Women participation and inclusion in politics and public offices have been the leading controversy for the decades. Liberia has been no exception to this global phenomenon. The country to some considerable degree has subscribed to women inclusion in major decision making processes in various national institutions.
For instance even before Liberia voted Africa's female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in 2005 the Press Union of Liberia (PUL) in 2004 voted Elizabeth Hoof as president. Since then the PUL has always had at least one female occupying one of its top positions. Malisa Chea Annan was voted Assistant secretary and Vice president in two successive elections defeating an incumbent with wide margin in the latter.
But this year's election has proven to be a different story. The Female Journalists Association of Liberia, (FeJAL) presented two candidates Ade Wade Kerkuleh for Secretary General and Siatta Scott Johnson for Vice President. Ade was disqualified by the Election Commission in the early stages but when the Union's leadership rescinded its disqualification decision, Ade was unwilling to pursue her ambition thus making Siatta the lone female candidate in the entire election.
At the end of the day Siatta Scott was defeated by Jallah Grayfield with 40-vote's difference creating an all-male leadership. Siatta acknowledged after the election result was released that there is much more to be done by females. "I am not disappointed that I did not win but this proves that we the women (FeJAL) have more work to do."
The action to vote an all-male leadership confirms the view of women's right advocates that all though the country is headed by a woman, Liberian women have little say on how the country is governed or how decisions that affect them are made.
For example, Liberia ranks 90 in the world in female representation in the legislature, with only 13.5 percent of women occupying seats in the lawmaking body following the last election in 2011.
The number of female media executives is also very low. Fewer than five percent of media bosses are women, a situation that is largely attributed to the unequal opportunities as can be seen in the last election results, and the low level of women participation. Women account for only 35 of the 270 registered members of the PUL. However international best practice indicates that editorial ascendency is based on merit and not gender.
FEJAL ISSUES BOYCOTT STATEMENT
FeJAL, in a release Tuesday, says it will boycott the upcoming induction ceremony of the newly elected officers of the Press Union of Liberia which is slated for December 27, 2013.
The Group says it is disappointed with the outcome of the just ended PUL elections, where no female was elected. The group observed that the defeat of its lone female candidate, Mrs. Siatta Scott-Johnson was not based on competence but rather gender and sex.
The women group says it had always supported male counterparts and strongly thinks that the gesture should be reciprocated, considering the global acclamation of inclusivity.
"When FeJAL decided to field a candidate for the presidency, she was told to go for the Vice President position because the Union was not ready for a female president because the two former females who were elected in previous leadership posts left unceremoniously,"
REACTIONS TO FEJAL
The statement drew the action of many top professional media practitioners in Liberia. Phillip Wesseh Managing Editor of the Inquirer Newspaper told FPA that he is not in favor of what the group says it wants to do.
"I don't favor that. I don't think they need to boycott the induction. The PUL election is not held based on sex or gender. It was unfortunate that she did not win. But the men voted for her, look at the votes how many women registered? Less than 30, she had more than that. How sure are we that all the women voted for her? Election is very deceptive. Fejal should respect the results because it is the decision of the majority".
But his own employee Winnie Saywah holds strongly that Fejal should go ahead with its planed boycott action. " FeJAL was not supposed to even issue a statement once you announce a boycott it means that you are opening up for negotiation. What you want to do is stay away don't waste your voice. If the males wanted a female to be in that position you would have seen competition in the election result. The presidential result, the man win by 8 points but look at how Mrs. Johnson was defeated."
Frank Sainworla Station Manager of radio Veritas says FeJal is giving the wrong impression about the abilities of females to stand up to PUL politics.
"I urge my wonderful female journalists in FeJAL not to carry out their threat to boycott the upcoming PUL induction for their reason slated. Let me caution them that such a move for such a reason would not send a good signal about the preparedness of female journalists to stand up to internal PUL political contest. I admire and respect the defeated female candidate Siatta Scott -Johnson but the past PUL women officials had toll on her candidacy. In the past recent years women were elected to government union in two of top most posts but their tenures were short landed by political appointment personal adventure."
But Sainworla's caution was met with unbending resistance as the Secretary General of FeJAL says they are only open to negotiations after the induction ceremony.
"This is about the men standing with us the women. And I can assure you that we the leaders of FeJAL will not attend that program. And we are open for any negotiation whatsoever only after their all- male program."
One of those who is directly affected by FeJAL's statement is President Elect Abdullai Kamara." I can't be sure why people voted the way they did. But I can say for the record that the situation in the press union of Liberia is a reflection of the situation in the greater Liberian Society. A lot of people don't think women have come of age. FeJAL has become a very dependable auxiliary of the PUL and I am very proud of that. They need to do the right thing by strengthening their responsibility by participating in administration and holding the men accountable. Staying away will not solve this problem.