Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined Namibian Deputy Minister of Information and Communication Technology Emma Theofelus and moderator Nadira Hira in the closing session for the first day of the SDG Action Zone Plenary.
The online event took place alongside the UN General Assembly. Its purpose is to provide a collaborative space for world leaders, thinkers, actors, creators, and activists to engage in discussions and accelerate solutions to achieve the 17 United Nations Sustainable Development Goals.
Co-hosted by Women Political Leaders and the EJS Center, the closing session titled ‘The Power of Parity for a Healthy Society’ reflected on what is needed to achieve a healthy society for people across the globe. To introduce the session, Ms. Hira highlighted:
“An inclusive, people-centered future is the one and only way to accelerate the Sustainable Development Goals and mobilize global action. While the COVID-19 pandemic has presented the world with seemingly insurmountable challenges, it is up to us, together, to deliver solutions for a sustainable future. And no solution is possible without the meaningful inclusion of women across all dimensions, which makes this a pivotal moment to create a permanent shift in how we think about women in positions of leadership in both politics and beyond.”
In this context of acknowledging the importance of advancing women’s inclusion and representation in leadership roles, Madam Sirleaf outlined some of the qualities that she believes make women such good ambassadors for achieving a healthy and equitable society:
“Women…promote education, equality, justice, equal opportunity for people in society, and they bring to their task great compassion, dedication, courage. Women are also bold in action, and in many cases, even if circumstances in their boldness would mean that they would become unpopular, they take those actions because it is in the best interest of society…and women express empathy all the time, we can count on them to ensure that they feel for others, that they can bridge those gaps for those who are suffering.”
When asked about how to harness the energy that led her to pursue a path in public leadership and become Africa’s first democratically-elected female president to engage the next generation, Madam Sirleaf stressed:
“As a leader who is already advanced, we reach out to people like Emma. In , we bring young women like Emma, and have them interact, exchange experiences with women who have advanced and excelled in leadership, because Emma represents the future. We have to set the example for them, we have to be able to share experiences with them…And that way, we help to prepare them for the leadership that they will have to assume in the future.”
Deputy Minister Theofelus, who is one of Africa’s youngest cabinet members, reflected on Madam Sirleaf’s remarks, highlighting how valuable the advice and guidance of experienced leaders can be to the younger generation building a path in public service:
“Since I was appointed, I am very grateful to see that it is mostly older political leaders, and business leaders alike, that are women, that reached out to me and gave me tips, gave me advice, and are willing to guide me on this path that I am on now. It’s really encouraging and I can only say the opportunity for other young women like myself is to constantly bring them along in this journey but also be sure that they have the confidence and the boldness – that Madam President was talking about earlier – to take challenges as they come, to break down barriers as they come, and to lean on other women, older women, able to hold their hand and guide them through uncharted waters that they have themselves gone through.”
Madam Sirleaf also spoke about the challenges that still lie ahead when it comes to advancing women’s participation in public leadership:
“First, I think we need to challenge the stereotype. Women are regarded as those who take care of the children, take care of the home. Women leaders, traditionally, are teachers and nurses. But that’s changing. It’s changing when you see young people in parliaments, in congress. We see young women who are now ministers, even in the business sector, we see women who are now heading large corporate bodies. It’s changing but the lingering disadvantages of stereotyping are still there, and we have to continue to challenge them.
We have to continue to talk about promoting equity, promoting justice, equal opportunity for women. And women themselves have to claim leadership, they cannot be timid to be able to demand their rights.”
For more information about the session, click here.