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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf on COVID-19: “Don’t underestimate the severity of the problem”

In a webinar hosted by The Philanthropy Workshop, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf shared insights from her experience leading Liberia’s response to the Ebola outbreak from 2014-2016 and lessons that could be applied to the current global health crisis. She also discussed the importance of women’s leadership in times of crisis.

When explaining lessons she learned from Ebola that could inform COVID-19 responses, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf emphasized:

1. Leaders need to act now: Slowing the speed of transmission is of the utmost importance in fighting COVID-19. Many of the same measures put in place today – such as social distancing and restriction of movement – were used in Liberia during the Ebola outbreak.

2. Clearly communicate: She highlighted the importance of clear communication both within the government and to the public and providing regular updates on quickly evolving situations.

3. Plan for the aftermath: Something the Liberian government did not anticipate was how difficult the “day after” the Ebola crisis would be. Leaders should start thinking through how to start resuming society once the virus is contained.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf also discussed the importance of women’s leadership during crises and the impact that COVID-19 will have on women and vulnerable populations:

“Women will stress the importance of addressing the vulnerable. And the vulnerable are all the time women, children, physically challenged. And women will be the first to do it…

…And women raise their voices in international fora, it’s so important. There are not many . We know that. The women leaders in the world unfortunately haven’t reached the numbers where they can command the kind of policy responses and actions that are needed. But, when they raise their voice, they raise it loud and clear, and strong. And they do it for those who are at the margins in society… 

…Who actually bears the burden in the case of Ebola and COVID-19? It’s women. It’s the women are the healthcare workers, it’s the women who are the nurses, it’s the women who bear the burden, it’s the women who are the domestic help. They carry the burden. And we need more of them. Not only to continue to carry the burden but also to be at the place where they make decisions on the allocation of resources and decisions on policies in countries. The Center, we hope, will do our part.”

Watch the recording of the webinar event here.

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