Kwara State, Nigeria recently held its First Annual Kwara Gender Equality Conference, to discuss the need for action to improve outcomes for women and achieve gender equality goals.
Former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined Governor of Kwara State, AbdulRahman AbdulRazaq, along with a panel of other Nigerian and West African high-level representatives to discuss domestic, bilateral, and multilateral strategies to increase women’s participation in public life. Following an opening message from Amina Mohammed, Deputy Secretary-General of the United Nations and Chair of the United Nations Sustainable Development Group, Madam Sirleaf spoke about how Kwara has demonstrated that women can participate in government and help advance economic progress, with the right support and political will of leaders at all levels.
Madam Sirleaf commented that women face two recurring obstacles in the pursuit of leadership: greater and harsher scrutiny of themselves and their campaigns; and a lack of economic resources to mount a successful campaign. Discussing how some countries have addressed these challenges with quota systems, Madam Sirleaf commented:
“Men have benefited from affirmative actions for so many years. What we need is a level playing field and a dismantling of attitudes which prevent women from advancing.”
Madam Sirleaf went on to highlight how gender equality benefits men as well as women. She noted that men benefit from a world that values the differences between men and women and understands how differences complement and facilitate development, poverty reduction, and peace. Finally, reflecting on her own struggles on the path to the presidency in Liberia, Madam Sirleaf spoke about how she had hoped that her experience would be the last of its kind, but there was still much to achieve:
“We will continue advocacy for equality based on hope, firmly rooted in the fact that…women are equal in courage, commitment, and competence.”