RepresentWomen was honored to recently welcome Rosana Schaack, member of the Liberian House of Representatives, to our offices. She shared her experiences working in a male-dominated government and the challenges she and other Liberian women face as they work towards gender parity in the legislature. In Liberia’s most recent election for the national legislature, 146 women ran but just four women challengers won seats. Currently, there are only 11 female legislators out of 103 total in the Legislature of Liberia, with nine women in the House and two in the Senate.
Prior to working in government, Rep. Schaack founded and directed THINK Liberia, an organization that provides meaningful aid to women and girls, many of whom were child soldiers, sex slaves, and others impacted by the Liberian civil war. In her role as Chair of the Women Legislative Caucus of Liberia, Rep. Schaack continues to advocate for women’s rights. She told us she plans to work with the other female representatives to push for a gender quota to be added to the Liberian constitution, stressing that constitutional reform would be paramount to the success and validity of any sort of gender quota.
Although Liberian political parties have adopted voluntary quotas on women candidates, they do not enforce the quotas, so permanent action is essential. Rep. Schaack sees constitutional change as the most effective means of enforcing a gender quota, and spoke passionately about the change that a 30 percent quota for women in Liberian legislature could bring.
We also learned about a recent “mock parliament” that the Women Legislative Caucus held, intended to “highlight the value of diversity that women bring to the governance process,” according to its Facebook page. At this mock parliament, the legislature debated a bill that would place harsher penalties on perpetrators of domestic violence. This bill languished during the last legislative session partly due to harsh opposition from male legislators, but Rep. Schaack hopes that the Women Legislative Caucus will be able to spur its passage. This is just one of the many ways that Rep. Schaack is working to engage and support women in politics, though she also noted that election processes have a large impact on women’s representation.
As the conversation turned to elections, Rep. Schaack pointed out the similarities between the electoral systems in Liberia and in the United States, which is not surprising given its history. Liberia was founded by members of the American Colonization Society in an effort to establish a colony for freed slaves.
Like the U.S., Liberia uses a winner-take-all system with single member districts for its elections. RepresentWomen Director Cynthia Terrell suggested Rep. Schaack consider the benefits of switching to a ranked-choice voting system to enhance women’s representation and engagement in government. Rep. Schaack also addressed barriers to voting that Liberians face, including flooded roads during the voting season, which coincides with the rainy season.
In many ways, Rep. Schaack believes that women’s involvement in government and politics is central to addressing human rights issues. Through her leadership roles in THINK Liberia and the Liberian legislature, Rep. Schaack shows how women can identify challenges and barriers faced by others and then work to solve these problems. She spoke about womens’ central role in the family in Liberia, and was concerned about the disconnect between women’s familial power and the lack of their representation in government.
The visit by our esteemed guest was a reminder of the global challenges faced by women seeking to lead, but an inspiring take on similarities among democracies.
By: Barbara Turnbull, Evelien van Gelderen, Jamie Solomon, Katie Pruitt, Kendrick Icenhour