By Timothy T. Seaklon
Liberian Women are still demanding fifty percent in government and noted that political parties should ensure that fifty percent of elected and appointed positions be of the same gender. According to their general recommendation presented to the ongoing national Constitutional consultation being held in Gbarnga, Bong County, the women said relative to equal representation, they want an addition to Article 18(b) and the constitution shall guarantee fifty percent representation of women and men in all public functions and equal access to opportunities in the private sector.
According to their document entitled ‘Liberia Women Constitutional Reform Agenda’, the women noted that a new provision be added as Article 79(f) reading “Political parties shall ensure that no more than fifty percent of elected or appointed position shall be of the same gender.”
One fundamental rights for all under Chapter III- Article 11 (c) the women noted that all women and men, girls and boys have the right to full protection by the law, the right to equal opportunities, and the right not to be discriminated against on the basis on their gender, ethnicity, physical ability, age or marital status.
They further said that all laws, customs, traditions and cultural practices that infringe on the rights and freedoms of Liberians shall be deemed unconstitutional.
“Without prejudice to other protections provided by this constitution, marginalized and vulnerable groups have a right to affirmative action to address imbalances created by history, custom and/or tradition,” the women said.
Giving a justification for this, the women said this is meant to inform and strengthen Article (11) on fundamental rights.
Touching on Article (11), the Liberian women want an Addition to Article 11 (a) which would indicate that the Constitution shall guarantee special representation of men and women with disabilities and differently abled people and the youths.
They want the Legislature to enact appropriate laws for the implementation of these provisions, justifying that the Constitution of the Republic of Liberia does not have specific provisions with regards to affirmative action mandating women’s representation in public or private leadership spaces.
“There is a female Head of State elected by the people of Liberia and has her place in history as the first female Head of State in Africa. Currently, women representation in the Legislature stands at 10.6percent, comprising; 3 women out 30 members in the Senate representing 10 percent; 8 women out 73 representatives in the House representing 11percent” the women said.
Giving further justification, the women said this percentage is lower than what is obtaining in African countries and observed that currently the average representation for women in Sub Saharan Africa stands at 22 percent.
The global average stands at 21% while Liberia is below that and the problem could be in the current constitutional legal framework.
The women said they drew inspiration from a lot of changes happening on the continent in this respect as highlighted by the various provisions of countries like Rwanda, Kenya and Zimbabwe that have a comprehensive structure that unapologetically entrench gender equality.
They said as it stands today Zimbabwe’s constitution provides for 50/50 representation of women in Parliament; Rwanda is now the world’s number one and has a female parliamentary representation of 63 percent.
On Marriage, the women also suggested that an addition be made to Article 23 (a) which will state that the Constitution shall protect the institution of marriage by recognizing 3 forms of marriages: Statutory, Customary and Common Law.
They said under this constitution; the legal age for marriage shall be 18 years; all marriages in Liberia shall be voluntarily entered into.
The women also suggested that Article 23(a) be replaced as 23 (b) with additions and the legislature shall enact laws to govern the devolution of estates and property and establish rights of inheritance and descent for spouses of both statutory, customary and common law marriages as to give adequate protection to surviving spouses and children of such marriages.
They also proposed that Article 23 (d) shall read “All men and women in a marriage shall own all properties acquired during the union in common unless the couple choose an alternative in writing, such property shall not be alienated or controlled by one spouse except by the free and voluntary consent of both parties.
Giving justification for the proposal, the women said the constitution is not prescriptive on issues of marriage defining the age of marriage and fundamental protections in regard to women and girls.
They noted that the intent of the “Common Law” marriage is to protect the best interest of the child’s regards inheritance and support and the investment of a partner who labored and gave significant contribution in acquiring properties during the union.
“In short, it’s to provide protection for children born into such union and individuals who labored to acquire properties in the event of death or dissolution,” the women said.
On Children’s Rights the women want a new provision to be Article 27 where the Constitution shall have a standalone article that addresses all issues of children affairs, noting that a child shall be defined as any person below the age of 18.
“The law shall recognize and guarantee equal protection for every child regardless of the circumstances of their birth, including children with disabilities. Custody and child support for children in the event the parents no longer live together shall be decided by a court of law based on the concerned parent’s earnings,” the women proposed.
The said in all decisions affecting children, the best interest and welfare of the child shall be paramount and the Legislature shall enact appropriate legislation to guarantee the basic and fundamental rights of the child, adding, “Every child shall have the right to be supported by both parents.”
Justifying this provision, the women said the intent of this law is to protect all children (in and out of wedlock) from any and all forms of discrimination; right to inherent and adequate support from parents.
“To guarantee protection for children, the Constitution shall have a standalone article that addresses all issues of children affairs in line with new progressive constitutions in Africa;
FUNDAMENTAL RIGHTS PROTECTION FROM VIOLENCE against women, girls, boys and men,” the women stressed.
The women also called for a new provision, Article 28 to uphold that “All forms of violence both from public and private sources against women, girls, boys and men shall be prohibited and all persons under the law are entitled to equal protection against discrimination, exploitation and abuse.”
The women said the Legislature and through Executive Orders shall take measures to provide protection against all practices affecting the dignity and freedoms of women, girls, boys and men.
The women said the intent of this proposed constitutional provision is to ensure that all Liberians are protected against all forms of violence addressing the cultural and other practices that are against the dignity and freedoms of all citizens and those residing within the territorial boundaries of Liberia.