Open Letter to the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection

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Dear Minister Tarr:

Greetings.

It’s less than 8 days to the holding of the December 8, 2020 elections, and we thank the Supreme Court for lifting the stay order on campaign activities. This election is very critical to the advancement of women political participation and representation. As you are aware that currently, we do not have any Female Senator in the Liberian Senate- Senator Nyongblee Karnga-Lawrence is up for election. This is alarming and undermines Liberia’s representative democracy long fought for by both men and women, young and old across Liberia. 

It also undermines all efforts of the women movement in Liberia, the one that pushed for the establishment of the Government Institution you now head in response to the Beijing Platform for Action written 25 years ago. At the outset of the campaign, the Coalition of Democratic Change CDC that knowingly, willfully and intentionally put out 14 men to contest the Liberian Senatorial Election. We are extremely disheartened by the CDC’s decision to not “endeavor to ensure” no less than 30% women on the ticket. Essentially the CDC told the Liberian women that we are not qualified to serve at the level of the Senate. The Party even saw a Minister resigned his position to contest against the lone female Senator. 

Interestingly, you were present and sat at the helm of the table during the convening that concluded with the President’s endorsement of the Liberian Women Manifesto. The women of Liberia gathered and together discussed their issues and produce a manifesto, which has amongst its priorities advancing women’s political participation and leadership.

Although the appointment was rescinded, as Media and Communication head for your political party/coalition you would be campaigning for the men against the women. This is contradictory to the Women’s Manifesto.

Don’t get this wrong, we are encouraging women to join political parties, and to become very active and relevant in these parties. We are also trying to challenge the status quo of male dominated leadership in these political institutions as one of the ways of advancing women’s leadership, equal participation and representation of both men and women in our governing structures, especially the National Legislature.

The leadership role you occupy in your political party/coalition is good – very welcoming – and we stand with you. But that cannot be against the women and girls of Liberia general interest. You are the Minister of Gender, Children and Social Protection. We will leave the Code of Conduct conversation to others to indulge. What I will say here is that Ministry staff and leaders should not be campaigning against women candidacy for the National Legislature.  

The Gender Ministry cannot be strategizing with the women on one day and then working against women’s interests the next day.

The Ministry of Gender is integral to the women’s work in Liberia. Women organizations in this country are working tirelessly to shape the political agenda to prioritize the issues of women and girls. These organizations or movements put necessary pressure on their governments, international organizations and world leaders to act in the interest of women. We expect and hope that the Ministry of Gender will ally with us to do this work.

The women of Liberia from Chief Suakoko to Lango Nipay to Angie Brooks Randall to Ruth Perry to Mary Brownell to Ruth Caesar, Leymah Gbowee, Korto Reeves Williams, Ma Kebeh Monger to Martha Karnga, Munah Phelem to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and all the women and girls leading everyday continue to do so, because of the change and need for the liberation, equality and realization of women’s rights. 

We cannot allow the long fought battles and small wins to be lost to co-optation. Liberia’s male-dominated environment will ensure the continuation of the marginalization when the system should be becoming more inclusive and promoting sustainable development.

Madam Minister your inaction to speak-up for women in this December 8, 2020 Senatorial Elections and National Referendum is a setback.

In March 2019, you led a huge delegation from Liberia to the United Nations 63rd Commission on the Status for Women in New York, under the theme “Social protection systems, access to public services and sustainable infrastructure for gender equality and the empowerment of women and girls”. We together sat in various meeting pushing the agenda of women. The thousands of women from around the world and their governments agreed to “Ensure women’s full and equal participation, including in institutions of governance and the judicial system, and secure their empowerment and full and equal access to justice” the true realization of this is not without having women represented in the Liberian Senate where is known to be the “House of the Wise” decisions emanating from the National Legislature bears on women and men, therefore its fair enough to have women form part of that decision making body. Your role as Gender Minister is very cardinal to that conversation. 

The following year, In March 2020, you Minister Tarr along your counterparts, (the Ministers and representatives of Governments ) made a Political declaration on the occasion of the twenty-fifth anniversary of the Fourth World Conference on Women  “ to ensure full, equal and meaningful participation in decision-making as well as equal access to leadership and representation for all women at all levels and in all spheres of society, as well as strengthening their voice, while ensuring a safe and enabling environment for them and taking action to eliminate any barriers in this regard”.

We cannot afford not to promote the realization of these commitments. Let’s walk the talk. How legitimate will the Ministry be after December 8 Senatorial Election with regards to women political participation, representation and leadership, after we see a leader at the Ministry holding up a male candidate hands in Bassa? Someone will ask, “but everyone at the ministry of Gender, Children and Social Protection compelled to support women candidates” the answer is no, but for the position they occupy, it is expedient that they do not, especially in the current context.

The ball is in your court. Let’s lead the needed change. I come in Peace

Kind regards,

Sister in the Facia Harris

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