MONROVIA – The promotion of inclusive political participation and the elimination of violence against women in politics are paramount to ensuring that every candidate has fair and equal conditions in an electoral process–as these go a long way in bringing credibility, transparency and fairness to the outcomes of elections.
But this, according to Medica-Liberia and POWER Liberia, has not been the case in Liberia as women seeking public offices are subjected to attacks, intimations and other forms of violence that scare them away from the process.
Reports of physical attacks, intimidation, and harassment aimed at female politicians, activists, and voters have grown as women have become more politically engaged, Medica-Liberia Head of Program, Mbalu Winnie Jusu, said.
Often dismissed as the “cost of doing politics,” such acts pose a serious threat to democracy and raise questions about the progress that has been made toward incorporating women as full political actors.
Jusu said violence against women during election years is pervasive and there is a need to tackle the problem. “We have to work and ensure that we alleviate bottlenecks that impede women participation in elections,” she said on Tuesday July 11, at the opening of a two-day training of election monitors/observers organized by Medica Liberia and POWER Liberia.
“We are here to provide you with additional knowledge and skills necessary to fulfill a crucial role in ensuring free, fair and transparent elections.
“As election observers, you all play a role in upholding democratic principles, safeguarding the integrity of the electoral process and promoting the rights of all, especially women, to participate in the political affairs of Liberia,” Jusu said at the opening of the two-day event.
Violence against women active in political life, the Medica-Libera head noted, is a form of gender-based violence that manifests physically, psychologically and sexually, both in-person and online
However, as participation of women in politics has increased, so has the violence against them. Data shows that this is due to more women speaking out about the scourge, but also as a result of insufficient countermeasures to address violence.
Those countermeasures could include achieving gender parity, increased public awareness campaigns and holding perpetrators accountable, said the UNWOMEN Special Rapporteur on violence against women, Reem Alsalem, at an event last year.
The Special Rapporteur also discussed the need to collect data as a tool to assess the level of gender-based violence against women and girls–a gap that Medica-Liberia and partners are endeavoring to address.
Oscar Bloh, who served as one of the facilitators at the training said that documenting violence against women has been ignored in the past, making it very difficult to have data that would validate the pervasiveness of the scourge.
“We all know that violence against female candidates has been happening but we don’t have data to attach to it. In the past three presidential and general elections, we have seen that there has been a major gap in the proper documentations of violence against women during election year,” Bloh, who is the Chairman of the Elections Coordinating Committee (ECC), said. “We have been focusing a lot on monitoring the campaign, campaign financing, collation and tabulation of results and the announcement of results, with little or no attention to the issue of violence against women candidates.”
As head of the nation’s largest election observation body, Blog admitted that stakeholders have not placed a gender lens on the issue of monitoring, tracking of incidences of violence against women and how that undermines the electoral process.
“This is why we are undertaking this initiative so that our monitors can be deployed across the country to take stock of the incidence of violence against women politicians,” he said. “When women are physically or emotionally attacked, it scares them away from the process and reduces their chances of participation”.
Women make up close to 49 percent of the total registered voters of Liberia, as per the national elections Commission’s statistics, and 49 percent of the total population of the country, and there should be nothing placed in their way that will undermine their participation in the electoral process.
Bloh, who was a part of an election observation mission to Sierra Leone, noted that the process in that country was characterized by fear and political intimidation–situations that tend to scare away voters, especially women on election day.
Speaking of the experience he has brought from that observation mission, Bloh noted, “the context is different. I was in Sierra Leone and saw how the tension was building up even the day before the elections, and the entire environment was characterized by fear. And if the area is tense and very fearful women tend to worry about their safety and that of their families. They could be sexually harassed and intimidated. So, the fear of these could make them stay away from the process.
“So in our context, this is why we are starting this early to train these monitors on national and county levels to be able to identify these issues that could be highlighted to policymakers in terms of the early response mechanisms so that on election day and post-election day, we won’t see any form of violence that would affect the participation of women into our process.
UN 2016 Policy Directive on Preventing and Mitigating Election-related violence understands election violence to be a form of political violence which is often designed to influence an electoral outcome and therefore the distribution of political power.
Electoral violence has a broad range of manifestations, ranging from the disruption or delay in the polling process to coercive intimidation and threats of physical, psychological or sexual harm against voters, political supporters and polling officials. It is employed to achieve a political objective that may vary depending on the perpetrators, be it agents of the state, political parties or other groups with vested interests in the political process. Women are most times the victims.
Meanwhile, during the training, the monitors were taught the essential aspects of monitoring and observation of elections.
In addition to identifying barriers to women political participation, monitors were also trained to identify types of violence that women experience during every stage of the electoral cycle, including campaigns and the actual elections.
They were also trained in the use of check-lists on critical incidence and systematically document any form of violence, be it physical verbal or any form of intimidation on be it on the traditional media or social media that will be meted against women.
The training of the monitors is supported by the UN-Secretary General Peacebuilding Fund though UNWOMEN and UNDP.