Curious and keen many people are about the global effort towards gender parity, particularly women political representation and participation in governance, but until social institutions are reoriented, impact of efforts aimed at gender parity will remain minimum; for the most part hypocritical.
Conversations that I have had with people across social strata concerning women political empowerment, deeply trouble me, considering the trend of events in Liberia. Women representation in national leadership, especially at the National Legislature continues on a downward slope for the last decade despite women involvement in serious political engagement. I have a strong feeling that it is unlikely, if not impossible, for us to even obtain 30℅ parity for women in political leadership in the next 50 years, if we do not scale up our gains, change the approach and demand more practical actions. Hence, the purpose of this article is to lend support to two approaches (quota seats and social and cultural transformation) that could lead to a sustainable referral path to gender parity in Liberia.
Trend of Women Representation in the Legislature
Basically, women representations at the National Legislature has been all time low, fluctuating between 13% and 11% of the total number of lawmakers in both houses. The 2005 election results showed that the number of women that were elected constituted 13% of the total number of 94 lawmakers in both houses: five (5) in the Senate and seven (7) in the House of Representatives. In spite of additional seats that were created based on population increase confirmed by the 2008 National Population and Housing Census, the 2011 elections did not make any difference. The percentage of women dropped to 11% of the total number of 103 lawmakers in both houses: four (4) senators and eight (8) representatives. The 2017 and 2020 elections ended with two female senators and nine representatives, which represents 11% of the total number of 103 lawmakers-30 senators and 73 representatives. The battle for the senate continues to prove much more difficult for female. There were five (5) female senators in 2005, four (4) in 2011 and now there are only two female senators in 2021. With this statistics, one might wonder whether the numerous advocacies for gender parity is making any sensible change, for there was not much advocacy in 2005, the first female president was elected, more women were elected, especially to the senate than any other year where there have been massive advocacies for gender equality. This goes without saying that we need to review the approach, change the dynamics and scale up our gains, perhaps by emulating countries in Eastern Africa, like Rwanda and Uganda.
Experience of East Africa
Rwanda and Uganda are two eastern countries in Africa that have made tremendous and significant strives to involve women in governance through affirmative actions. Affirmative Action is taking deliberate actions through laws, policies and regulations in favor of marginalized groups in society in order to ensure their protection and equality against others.
Quota and preservation of extraordinary seats for female politicians are affirmative actions countries Uganda and Rwanda have deployed to narrow the gender gap; however, these methods are not evidentially effective and as such have not been replicated anywhere outside the region.
Rwanda has the World leading record of gender parity: 61% women in parliament and 50% in Cabinet. The government of Rwanda has demonstrated political will through affirmative action, though the 1994 genocide played a key role. During the genocide, majority of the approximated 1 million people killed were males; consequently, the country’s population is about 52% females, which is an enabling factor for female dominance in government.
The Ugandan experience, though not really exceptional, it teaches lesson that we can learn from. The Uganda 1995 constitution supports affirmative action seats for women, as well as the establishment of the equal opportunities commission, the Local Government Act of 1997 that strengthens women’s participation in local government decision-making, the Electoral Commission Act of 1997 that mandates the commission to organize elections and caters for women’s quotas, the Press and Journalists Act, and the Electronic Media Act that prohibits bias reporting against female candidates. 30% of its lawmakers are women and 16% of other positions in government are women as well.
The future of affirmative action through quota seats might not appear so promising, judging from the experience of countries that applied it. The situation has turned out that women are only fighting to maintain seats they hold instead of aspiring for higher positions as envisaged by proponents of the idea, but it is worth given it a trial in Liberia but with caution. The quota seat approach should not be seen as an end in itself, but a conduit to permanent solution.
Where the Solution Lies
The solution to gender parity lies in the transformation of our social and cultural institutions. First of all, gender is about ascribed responsibilities or roles society assigns to either female or male sex to perform. These assumed responsibilities are enforced through social and cultural institutions such as the family, religion, schools, peers and the mass media. The family and other institutions, like the church and mosques teach the girl child in certain ways inferior to the roles of the boy child. The boy child is usually reminded to be strong because he will grow-up to be responsible for his family, including his wife, while the girl child is trained to take care of her children and husband. These are the values we were all thought and have passed them over to our children. Where do you see any principle of equality in the above teaching philosophy? The boy child grows up with mind set that he will be responsible for his wife and children while the girl child grows up with the thought that her husband will be responsible for her and their children.
Sociologists believe that culture and religion are prime factors responsible for gender disparity. Historically, men are portrayed as the dominant and supreme gender, even in the Bible. The Bible tells the woman be submissive to your husband, while it tells the man to love and care for your wife. These conservative ideas are still been thought and practiced everywhere in spite of the global effort to close the gaps between the two genders. This is the hypocrisy that needs to stop if we will ever succeed at this fight. We need to speak and act in unison of transformed cultural and religious believes and practices.
We have not succeeded all this while because fundamentally, gender advocates have used and adopted the wrong approaches over the years. They have targeted institutions and law reforms that have less bearing on gender transformation and creation of equal opportunity.
The new dispensation of advocacy must do proper messaging, and direct the messages to the family, peer education, religion, schools and mass media. When we adopt the temporary quota seats, do proper messaging of gender advocacy and direct them to the proper social and cultural institutions, we shall have solved the issues of gender disparities in Liberia.