By Melvin Tejan Mansaray
The Minister for Gender, Children and Social Affairs, Republic of Liberia, Williametta E. Saydee Tarr has said that the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) can help Liberia and its Member States by ensuring that sustainable projects are implemented by donors and international partners.
She was speaking on the second day (13th-17th April 2021) of the Community Parliament’s delocalized meeting of the Joint Committee on Social Affairs, Gender and Women Empowerment / Education, Science and Culture / Health, currently holding in Monrovia, Liberia’s Ministerial Complex, on the theme, “Empowerment of Women in the ECOWAS Region.”
Minister Tarr in her presentation said, “Steps taken by the Republic of Liberia to Implement Article 63 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty on Women and their Development,” highlighted the major successes, challenges, and way forward on the issues affecting women in her country and the Community.
Article 63 (Women and Development) of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty falls under the rubric, (CO-OPERATION IN HUMAN RESOURCES, INFORMATION, SOCIAL AND CULTURAL AFFAIRS), states that: “Member States undertake to formulate, harmonize, coordinate and establish appropriate policies and mechanisms for the enhancement of the economic, social and cultural conditions of women. 2. To this end, Member States shall take all measures necessary to: a) identify and assess all constraints that inhibit women from maximizing their contribution to regional development efforts; and b) provide a framework within which the constraints will be addressed and for the incorporation of women’s concerns and needs into the normal operations of the society; 3. At the Community level. Member States shall: a) stimulate dialogue among themselves on the kinds of projects and programmes aimed at integrating women into the development process; b) establish a mechanism for co-operation with bilateral, multilateral, and nongovernmental organizations; and c) promote and develop mechanisms to encourage the exchange of experiences and information between the Member States.”
In an interview with this Reporter, Minister Tarr began by highlighting the steps being taken by her country in the implementation of Article 63 of the ECOWAS Revised Treaty, updating that: “ We have passed laws and especially within the context of the Geoge Weah-led Administration, we have passed the Land Right Act that protects women and ensures that women can own properties, especially female spouses of men who are deceased because back in the day, we had situations were either the brothers or the family members will come and take over. We have passed the Domestic Violence Law which talks about ways in which we can see people who are violating these laws be put to jail or at least go through the court system to ensure that women and girls are protected. We continue to provide economic support to women through my own Ministry. We have the Liberia Social Safety Net Programme that is supported by USAID, UKAID, and a loan from the World Bank where we focus on getting monies to the poorest of the poor part of our country, where we have the focus on the female head of households to ensure that they get whatever stipends that we are giving out so that they can ensure that their families are protected and have access to education which is an accompanying measure, and health. We work directly with UN Women and the Government of Canada on women’s political participation. We are working with our Legislators and our National Elections Commission to ensure that we can have laws put in place where women will be protected. At this point, right now the discussion is about the mandatory thirty percent representation of women when it comes to candidates going to the ballot, you know when we get to electioneering periods and we are hopeful; that with Legislators, of course, we are very dependent on our He For She Champions in our Legislature. We want to be sure that they will be supporting that bill at the end of the day so that we will have that protection and viability for women to enjoy.”
In her statistical appraisal of the progress made so far by Liberia in women’s empowerment, Minister Tarr said, “ at this point, in empowering women we are at maybe forty-five percent mark. We need to cross that hill to get to fifty percent and then, move forward for even more.”
On the secret behind Liberia’s election of the first female President in continental Africa, Minister Tarr said it took the collective effort of women.
“Women came together and correlate and decided to support Madam Sirleaf as the candidate and this is what it is. That is why we say even when it comes to local elections, those are the things that we need to do. We need to be able to say we will not be scattered. We need to come together and join because when we solidify, we are stronger. Like the broom analogy, if you straw the broom on the ground all the strands will scatter, but if you come and tie it together you can do a whole lot of good; so that is it. If we stand together, we would be able to achieve this same result we got in 2005 with Madam Sirleaf’s election because why, if women hold together, and say we are going to push this one candidate, instead of being scattered or say I don’t like that lady or I am going to support this man and support the females, we see those female candidates get the support that is needed, we will see more female wins,” Minister Tarr said.
Questioned on how can the Liberia experience be cascaded to other West African countries, Minister Tarr said, the holding of such a gathering as being done by the ECOWAS Parliament is one way to go.
She said: “We just need to continue talking, as I said earlier in my presentation, COVID-19 is something that has shown us that we can talk virtually within seconds. We need to take advantage of that and talk a little bit more, coordinate and collaborate a little bit more and I am sure we will be able to share experiences that we all can enjoy and benefit from.”
Put to her that records have it that even with Liberia’s enviable record in electing the first female President, the country still has a low number of female representatives in its House of Representative, Minister Tarr said: “ Well, empowering women and ensuring that women are represented politically are two different things.”
“You can empower women with everything you have, if the political setup is not there for women to be represented in the Senate or the House of Representatives then they would not have it. Again, it comes back to the conversation I just had with you on women holding together to vote women in and getting more He for She Campaigners so it will help support that that happens,” she said.
Asked about what is Liberia not getting right that ECOWAS can offer, Minister Tarr said regional collaboration.
“Well, ECOWAS can help us afford the support that ensures that all of us as nations within the region, we know we have donors, international partners, so we want to be sure that we have one voice as in regards to them coming into our countries and making sure that they are supporting sustainable projects and not just things that they are just going to be checking off to say we did this Africa, but things that are applicable to the local content, applicable to what we need as people and to ensure that they are listening to what we need and not bringing in what the West wants to see happen,” Minister Tarr said.
Minister Tarr however wrapped up the interview by noting that budget is Liberia’s biggest impediment in the empowerment of women, adding that, “ we just have to make sure that we have the finances to make it happen.”
“We already have the political will, we need the finances and we also need that coalition of women coming together to support each other first and foremost before we reach across the aisle to the men,” she said, expressing that she feels extremely happy about her country hosting ECOWAS.
Madam Tarr said: “I am very happy, it is wonderful to have this happen here. I know that the team is still here throughout the end of the week but just to have the President (George M. Weah) at the highest level to come and be here in the room with the First Lady, and have the team of local Legislators and the team coming from outside, it brings highlight. For me personally, it does not only highlight women’s issues but it puts the icing on the cake.”