Liberia’s Political Parties Fall Short of Gender Quota Commitment

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❖ Gender quotas are a type of affirmative action designed to help women overcome the barriers that prevent them from running for political office in the same way that men do.
❖ On Thursday, 11th May 2023 Registered Political Parties, Alliances and Coalitions and NEC signed an MOU for 30% Gender Quota.
❖ Gender quotas can be categorized based on their guiding principles or methods of implementation.
❖ There are various types of quotas, with the main distinction being between voluntary party quotas and constitutional and legislative quotas.
❖ Voluntary quotas are usually adopted by political parties, whilst constitutional quotas are written into the country’s constitution, and legislative quotas are written into the country’s election law, political party law, or other comparable law.

As Liberia prepares for the October 10, 2023, elections and political parties gear into electioneering mode, what remains missing from the mainstream discourse is fair representation of women and their meaningful participation in the electoral process. The deadline for Liberia’s parties, coalitions, and independent candidates to register candidates for President, House of Representatives, and Senate elections was 14 July 2023. The provisional list of candidates released by the National Elections Commission (NEC) on 14 July 2023 showed that women aspiring candidates make up only 15% of the total number of candidates fielded by political parties- a figure that falls short of the Liberia Constitutional Provisions which demand equal representation in all sectors and only half of the 30% quota that the parties voluntarily agreed to. The 2023 elections are a critical opportunity for Liberia to make progress on gender equality, yet the performance of parties with respect to voluntary quotas is extremely disappointing.

Although there are no legislated gender quotas in Liberia, structural barriers to women’s equal participation in political life can be addressed through temporary special measures with specific targets. For example, political parties can apply their own gender quotas for candidate lists as well as all management and decision-making positions to ensure equal participation. Political parties can also provide financial support to women candidates not only for their nomination fees but also for their campaign work and throughout the election period. This is common practice in many African states

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EISA noted the support of UN Women and the UNDP, as 25 political parties and coalitions and the National Elections
Commission (NEC) signed a Memorandum of Understanding (MoU) on May 11, 2023, which signaled political parties’
commitment to nominating women in a minimum of 30% of their candidate listings. The commitment by political parties to this process was intended to pave the way for increased women’s political participation, promoting gender equality and enhancing the representation of women at the national legislative level. For readers familiar with the role that quotas have played in increasing the presence of women in decision-making positions in different countries, but unaware of the peculiarities of Liberia’s political culture and political system, it may seem confusing that Liberia has not achieved the
minimum representation of 30% women candidates at this stage. Despite having just signed the MOU on a 30% gender quota provision, Liberia political parties failed to reach the target number of women during the candidate nomination exercise. This is similar to previous electoral cycles and reflective of the status of women in the current legislature. Currently, the implementation of the gender quota provision is, in most cases, negotiated with male political figures and influential politicians based on their preferences. This leaves gender equality advocates with little choice but to rely on political promises made by these figures. To implement women’s quotas, there needs to be a willing and functioning party system that is committed to promoting and supporting women. Gender quotas will then guide the actions of political parties in promoting women, and they can also help to ensure that women have a fair chance of becoming political leaders. 

Political parties’ lack of action as evidenced by the NEC provisional nomination figures, exposes the signing of the MOU as tokenism and disrespectful to all women, including aspiring women leaders. Quotas are an effective tool when they become binding and are implemented by competing political entities and complemented by other tools to strengthen effective gender representation. To ensure that quotas are applied and followed, they must be legally binding (legislative or constitutional) and must be overseen by an electoral management body or its equivalent. Enforcement mechanisms make it easier for electoral authorities to penalize parties that overlook or choose not to employ the quota, and consequently, these can serve as deterrents to quota evasion.

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In Liberia, key factors explain the low proportion of women aspiring as candidates and subsequently in elected positions, including the design of the electoral law which is exclusionary in nature, and the weight of patriarchal and cultural expectations. The current poor representation of Liberia women in the Liberia Parliament and the low figures just recorded out of the nomination exercise prove how the lack of a legal foundation can render a gender quota policy weak and therefore not enforceable in the face of non-compliance and the lack of political will. Structural barriers within political parties and steep nomination fees coupled with a centralized nomination process have been observed as key inhibiting factors. In addition, women are often expected to stay home and take care of their families, and they are not seen as being as capable as men of holding political office.

EISA LTOs interacted with candidates at the SKD complex during the candidate nomination process and noted that some factors accounting for the low numbers of women listing are the difficulty of women to manage their campaigns, get family support, and, in some cases, getting the Liberia Revenue Authority (LRA) clearance certificates. LTOs interacted with NEC officials whose remarks resonated with LTOs’ findings that despite the existing spaces and mechanisms to support women’s participation, most political parties except a few have challenges meeting the gender quota. This also shows that with the number of aspiring women candidates for the House of Representatives (HoR) being low, an even lower number or proportion of women candidates will be filled for Senate.

EISA implores political parties to live up to the provisions of the Constitution which demands the upholding of gender equality. Sustainable Development Goal (SDG) 5.5 aims for women’s full and effective participation and equal opportunities for leadership at all levels of decision-making in political, economic, and public life. The lack of women’s representation in Liberian politics has a negative impact on women’s rights and gender equality as it works against good governance and sustainable development.

About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: The USAID-funded EISA International Election Observation Mission (EISA-IEOM) Activity seeks to enhance the integrity of the 2023 Liberia Presidential and Legislative elections through the deployment of an independent international election observer mission (EOM) to monitor, assess and report on all phases of the electoral process in accordance with international and regional benchmarks. The IEOM is implemented in close coordination with the financial support of USAID/Liberia and will complement the efforts of other electoral stakeholders.