Defying the Odds & Breaking Through the Glass Ceiling in Politics – The Tale of Hon. Rustonlyn S. Dennis and Why she is Best-suited for the Deputy Speakership
By Julius T. Jaesen, II email@example.com
Nowadays, we face what seems to be a redistribution of power – public policies, strategic planning, the public and the private all seem to adopt a common language concerning gender equality, social equality, and equality of opportunity and so on. ‘United in diversity’ tells us that men and women, people of all races should work together for a better world. But in many democracies, especially in Africa, there has been this glass ceiling which can be described as those artificial barriers based on an attitudinal or organisational bias that preclude qualified and competent women from advancing upward in their organisation into management-level positions or public positions.
The principles of gender-sensitive in all spheres of our public and private sectors can be advanced if women occupy leadership positions as Legislators, Speaker, Deputy Speaker, Chief Justice and other key positions at ministries of government and private corporations, as they are in a position to influence policy directions, change legislative procedure and practices, serve as role models to other women and provide a different perspective in debates. But sadly, in many democracies on the African continent, for centuries, women have been perceived as sexual objects – portraying them as belonging in a more material or less intellectual world (cooking, not thinking).
Even in many theistic religions, women have been suppressed, oppressed and subjugated by their male counterparts. In some Christian theistic denominations and Islamic theism, women have long been precluded from being pastors, priests, bishops, imams, reverends and other church and mosque leadership roles. It will shock you to note that marriage and family law in Biblical times favoured men over women. For example, a husband could divorce a wife if he chose to, but a wife could not divorce a husband without his consent. Laws concerning the loss of female virginity had no male equivalent. These and other gender differences found in the Torah suggest that Biblical society viewed continuity, property, and family unity as paramount; however, they also suggest that women were subordinates to men during Biblical times.
Many theologians and scholars including my very self argued the fact that women didn’t form part of Jesus’ twelve apostles, coupled with the fact that God has been consistently referred to in the Holy Bible using the personal pronoun He or Him, suggests that men are superior and women are inferior; men are prior and women are posterior; men are primary whilst women are secondary, and men are first-class whilst women are second class.
And certainly, Mary Daly put it more convincingly eloquent than I and many scholars do in her ‘Traditional Concept of God and Religion’ when she argued according to the ‘theory of creation’, the fact that man (Adam) was created before the woman (Eve) suggests why women if not in all, but in most cases, have been subordinated to their male counterparts in socio-economic and political institutions.
This long traditional held belief affected women’s role in societies as they fueled into modern societies where women have been looked down upon or viewed by their opposite sex as one whose responsibility is to satisfy the sexual appetite of their male counterparts than to aspire for political leadership.
It is no joke, many women especially in Liberia and other developing countries, when asked if they would consider entering politics, i.e., consider becoming a candidate for an elective position in public office or appointed to a decision-making position in government, answer in the negative. Foremost among their reasons is that politics is reputed to be dirty, where methods employed include the illegal and the unethical to win in elections and assume power, and where the corruption of public service for personal and narrow group interests has been the accepted norm. They say that they are intimidated and threatened by these dark sides of politics that they are likely to be pressured to join as their entrance fee into mainstream politics.
But however, through numerous dialogues and networking at various governance levels from local to national, regional and international, many women in Liberia have come to some consensus that politics has to be transformed and that political transformation needs the active involvement of women. Therefore, women who believe in serving the public trust and can commit to public accountability should be encouraged to enter politics to effect this transformation.
Most women have been socialised into traditional roles in a patriarchal society and have integrated these traditional values of inequality between women and men. It would be an exceptional woman who is a self-made, self-taught feminist to defy the odds and break the glass ceiling. One or two sessions to raise gender awareness as part of women’s leadership training may not be adequate to undo the deep socialisation in the traditional values of most women.
Women do not form a homogeneous group defined by their sex alone. Their interests would also be a function of their socioeconomic class, race, religion, ethnicity, and other demographic characteristics of age and location. This could explain why there is hardly any clear evidence of a women’s vote in any country. In addition, there is a greater probability that women who make it into the political mainstream are likely to come from the elite and hence, may not be inclined to challenge the interests of their class, especially when reinforced by traditional values of loyalty and gratitude to one’s family and patrons.
Barriers Inhibiting Women in Politics
Popular perceptions are that a woman’s place is in the home, and in the kitchen, rather than in politics and corporate boardrooms. Cultural attitudes that constrain women’s involvement in politics persist among men and women. These are oftentimes reflected in voting patterns, presidential appointments, media coverage of female politicians, as well as attempts to suppress women’s assertion of their political rights and views. Such attitudes are not helped by the fact that women themselves are many times reluctant to run for office, stemming from cultural prohibitions on women being seen and speaking in public in front of men or challenging them. Where these prohibitions are strong, men do not listen to women who take the podium or are active in politics.
Campaigning and being a leader often involves travel and time away from home, all of which put women politicians at risk and at a disadvantage due to gender bias. Would-be female politicians may find themselves and their families under attack or the subject of malicious gossip. Some husbands forbid their wives from engaging in politics, fearing that they will interact with other men, or worrying that their spouse’s political preoccupations will divert her attention from the home. How, then, can we address and overcome the hurdles placed in women’s path towards political participation and representation? It is one thing to legislate that women be represented at all decision-making levels; it is quite another to change the attitudes and mindset of those who would obstruct that access.
With men making up the other half of the world’s 7.594 billion people, it is imperative that we reach out to women if we are to succeed in our overall goals and objectives. We have to work harder! Together with efforts to persuade men of the need to allow women political space and access, grassroots action is also essential in order to groom future women political leaders. That will require advocates to: develop rosters of viable female candidates to participate fully in the political arena; encourage women to register to vote and educate them about the electoral processes; teach female aspirants how to run effective campaigns; and enhance their leadership capacity.
How Madam Rustonly Defied the Odds?
Among the few women in Liberia who have broken the glass ceiling and challenged their male counterparts in a patriarchal society like Liberia, is Honourable Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis. She came not from an affluent background, but like many, had to struggle to make her way through the social ladder and in mainstream political leadership.
Honourable Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis was born and raised in the Soul Clinic Community unto the blessed union of Mr. Ruston Cecil Dennis and Mrs. Nancy K. Dennis. Her parents, not from a privileged background, had instilled in her basic moral virtues and disciplines which she had used and continues to use as her guiding principles in life.
As a young student then coming up, especially in grade school and university, she disciplined herself and refused to be carried away by the pleasure of this world over her desire for quality education.
Coming up in school, she stood up among many of her male counterparts as one who was determined, studious and committed to excellence. The dominance of her eloquence, the power of her persuasion and her willingness to influence her aspirations profoundly distinguished her from the rest of her female colleagues and got her to where she is today.
Hon. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis started her early career as a classroom teacher, teaching Nursery through the senior high level from 2004 to 2008 respectively. Doing such time, her little income earned from the classroom was used for her transportation and other upkeep in college.
Besides just teaching high school, upon her graduation from the University of Liberia as an outstanding student and academic in the Department of Geology, Hon. Dennis, at a certain point, was elevated to the level of part-time lecturer at the University of Liberia, where she taught in the Department of Geology from 2010 to 2014.
Unlike Business and Liberal Arts colleges, Science College, especially Geology, is not an area that many students would endeavour to venture in the pursuit of their career. For one to emerge from the Department of Geology as an exceptional student requires discipline, hard work and commitment to excellence. Certainly, one much be a true student indeed!
However, obtaining a Bachelor of Science Degree, BSc, in Geology from the University of Liberia in 2010, Rep. Rustonly Dennis has always aspired for higher height. In an effort to continue her education, she was privileged based on her academic dexterity and intimidating brilliance to be awarded a merit-based scholarship to enrol at the University of Manchester, England, where she earned a Master of Science, MSc in Petroleum Geosciences for exploration in 2013.
But still not satisfied with her academic feat reached, and with the urge to aspire for greater academic milestone in a male dominant world, Rep. Dennis is currently pursuing an LLB in Law at the Louis Arthur Grimes School of Law, University of Liberia.
Hon. Rustonlyn Suacoco Dennis started her early career as a classroom teacher, teaching Nursery through senior High level from 2004 to 2008 respectively. Hon. Dennis was elevated to the level of part-time lecturer at the University of Liberia, where she taught in the Department of Geology from 2010 to 2014.
Honourable Dennis also worked as a Petroleum Geologist with the African Petroleum, and also with the Putu Iron Ore Mining Company as a Junior Geologist. During her professional working experience, she was also opportune to have attended regional seminars, symposia and conferences in Ghana, Ivory Coast, the Gambia and many other places.
With the zest to give back to her community and country at large, and with the calling to serve humanity, Honourable Dennis founded Urban Initiative Liberia, a community-based organisation that caters to the wellbeing of community dwellers in capacity building. She is also the founder and CEO of Coco Rus. Enterprise.
Bill, Advocacy, and Nationwide Issues Sponsored and Supported by Hon. Dennis in the Legislature
Bills Sponsor and Co-Sponsor
- Sponsor – The Omega Magisterial Court – situated in Omega Community, Paynesville – where over 80,000 people live. The court will bring about easy access to justice in the overpopulated community,
- Co-Sponsor – the Act to establish Belleh Baluma Magisterial Court in Belleh District, Gbarpolu County,
- The Act to make MVTC an Autonomous Entity, District 2, Montserrado County
- The Drugs Law current
- The Petroleum Law Reform
- Dennis was opportune to pass many motions as amendments, grants, developmental related among others,
- Reviewed and amended the NOCAL Act
- The Review and Amendments of the PAM Terminal
- Resolutions – During the period under review, Hon. Dennis, along with her Committee Members, Committee on Claims & Petition, drafted several resolutions which include but not limited to, a resolution calling for the establishment of War Crimes Court. The Resolution raised 52 signatures from Members of the House of Representatives. This is the first time in the history of the Legislature.
- Lead Advocate for accountability of past human rights violators
- An advocate and Champion of amendments of the rape law, to ensure minors are protected and given justices
- An advocate for Economic Crimes in Liberia
- Requested the CBL to fully comply with laws and procedures in Liberia – seeking for best practice and professional standards
- Requested the LACC Boss to be fully investigated based on controversies surrounding his character and to put a freeze on LACC budget until the investigation is done against bad governance and corrupt government officials – seeking for best practice and professional standards
- Requested that the proposed Referendum be reviewed thoroughly by the House and that, adequate information is provided to the Liberian people
- Requested the full implementation of the TRC Report
- Requested the full report and why the African Development Bank water projects in Montserrado County have not been used by the people -seeking for best practice and professional standards
- Requested the Honorable House of Representatives to invite the Mayors of Paynesville and Monrovia cities, for both cities to address the challenges faced in order for the two cities to be conducive for citizens than causing a health hazard
- Wrote the Liberia National Bar Association for the assistance in developing two Bills – Claims Court and Accountability/Integrity Bills for Liberia. Seeking for justice.
- Requested the Honorable House through the Speaker for the possibility of having more seats for marginalised persons, including women and persons living with disabilities in the Legislature
- Requested the Honorable House of Representatives to investigate the World Bank Waste Disposal Site Project in Paynesville – seeking for a clean environment for the Liberian people.
- Requested the Honorable House of Representatives through the Speaker for Article 97 of the Liberia constitution to appeal on Floor for open discussion and to form part on the then proposed Referendum.
Special Task Given to Hon. Dennis by the House of Representatives/Expert Advice
- Investigated workings of concessions, incentives and compliance issues in Liberia, including the APM Terminals.
- Reviewed and provided expert’s advice to the Legislature on Petroleum Laws and the ways forward.
- Provided expert advice to the legislature on GHC/Climate Change Leadership and Dialogue on the Environmental Knowledge Management System and its Implementation.
Let’s Elect Hon. Dennis for Deputy Speaker!
Hon. Rustonly S. Dennis, in a male-dominated Legislature, has been an influential member of the House of Representatives of the 54th Legislature who has contributed vastly to policy discourses both on the floor and committee rooms of the House of Representatives. Her presence at the Legislature has been one of a voice of the ordinary masses of the people who have longed for a better future amid the over 173 years of perennial hardship and misrule perpetuated by self-seeking politicians and bigots in the place they regard as their country.
In honest and in truth, her three years of representation of the people of her district and at large, the Liberian nation at the Legislature, she has served with discipline, nobility, probity, accountability and transparency – placing premier on the interests and aspirations of the struggling people of Liberia.
She has created a cordial relationship with her colleague lawmakers, navigating her way through rough edges to have serious bills and people-centred agenda pushed and passed. Even though sometimes radical on the floor of the House of Representatives, she has been a cool-headed and diplomatic type of a leader and lawmaker most times, which have commanded the support of her colleagues in the house.
And certainly, the Deputy Speakership requires people like Hon. Rustonly S. Dennis who with the moral courage and intestinal fortitude, can navigate her way through, garner the support of her peers, and ensure the agenda of the struggling poor is made paramount.
She is a very humble soul and people-centred leader who doesn’t see her calling to public service as an opportunity to loot and benefit from the public treasury – thus demonstrating incessant ambition for personal greed, but rather, she sees her calling in public service as a whole new enabling opportunity to give back to her people and society.
Aside from this, our country cannot and must not at this time, place or centralised all powers in the hands of one group of people or region. The ruling party and the southeastern region of our country have already produced the Presidency, Speaker of the Honorable House of Representatives, President Pro-Tempore of the Senate and several other key positions in the president’s cabinet. So, it is forthright for the balance of power, to ensure the ruling party does not have unchecked power and to promote genuine checks and balances on the other two branches of government, people who can’t be kowtowed to the whims and caprices of the ruling party are elected to key leadership roles at the Legislature, one of which is the position of Deputy Speaker.
Lastly, in our drive to promote gender equality and balance in political leadership in Liberia, especially beginning with the Legislature, it is instructive and imperative at such crucial time, to support the bid of Hon. Rustonly Suacoco Dennis for the position of Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature. The Legislature near the end of erstwhile President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf’s administration declined in the percentage of female representation.
There is growing recognition of the untapped capacity and talents of women and women’s leadership in Liberia. Therefore, Liberia can only demonstrate her support to women in political leadership if our distinguished and noblemen at the House of Representatives can for the first in our country’s history, support a lady like Hon. Rustonly Suacoco Dennis as Deputy Speaker to fill in the vacancy that was created as a result of Hon. Moye Kermue Moye’s ascendancy to the Liberian Senate.
We don’t appeal for your support singularly because Hon. Suacoco Dennis is a woman, but also, the settled-truth is, she is a woman of substance, character, discipline, nobility and principles whose untapped capacity and talent, our country can all benefit from in a greater leadership role.
Over the last two decades, the rate of women’s representation in national parliaments globally has incrementally increased, especially in Sub-Sharan Africa, but Liberia, unlike before, is witnessing a decline. So, it is fair enough that we as a country, encourage and support qualified and competent women in leadership in Liberia like Rep. Rustonly Suacoco Dennis.
Certainly, we believe that it is so imperative and commanding at this time for our country to aspire to lend more supports to women in politics, because women’s political participation results in tangible gains for democracy, including greater responsiveness to citizens’ needs, increased cooperation across party and ethnic lines, and a more sustainable future.
Women’s participation in politics helps advance gender equality and affects both the range of policy issues that get considered and the types of solutions that are proposed. That is why, as an Associate Managing Editor of the Parrot Newspaper and Online Web, I unwaveringly lend my support to the bid of Representative Rustonly Suacoco Dennis as Deputy Speaker of the 54th Legislature – replacing Hon. Prince Kermue Moyes, Sr.
Research indicates that whether a legislator is male or female has a distinct impact on their policy priorities. There is also strong evidence that as more women are elected to office, there is a corollary increase in policymaking that emphasises quality of life and reflects the priorities of families, women, and ethnic and racial minorities.
Besides, a study done by the National Democratic Institute (NDI) found out that more than men, if women are elected to lawmaking bodies, they tend to work across party lines, be highly responsive to constituent concerns, help secure lasting peace, encourage citizens’ confidence in democracy through their own participation, and prioritise health, education, and other key development indicators.
Certainly, Kofi Annan, may peace be onto his ashes and blessed memory noted and put it more eloquent and convincing than I do, “study after study has taught us, there is no tool for development more effective than the empowerment of women. No other policy is as likely to raise economic productivity or to reduce child and maternal mortality. No other policy is as sure to improve nutrition and promote health, including the prevention of HIV/AIDS. No other policy is as powerful in increasing the chances of education for the next generation.”
So, with our desire to support competent and qualified women like Rustonly Suacoco Dennis, we believe that it will serve as a motivation to other women to aspire for greater political ambitions – as she will be a role model for several of her female counterparts.
In public service, she brings discipline, probity, honesty, integrity, altruism, transparency and accountability.
About the author
Julius T. Jaesen, II, holds a Bachelor of Arts Degree in Political Science from the African Methodist Episcopal University on 34 Camp Johnson Road. He is a licensed grassroots political organiser, message development specialist, campaign strategist, public relations consultant, essayist, poet, speechwriter, biographer and researcher on Harvard University Academia.com and Grin.com. He is also a published author. He can be reached on the following:
Contact numbers: +231886661061/+231776585152