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Liberia: Women Seek Better Future Under Constitution
Source: allafrica.com
Source Date: Wednesday, April 10, 2013
Country: Liberia
Created: Apr 11, 2013

Liberian women are seizing the opportunity of the on-going constitutional reform process to secure their future by coming together to build an inclusive and caring society whose foundations are established by the Constitution.

At the start of a two-day national consultative meeting yesterday, dozens of women representatives from across the country gathered at a local hotel in Monrovia to champion their cause under the theme: Seizing the Moment to Ensure Gender-sensitive Constitutional Reform.

During the opening ceremonies, the main objectives of the forum were left to conjecture pending their subsequent unveiling at a special session of women's only with key male experts by Ms Frances Greaves, Chairperson of Women's NGO Secretariat.

But an insider confided in our reporter that even though the Constitution is the articulation of values and principles, the women are seeking not to constrict themselves anymore to the old fashioned, conflicts politics of the past.

"The dawn of a new era is upon us. After decades of a search for our rights under the law, the moment is now ripe upon us. We must seize this opportunity with courage, she said conceding, though, that she knew some people were concerned about the pace of implementation of the new constitution to come. But she is convinced that the implementation of the new constitution would be nothing to worry about. "The people and the government would be totally committed to the implementation of the new constitution," said our source.

Indeed the women's expectations are huge, said Madam Karin Kandgren, Special Rep of the Secretary General, in a short speech for her boss. There are sticky issues of gender equality, political participation, and equitable distribution of resources, fundamental rights and freedoms to be enjoyed by the women.

After saying that UN was committed to supporting the women's forum, the UN official welcomed President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf's decision to extend the timeline of the Constitutional Review Committee - a referendum that was expected to take place earlier will now kick off later after a thorough review of the constitution.

She said the process of rewriting a constitutional proposal was vitally important. "This is a historic process. Expectations are high," she pointed out assuring the women that UNMIL (the United Nations Mission in Liberia) would work with them in rewriting their constitution and rebuilding the country.

For her part, Ms Marpu Speare of the NGO secretariat stressed the need for the women to understand the Constitution before they venture into amending it.

She mentioned a simplified version of the document that could help them to understand what they will be doing.

"We must keep in mind that the Constitution is concerned about us in three ways: our lives, our welfare and our protection," she told the women, asking them to use the Constitution meticulously for posterity. "We need not take back what we take from it to put it under our beds."

A representative of political parties assured the women that political parties were committed to doing everything in the interest of the people. He admonished them not to revert to a situation in 1986 when coup leaders arm-twisted the drafters of the Constitution to undo what the drafters did.

Rep Josephine Frances of the Women's Legislative Caucus, said rewriting the Constitution will enable the women have a space to participate in the unfolding political process.

A proxy for the President, Pro Tempore, believes that the constitution will lift the women to a greater height. But they must be mindful of what they are doing, she cautioned. Whatever they will do will live with them. "If you do it for the wrong reasons, you will definitely get the wrong result," she warned.

A member of the 1986 Constitutional Drafting Committee, Counsellor Pearl Brown Bull said in 1981, the military junta led by Gen. Samuel Doe set up a 25-man constitutional review commission headed by Amos Sawyer to produce a new organic law of the country. "The members were elected by political subdivisions of the country. They were not handpicked. They represented the people of Liberia, and not PRC. They spent 57 days at Cutting University. There were experts like Philip Banks and they reviewed over 200 documents," she told the gathering

Gender and Development Minister Julia Duncan Cassell challenged the women to seize the opportunity to rewrite the constitution. "The moment is ripe for many reasons: it is an essential part for our peace process; it will address the rights of women and advance the agenda for national reconciliation." She challenged the women to take the bold step to rewrite the constitution that will address their national identity and national development path.
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