Liberia's ruling Coalition for Democratic Change party has announced its candidates for the upcoming 8 December senatorial elections, without nominating a single female, which has drawn huge criticism from women's rights activists in the country.
President George Weah has said that he is the 'feminist-in-chief' of the Republic of Liberia because of his government's priority of women's rights issues and their economic empowerment.
But activists here say the decision of the party runs contrary to any claims by the president and his government that they work to empower Liberian women.
Some 15 senate seats are up for grabs during the pending midterm elections, and there is currently only one woman among 29 male senators at the Liberian Senate.
MacDella Cooper, who contested the Presidency in 2017 as well as a senate by-election in Montserrado County describes the move as an affront to the women of Liberia.
Facilitating women in politics
“The fact that we have a President who is the feminist in Chief, he should always be cautious about women's participation, the roles that women can play to help us lift our country,” she said in an interview with RFI in Monrovia.
She called on the President to make good his promise of being the feminist-in-chief of the country.
Cooper also criticizes the appointment of only three females by the president out of 19 major ministries, including Jeanine M. Cooper, head of the ministry of agriculture, Williamina Jallah, minister of health and social welfare, and Williametta Piso Saydee-Tarr, minister of gender, children and social protection.
She agrees with other activists who say Liberia is gradually becoming the worst place for women and girls due to the increase in sexual and gender-based violence and their exclusion from decision-making processes.
Gender violence increase
Since the lockdown was declared on the 15 of March to stop the spread of the Coronavirus, she points out that there have been about 700 reported rape cases.
Created as a way to improve opportunities for women in legislature, Cooper created Movement for One Liberia (MOL), a platform she says creates a pathway for more women representation in the legislature.
“We have about 11 women candidates now on the books who will be running in the upcoming midterm senatorial elections,” she adds.
The task ahead, according to Cooper, is to collectively work with the women in order to challenge the men during the elections.
Meanwhile, the only female at the Liberian Senate, who doubles as the political leader of the Liberty Party, Nyonblee Karnga-Lawrence, is among the many women who have expressed disappointment in the ruling party.
She accuses the government of reversing the gains made to champion women's representation during the Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf administration.
In 2018, Weah stated that the National Electoral Commission guidelines to have 30 percent of women in government should be raised to 50 percent women's inclusion, but later had to backtrack on his comment.
Her party is collaborating with three other major political parties to fight for the 15 seats against the ruling party.
“Hopefully we will have four women in the pending elections compared to the ruling party selection,” Karnga-Lawrence said.
Struggle for women in African politics
Though she criticizes the ruling party, she admits that politics in Africa is difficult for women, especially in Liberia.
“It's a big struggle especially when you have to campaign. Women lack resources especially; there are more opportunities here for men and the terrain is very hostile. Men can easily take insults and a lot of hard campaign rhetoric and women get discouraged by that,” she says.
She also named poor road connectivity in rural Liberia which makes it very difficult to campaign among the factors that discourage many women from running for office in Liberia.
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Despite the criticisms, a stalwart of the ruling party who represents Montserrado County district #16 at the House of Representatives—Dixon W. Seboe disagrees. He say the CDC remains the hope of women in the country.
“In this case, no woman even applied for the party's primaries, so we cannot make a case,'' he asserts, indicating that the party cannot force anyone to contest an election.
As of press time, the chairman of the ruling party and the chairman of the recent ruling party's primaries that produced the 15 male senatorial candidates could not be reached for interviews despite several attempts by RFI.