General Assembly of the Liberia National Bar Association (LNBA) held at the Ministerial Complex in Congo Town, Monrovia.  

The feminist jurist organization said “Mr. President, AFELL attends this Assembly with heavy hearts and is disappointed.”

Highlighting the theme for the convention, “Beyond Rhetoric and Impunity: Law, Governance and the 2023 Elections – The Basis For Democratic Necessity in Liberia”, the AFELL boss said her organization went to this assembly disappointed in President George Manneh Weah for the veto of the New Elections Law, section 4.5, concerning the much advocated 30 percent affirmative gender representation in the National Legislature.

“We read that our Chief feminist’s reason for the veto is that the country is just seven months away to the 2023 legislative and presidential elections, as such certain changes in the elections law at a time so close would tend to send mixed signals to the electorates and [also] present the potential to cause delays in elections processes,” Atty. Williams said after reading President Weah’s statement. 

In their statement, the organization through its president said “We are set aback and want you to rationalize the gigantic inequality gap of women in politics and leadership in Liberia and the need for complementary laws that mirror and are in consonance with the constitution.”

President Weah vetoed the law on the women’s 30 percent quota representation in Legislature seven months to presidential and general elections which, contrary to his claim, would not have delayed the election process, the women noted.

For this reason, the female lawyers’ umbrella organization strongly believes that if the President had signed the 30 percent affirmative action for women representation in parliament, it clearly wouldn’t have delayed the election process as stated in his veto statement provided reasons for their belief.

According to them, the present cause of delays in the elections processes, we believe are due to multiplicity of reasons, namely the a single computer assigned at registration center to which impedes the  timely and adequate registration, the two hours shut down in the system at registration centers, and  the very poor awareness for voter registration.    

“Mr. President, the veto of the 30 percent women representation law does not reflect the terminology of Feminist in Chief and/or HE FOR SHE,” AFELL said in its statement.

The female lawyers recommended to the office of the Liberian Chief Executive a female legal advisor on women and children matters to enhance and positively address women and children empowerment issues, and to ensure that the nomenclature of Feminist in Chief and/or He for She assigned to himself go beyond what “RHETORIC” consistent with the theme of this Assembly.

Recently, similar law was passed in Sierra Leone and described as a landmark victory for women in that neighboring country, the women lawyers observed.

Reflecting on that, the organization said AFELL is delighted with and congratulates the women of Sierra Leone for a milestone achievement against disproportionate representation of employment in politics and leadership.

AFELL’s disappointment was cognizant of the Constitutional provision under Article 18, which states, “All Liberian citizen shall have equal opportunity for work and employment regardless of sex, creed, religion, ethnic background, place of origin or political affiliation, and all shall be entitled to equal pay for equal work.”

Similar to the Liberian Constitution, the female lawyers said the Constitution of the Republic of Sierra Leone, is specific to employment rights in Section 8(3) (a) states that “the State shall direct its policy towards ensuring that – every citizen, without discrimination on any grounds whatsoever, shall have the opportunity for securing adequate means of livelihood as well as adequate opportunities to secure suitable employment.” 

AFELL’s statement added, “To compliment [their] constitution and tackle gender inequality in Sierra Leone, in January 2023, as close as five months to the general elections scheduled to be held in June 2023, Sierra Leone’s President Julius Maada Bio signed the 30 percent quota Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment Act, referred to it as a Landmark Legislation. The Sierra Leonean President stated “We, men, have yet to see or acknowledge women’s rightful position fully, and this law will give us tools to correct that.”

AFELL reminded President Weah that the Sierra Leonean President further stated, “Now that we have a stable and peaceful Sierra Leone, we cannot afford to have women, who make up 52 percent of the population, not [been] featured prominently.    

“Like Sierra Leone, according to Mr. Lawrence George, Acting Director, LISGIS, who conducted the De facto population Census in Liberia, female population accounts for 49.6 percent Statistic also reflects that gender inequality cuts over all circles of life in Liberia, and women are disproportionately represented in all areas of employment in politics and leadership,” the women lawyers said in their statement.

The female lawyers noted that President Bio signed the 30 percent quota affirmative Act in January 2023, as close as five months to the general and presidential elections scheduled to be held in June 2023, and recognized and deeply appreciated outgoing United States Ambassador Michael McCarthy for promoting human rights and endeavoring to end violence against women and children in Liberia.

“AFELL is saddened by the news of the imminent departure of Ambassador McCarthy, a servant of the people who has exhibited the highest professional commitment to his mission in Liberia.

Ambassador McCarthy worked with the executive, legislature, judiciary, and civil society organizations to ensure responsible performance and to promote and advance peace and security in our nation. 

AFELL then applauded the Sierra Leonean government in its achievements and did not hesitate to condemn Acts of corruption, violence, and other obstacles that impede and undermine development in Liberia.

The Association of Female Lawyers of Liberia said it will definitely miss Ambassador McCarthy for impacting the lives of women and children in Liberia.

“We trust that your successor, Mark Christopher Toner, when and if confirmed, will walk the path of goodwill and assist Liberia,” the organization said through its president.    

Twenty-five SGBV Protection Network Members and 30 Core Committee Members receive gender awareness and advocacy training; a total of 25 members of the SGBV Protection Network and 30 core committee members from communities have undergone a comprehensive training on gender, gender-based violence (GBV), behavior change, ethical principles, and advocacy, the leadership of the female lawyers recounted.

The training, Atty. Williams said on behalf of her colleagues, was conducted by the psychosocial team and aimed at improving the network’s and committee members’ knowledge and skills in addressing SGBV in their communities.

The SGBV Protection Network is a watch team that helps prevent and respond to SGBV cases in the community. Meanwhile, the core committee members play a crucial role in advocating for and promoting SGBV prevention in their respective communities.

The training covered various topics, including gender and gender-based violence, community behavior change, ethical principles, advocacy approaches, essential steps of advocacy, stress and trauma-sensitive (STA) advocacy, basic knowledge about SGBV and trauma/traumatization. The training also covered STA approach and principles in advocacy, and developing an advocacy work plan.

The Psychosocial team facilitated the training sessions to ensure that the participants gained a thorough understanding of the concepts and principles covered in the training. The sessions were interactive and participatory, allowing the participants to ask questions and engage in discussions.

The training is a part of the organization’s efforts to build the capacity of the SGBV Protection Network and core committee members to better address and prevent SGBV cases in their communities. 

With the knowledge and skills acquired from the training, the participants can effectively advocate for SGBV prevention, provide support to survivors, and create awareness about SGBV, according to Atty.  Williams.

She said the SGBV Protection Network and core committee members are committed to using the knowledge and skills gained from the training to improve their advocacy efforts and prevent SGBV cases in their communities.

As one of the leading women’s rights organizations in Liberia, Medica Liberia (mL) has over the years established itself as providing a safe haven for women experiencing gender-based violence. Since 2006, Medica Liberia has provided psychosocial, legal, and reproductive health support for women and girls who experienced sexualized gender based-violence. 

The work has primarily been in the southeastern part of Liberia, specifically Sinoe, River Gee, and Grand Gedeh Counties.

In 2016, ML extended its coverage to the urban counties of Montserrado and Margibi to serve urban counties that have similar cases of SGBV.

However, some grassroot organizations have criticized AFELL of having interest in the organization of its friends and affiliates, and not relating to them when it comes to assistance coming from Liberian’s international partners for other registered organizations in Monrovia and the country as a whole.     

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