The 2011 Liberian general election was held on 11 October 2011, with a presidential runoff election held on 8 November 2011. The presidency, as well as all seats in the House of Representatives and half of the seats in the Senate, were up for election. The election was orgainised for the first time by the  National Elections Commission (NEC).

As Liberians await the results of a run-off presidential election that happened on November 8th, we ask if the country that is in the shadows of a violent past has successfully emerged into a peaceful society that welcomes women as legitimate participants in the political process.

Liberia ranks 90th in the world in female representation in parliament, with only 13.5 percent of women making up the National Legislature of Liberia.[1]

Six years ago, Liberia elected Africa’s first female head of state and recent Nobel Peace Prize winner, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf. She is running again in this election on the platform that she has maintained the peace and hopes to be able to continue to do so if reelected. [2] The first round of voting on October 11 saw incumbent President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf win 43% of the vote while Tubman, her closest rival, won 32.7 per cent.[3] In the upcoming runoff election, defeated female candidates for political positions have overwhelmingly backed President Sirleaf. [4]

“Over 105 defeated female candidates from across the country recently took the decision when they assembled at the St. Stephens Episcopal Church in Sinkor, Monrovia,” where a statement of support for President Sirleaf was drafted, claiming that the incumbent is the best in candidate in the race.[5]  These women of politics also congratulated President Sirleaf on her Nobel Prize, claiming that she has made the women of Liberia proud to vote for her.[6]

“Responding to the communiqué, President Sirleaf applauded the women for the bold step taken to support her, saying she was not happy with the incoming legislature because of the fewer women.”[7] She also encourage the women who did not win a seat during elections to continue to be politically active and show leadership in their respective communities. She hopes the Nobel Prize will encourage all women in Liberia to continue to forge ahead in politics.[8]

News reports in the run up to the second round of voting cited a low voter turnout the second time around due to the CDC boycott that left Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the only candidate running in the run-off elections. “Burnnies Korbor, 20, who voted at a high school in central Monrovia, said she believed the low turnout demonstrated that voters were "scared," but added that she had no worries about coming out to vote for incumbent President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.”[9] She also added that she believes Johnson-Sirleaf is "doing well in the country…Right now there's no war, nothing. Everything's calm."[10] However, during the run-off elections, there were reports of violence instigated by the CDC and other groups in which three people were killed.[11]

Liberia still has a long way to go to increase women’s political participation. Entrenched traditional norms remain prevalent in institutional practices. In order to achieve gender parity in decision-making positions, Liberia should institute a quota system. Overall, there needs to be more advocacy towards preparing all government bodies to adopt gender mainstreaming approaches to programming. As of now, “Liberia and the New Elections Law of 1986, is based on the plurality/majority system. This is not  ideal for facilitating increased electability amongst women in parliament or as heads of government.”[12]

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been appointed for her second term in office in the midst of a boycott put in place by the runner up opposition party. The opposition's decision to boycott the runoff was based on their assertion that the overall election was significantly flawed. A proposition that has undermined the electoral success of Sirleaf’s party that has now been left
defending their position in office, encouraging national reconciliation and striving to integrate and include women in the new government.

Since the elections took place Liberia seems to no longer make the news headlines. Over shadowed by the elections taking place in the neighboring countries it has been largely forgotten; yet the biggest task for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf will be the formation and consolidation of a new government. As one observer stated “ Liberian women are moving forward-they should now sit down they can still make it” but tackling the status of women in the political sphere means addressing the threat of GBV they face on a daily basis in Liberia.

Sirleaf’s political agenda has recognized the importance of tackling the issue of rape which has become a “tragic norm” and continues to haunt the country eight years after the signing of a peace accord. The enactment of a rape law in

2009 was a positive step but the new government will have to oversee the strict implementation of this legal instrument to demonstrate its commitment to gender equality and justice.


    Women Political Representation Statistics

Political Representation   Prior-to the election   After-the elections  
National (upper house/senate) 16.7% (2005) 4/30 or 13.3%
Local (lower/single house) 12.5% (2005) 8/73 or 11 %
% of candidate lists headed by a female candidate N/A N/A 
Parliament 14% (2010) N/A (to be determined)
Ministerial Seats 30% (2010) N/A (to be determined)

(Source:  Compilation of UN Statistics and  Inter Parliamentary Union)

Important Facts: 
2011 Freedom House Rating: Political Rights - 3, Civil Liberties - 4, Status: Partly Free
Next Scheduled Presidential Election: 8 November 2011 (Second Round)
Next Scheduled Senatorial Election: 2014; 2017
Next Scheduled House of Representatives Election: 2017[13]
Women’s suffrage: 1946
Year first woman presided over parliament: 2003
There is no gender quota for government positions[14]

[12] Cole, Samuel (2011) “Increasing Women’s Political Participation in Liberia: Challenges and Potential Lessons from India, Rwanda and South Africa”, IFES Fellowships in Democracy Studies, page 3
[14] UN Women (2011), “In Pursuit of Justice: Progress of the World’s Women” page 125


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