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Liberia: Uncovering the nightmare of women in Politics -The Tale of a lone female who contested against 12 male candidates


Since its independence in 1847, women representation in politics continues to be on a downward trend despite producing Africa’s first woman elected head of state—Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf [2006-2017].

Although there are no legislated gender quotas in Liberia; Sirleaf broke the glass ceiling to get elected in 2005 thereby working toward ensuring women’s representation is increased to a significant number especially in the  cabinet and at the Legislature.

However her departure from national politics following two constitutional terms resulted in the downward trend of women’s representation in Liberian politics referencing the 2017, and the just ended October 10, 2023 elections in Liberia—Africa’s oldest Republic.

Statistics released by the country’s electoral body—the National Elections Commission (NEC) on 14 July 2023 showed that women aspiring candidates make up only 15% of the total number of candidates fielded by political parties- a figure that falls short of the Liberia Constitutional Provisions which demand equal representation in all sectors and only half of the 30% quota that the parties voluntarily agreed to.

Following the conduct of the elections, only six women candidates were elected to the House of Representatives and the Liberian Senate. About 73 vacant seats were up for grabs at the House of Representatives while 15 senate seats were vacant.

To understand why women candidates performed so poorly in the recent elections, with grant support from the International Women’s Media Foundation and NDI’s VAW-PM Program; we met Marvelene M.H. Lepukoi, the youngest female representative candidate; on the ticket of the Liberia National Union (LINU) Party who contested against 12 male candidates in central Liberia Bong County District#4.

Although she was defeated, Marvelene insists she got a story to tell.

“I am a Trilingual; I speak Turkish, French, English and a little Arabic. I am an entrepreneur; I own and operate the National Women Initiative which is a non-for profit organization. And I run the Mulbah Gueh group of companies that is named after my late grandfather which is a profit making company. I am a feminist and I believe that the global world should accept the participation and inclusive decision of females all around the world,” she said in an exclusive interview.

How did it start? 

Marvelene’s political career started during the heat days of the Liberian civil conflict when she and her family sought refuge in neighboring Guinea where she was first elected as president representing the women at the Mamou Refugee School.

After the conflict ended in 2005; thanks to the United Nations Peacekeepers; Marvelene returned to Liberia and got involved with politics at the youth level.

“I am the Deputy Speaker of the Mano River Union Youth Parliament, Liberia chapter. I am also on the Bong County Council which is the local governance where we decided to decentralize every activity in Liberia.  And at the level of the council, I am representing the young women from ages 18-35 and I am also the Vice Chair on the Council,” she indicates during the interview.

The unexpected challenges

At the early stage of her political career at the level of the Mano River Youth Parliament she encountered a number of challenges ranging from bullying discrimination and rejection from her fellow youths at the parliament.

“As I speak with you we run the parliament with three speakers. We have the Speaker and two deputies and I am the only female. For the past two years, I have been denied all of my benefits only because I am a female. On many occasions attempts have been made for me to not only be removed but be expelled from Parliament but you have to put on the political jackets once you are a female because it is not going to be rosy,” she advises.

She boldly indicated that men with their ego, will never allow a woman to have smooth sails in terms of participating in leadership. All of where I have ascended to in politics noting that “I can safely say to you it has not been an easy move, but we have made it through.”

She believes that these resistances on the part of male politicians are in clear violation of the United Nations’ Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination against Women (CEDAW) that articulates women’s equal right to participation in political and public life, including the right to vote in all elections and public referenda, eligibility for election to all publicly elected bodies among others.

Liberia being a male dominant society means females aspiring into politics are faced with resistance at the early stage of their lives; hence Marvelene asserted that she struggled a lot growing up as a child.

“I am the second child of five children and my father got a second wife that had to run in our lives. I sold charcoal…To reach where I am today in life it was difficult, I had to send myself to school and I promised that no other woman that I come across should go through the same thing I have gone through,” she anticipates.

Why politics?

“What motivated me the most to get into politics is that when I was growing up I didn’t see any woman getting involved with politics. Every time we hear the President is coming, we only see males, so I decided one day that I will be the first female president of Liberia,” a record that has been broken by former President Sirleaf.


Despite that, Marvelene still holds onto her dreams of becoming a President in her home country—Liberia. She indicated that Sirleaf’s ascendency to the presidency has even more mustered her courage in her mind; women have been discriminated against over time and continue to be discriminated against as we speak.

“When there is a mass meeting, women are actually not allowed to speak, and even if you are lucky to be provided the chance to speak, you have to bow before speaking, that is what I am fighting to change.”

She dedicated her time to acquiring education, learning new skills which she now uses as a source of income to support her political journey.

She also believes that getting into politics as a woman in Liberia without skills or education puts you at a disadvantage; you become vulnerable to male politicians, reaching your goals will become a problem.

Despite being highly criticized, Marvelene mustered the courage and was opting to become the first elected female representative in her district, but as she reflects on her journey she noted it was a difficult moment for her as a woman.

The Male Strategies

“I was bullied because of my gender, I got involved in accidents, I almost lost my life; I lost over three vehicles during the campaign, I lost money and many more simply because I am a woman who is trying to change the narratives,” she said.

In Liberia, especially central Liberia the practice of traditions has been a strategy employed by male candidates to scare away their female counterparts—hence Marvelene became a victim of such a strategy.

The poro and the sande societies are, respectively, male and female secret societies where its members meet in sacred groves in the forest. Traditionalists believe the poro is the more important of the organizations which is personified by the Great Masked Figure, or poro master, a person who only appears in public disguised.

As a female, Marvelene is barred from seeing the poro master hence her male contenders reverted to using traditional practices to limit her chances of winning the election, and it works out.

“I was brilliant on policy issues during the debate and defeated the male candidates. Several people appreciated by bravery…but shockingly, some of them said she can become a good representative for the district but she is too small. Can you imagine that?” she said in a rather sad mood.

Standing Against Tradition

In August 2023 Marvelene decided to officially open her campaign in the district; sadly she said a few of her male contenders influenced the elders and unbleached the poro master; a situation she indicated scared away many of her supporters.

Marvelene in a selfie with few of her supporters in central Liberia

“They brought the devil [poro master]outside to intimidate us, so I told them to purchase caskets because I insisted I would remain outdoors even if it caused my death. I insisted my plan would not be sabotaged, so I got outside and after a while, the poro master went back into the forest,” Marvelene asserted.

The presence of the poro master was a message to its members to reject her representative, a message that resonated to its members.

Meanwhile, compounding the situation for Marvelene, was the lack for resources to compete with her male contenders. She believes male politicians in Liberia sometimes get involved with deeds to support their ambition, but for women, they would rather use honesty and propagate the agenda.

Pushing Women

“I got too much trainings, practical skills as a woman into politics but it doesn’t work without financial support,” she said. She believes enhancing women’s participation and representation in politics by providing comprehensive training, mentorship, and support to women who aspire to hold public office is one showiest way of buttressing national and international efforts to ensure women representation is felt in the governance of the state.

She wants a holistic approach that combines capacity-building initiatives, mentorship programs, and policy advocacy to empower women in their political endeavors.

“We are retrogressing! Let the partners come in with the cash. Liberia will not get women’s participation as expected without the international partners support,” she added.

Not quitting

Despite the horrible experiences during the elections, Marvelene insists she will continue working with residents in the district as she prepares for her second comeback during the country’s 2029 presidential and representative elections.

“My biggest political advisor is my husband; he keeps pushing me even when I try quitting, he always motivates me. So with his support we will make a comeback in 2029,” she informed.

At the tail end of the interview, Marvelene underscored the need to enforce the 30% Gender Quota policy in the form of a memorandum of understanding with political parties to nominate a minimum 30% of their candidate of either gender.

She believed such a decision will demonstrate national efforts to enhance women’s political participation.

This initiative aligns with the United Nations Sustainable Development Goals and Liberia’s National Gender Policy, (2009) which aims to achieve gender equality and empower all women and girls.

Women in Liberia have been campaigning for the passage of a Gender Equity Bill, which provides that no gender (male or female) in the legislature should be more than 70 percent or less than 30 percent.

However, with the male dominant legislature, the bill continues to face serious challenges since its introduction several years ago.

“This reporting was supported by the International Women’s Media Foundation and NDI’s VAW-PM Program.”*PRIMARY%2F*IWMF_Primary.png

By: Lula T. Jaurey

Email: /# +231886635634 /+231775806280

4 Comments to Liberia: Uncovering the nightmare of women in Politics -The Tale of a lone female who contested against 12 male candidates

  1. Congratulations to you and the partners who supported the publication of this article.this is heartbreaking to see how our make dominant society continue to suppress women in politics.
    I hope this will not be the end of this, there are many women out there whose voices are not heard. Too sad for our society

  2. Imagine her male counterparts used traditional practice to scare her away. They feel political leaderships are their entitlement, they deep rooted traditional with no regard to women’s inclusion. How do we develop as a country if women are not allow to play a key role in the decision making process of our country? very disappointing. I appealed to the writer to continue raising more of these issues.

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