Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined the National E-Conference for Women Political Candidates in Uganda, where she gave a powerful and encouraging speech to women candidates and aspiring public leaders. Hosted by the Westminster Foundation for Democracy (WFD) in partnership with UN Women, Action for Development (ACFODE), and Sweden, the two-day event was aimed at empowering women candidates to run successful campaigns in the upcoming elections.
In her opening remarks, Madam Sirleaf noted that she wished she could have attended in person, highlighting how the COVID-19 pandemic has posed an even greater challenge to advancing women’s participation in politics.
“Into this difficult mix, comes the COVID-19 virus, and the difficulty of staying safe and running a campaign. We are social people, we need to interact with those who seek to lead us. How does one become known, put forward one’s vision, if gatherings are limited to small numbers? The virus is placing another burden on women, who may already have limited roles in the public space compared to men.”
Although the current challenges might seem discouraging, Madam Sirleaf emboldened the candidates and aspiring leaders to still have faith in pursuing their dreams, highlighting the hurdles she overcame when running for the presidency of Liberia.
“I want you to know that it can be done, that those obstacles can be defeated. I want you to know that you can rise to get your dreams. I’m a woman and a human being just like you all, with no superpowers. I became the first elected woman president in Africa at a time when many Liberians had suffered from a long and brutal war… I knew that I could be killed, but I decided that my country needed peace and a possibility to rise from the ashes of destruction.”
Madam Sirleaf concluded her speech by acknowledging the great courage and self-confidence it takes to run for office. However, she said women must never forget the positive impact they can deliver for their countries through public leadership, especially if they have a common agenda that they work towards together.
“Every community in every country cannot be alike, but there is much common ground. A common agenda as the foundation of hundreds of Ugandan women’s campaigns will surely be the air below your wings, helping many of you to soar and to win…To you, my sisters in Uganda, the winds of change will blow even stronger, transforming challenges into opportunities.”
Other participants in the event included WFD Africa Regional Director Zoe Oliver-Watts, WFD Gender and Politics Expert Shannon O’Connell, Vice President Uganda Law Society Pheona Nabasa Wall, Deputy Country Representative at UN Women Uganda Angelica Adekemi, political candidate Christine Mugerwa, Director of Operations at the Electoral Commission Leonard Mulekwah, UN Women Country Representative for Uganda Dr. Maxime Houinato, Former Member of Parliament Hon Alice Alaso, Women’s rights activist and founder of Glitch Seyi Akiwowo, and Executive Director Network for Women in Politics Lillianne Babirye.
Watch the full conference below, or click here.