After many months of campaigning and overcoming financial and institutional challenges, for the successful candidates there is relief that the 10 October elections have concluded.
Regrettably, for many women aspirants however, the results of the 2023 elections were not kind.
At the voter registration stage, 1,237,257 women registered on the voters’ roll1 , slightly less than half the total.
In high population counties such as Nimba, Bong, and Montserrado , more women were registered than men.
At the Senatorial level, there were seven women out of the 100 candidates and two female presidential candidates.
The period before the elections also marked the signing of the Memorandum of Understanding (MOU) between NEC and political parties to promote women’s political participation by
Ensuring not less than 30% of women on party tickets. After the candidate nominations were finalized, only two political parties met this target.
Elected Candidates Seven new lawmakers, six representatives and one senator, were elected during the 10 October polls, which is three less than the previous elections in 2017.
Data from NEC shows that new female lawmakers are now representing some of the most traditional counties in Liberia such as Cape Mount, Grand Gedeh, Bong, and Lofa.
Although three female incumbents were defeated, one senator was gained, a total of three females in the Senate presently.
In Montserrado, the largest county with seventeen districts, only one district was won by a female candidate.
So, whilst the numbers may appear to be low, women are being represented in strategic counties.
Representation by political party Despite the signing of the 30% quota MOU, only two parties achieved this target.
Six parties did not nominate any women candidates at all while 22% of registered independent candidates were women.
One female presidential candidate also registered as an independent candidate, dispelling the myth that lack of access to financial resources is one of the main reasons why women do not participate in politics.
Running as an independent candidate is more expensive than running on a party ticket.
It costs $2,500 for presidential candidates, USD 750 for Senators, and USD 500 for House of Representative candidates.
Candidates (whether independent or on party ticket) need to show a bank balance of $10,000.
In contrast, although 80% of independent aspirants were men, in most cases there was some level of party affiliation and support, whereas independent female candidates appeared to be less likely to receive any support at all from parties even if they were affiliated.
EISA interviews with several male candidates also revealed that political parties were prepared to pay registration fees for aspirants which made registering on a party ticket a more viable option.
Besides the financial aspect, statistics also show that female candidates were less likely to win as independent candidates.
Only one of the successful representative candidates ran on an independent ticket which confirmed the common perception that parties provide other forms of support to candidates and provide a ready-made base of supporters, especially to new candidates.
Female independent candidates may also be more susceptible to harassment, as seen in the case of Wookie Dolo, a young aspirant who ran in Montserrado this year.
Additionally, there seemed to be no correlation between political parties with female standard-bearers and the number of female candidates nominated.
None of the three female standard bearers achieved the 30% quota which raises questions about the roles and expectations around female candidates.
Are women expected to attract more women voters, simply because they are women?
At one presidential debate held in Montserrado before the elections, EISA observed that the only female presidential aspirant present encouraged women to vote for her because “women could achieve a lot together”.
With the number of female independent candidates, what does it mean for the accountability of parties and candidates themselves? With no consequences for parties that do not meet the 30% quota, are there any other ways through which women’s participation and representation can be enhanced?
Additionally, how are women who constitute half of the registered voters voting? If women are not voting for women as the results suggest, then some work needs to be done by female candidates to attract voters and understand their voting behavior.
Female candidates should not assume that they automatically attract the sympathy of female voters or that female candidates would project a more convincing platform for women.
To increase women’s chances in future elections, support for candidates needs to be more strategic, based on feedback from voters and their own experiences.
Women have shown confidence in themselves and have not been deterred by barriers imposed by political parties of society.
However, stakeholders should now examine the realities of the 30% quota agreement and the loopholes that seem to be working against women.
Many foresee the gap in women’s participation and representation widening if a multipronged approach is not adopted in preparation for the next elections.
This includes: 1) conducting studies to understand women’s voting behavior 2) engaging political parties on their nomination processes and the possibility of recruiting, identifying and mentoring potential female in preparation for elections and 3) working closely with potential or unsuccessful candidates to analyze their performances against successful candidates to improve their chances.
This article was produced by EISA: The Electoral Institute for Sustainable Democracy in Africa (EISA) is a continental not-for-profit organization located in Johannesburg, South Africa, and Abidjan, Cote d’Ivoire with field offices in the Central African Republic, Democratic Republic of Congo, Gabon, Madagascar, Niger, Liberia Chad, and Sudan.
EISA has continental and sub-regional programs in the field of elections and democracy throughout Africa.
EISA strives for excellence in the promotion of credible elections, domestic participation, and the strengthening of political institutions for sustainable democracy in Africa. About USAID Support to EISA-IEOM to Liberia: