By Alvin Worzi
President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has called on political parties in the country to increase women’s participation and go beyond what was agreed to with the international community and ensure that at least 35 percent of all opportunities are given to women to enter elections race.
She made the remarks yesterday at the program marking the maiden celebration of the Economic Community of West African States’ (ECOWAS) Human Rights Day at the Monrovia City Hall, which is organized by the ECOWAS and Independent National Commission on Human Rights of Liberia (INCHR).
The program was held under the theme: ‘Promoting and Protecting Women’s Rights towards the Attainment of ECOWAS Vision 2020,’ with the sub theme ‘Women’s Rights in Political Governance and Participation and Women’s Rights in Economy, Empowerment and Development.’
She lauded ECOWAS heads of state for the choice of 16 January of every year to be celebrated as ECOWAS Human Rights Day, which coincides with the day she was inaugurated as President of Liberia.
She also lauded the governments of all member states for providing the enabling environment in which the celebration of ECOWAS Human Rights Day will be held in their respective countries.
Today’s celebration, she said, seeks to strengthen the foundation in the region for an improved effort at enhancing the promotion and protection of rights of ordinary community citizens as entrenched in the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, African Chapter on Human and People’s Rights.
President Sirleaf said she believes that the celebration will create the space for political and civil society stakeholders to engage relevant actors involved in the promotion and protection of human rights in the region.
Furthermore, she said “We cannot successfully attain our vision of ECOWAS as a people if we place constraints on the potential of our women, which constitutes more than half of the region’s population. We cannot win if women are left out of the strategic implementation of policies and operational activities which are aimed at enhancing sustainable development of our region.
“With respect to the political and socio-economic rights of women, we urge all our governments in ECOWAS member states to act in the following direction: repeal any discriminatory law that affects the economic viability of women, their ability to get money and own land to move freely and to make decisions about their own bodies and health.”
President Sirleaf said the decision to choose women’s rights as the theme to be celebrated for this year was appropriate, given the critical importance of women’s rights in the realization of ECOWAS’ Vision 2020.
To achieve this, she said, “We must create opportunities for women to get employment in the private sector, create fair wages for women. Companies in the region are encouraged to look at the women’s empowerment scheme, because of an increasing importance of women’s role in peace and security around the globe.
“Introduce measures to protect women’s integrity by preventing tortures, rape, sexual abuse, and exploitation both in armed and non-armed conflict situations. Promote education in training of government agents and law enforcement officers to respect women’s rights.”
She also expressed her sincere gratitude to the other heads of state and ECOWAS for their unwavering support to the regional goal of advancing the promotion of human rights for the benefit of ordinary community citizens.
Ambassador Babatunde O. Ajisomo, ECOWAS Special Representative to Liberia, who read ECOWAS President Marcel de Souza’s statement, said he was delighted and honored to represent the president of ECOWAS Commission.
Ambassador Ajisomo said the celebration places a particular focus on the promotion and protection of women’s rights, which is extended to all areas, including women’s rights in political governance and participation in the economy, empowerment, peace and security, development.
He further said that the ECOWAS Commission has noted with great concern that despite the ratification of numerous regional and international human rights instruments by member states, even to promote the rights of women, significant discrimination against women continues in the region.
Ambassador Ajisomo continued, “This situation does not only violate the principle of equal rights or respect for human dignity but also constitutes an obstacle in the participation of women on equal path with men in the political, social, economic and cultural life of their countries, thereby hindering the realization of an integrated prosperous ECOWAS region.”
Also speaking, Commissioner Bartholomew B. Colley, acting chairperson of the Independent National Commission on Human Rights of Liberia (INCHR), lauded President Sirleaf for the level of work over the years as Africa’s first female president.
He noted that President Sirleaf has created the space to elect women and also promote women’s initiatives, adding that “You will be remembered for promoting women’s agenda and young people.”
The occasion was graced by the Director General of the General Services Agency, Mary T. Broh; Finance Minister Boimah Kamara; Gender Minister Julia Duncan-Cassell; Senator Conmany Wesseh of River Gee County; Charles Saah N’tow, Youth and Sports Minister; Senator Jewel Howard Taylor of Bong County; and Jonathan L. Kaipay of Grand Bassa County, among others.