It has been 25 years since the United Nations’ Fourth World Conference on Women in Beijing, a landmark moment for global action on gender equality. Marking the milestone, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf recently joined a conversation with the Washington Post on the topic, “The Future Reset: Accelerating Progress for Women and Girls.”
In partnership with the Rockefeller Foundation, the discussion brought together Frances Stead Sellers, Senior Writer at the Washington Post, Michelle Bachelet, the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights and former President of Chile, and Madam Sirleaf, who discussed the progress towards equality that has been made since the conference 25 years ago, and the gaps that still exist.
Following an opening statement from former United States Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, Michelle Bachelet spoke about how the COVID-19 pandemic is increasing employment and education gaps and about the potential for backsliding on women’s rights.
Madam Sirleaf reflected on her route to leadership and the early days of her presidency, during which time she built a team with shared values, enabling the creation of an agenda and long-term vision to lift the country into recovery from civil war. Additionally, she spoke of the challenges she faced bringing women into her leadership team and Liberia’s legislature, with political party structures that shut women out of the political process.
In her closing comments, Madam Sirleaf spoke about a shift in tactics in the pursuit of equality, and the need to convince men that change will enable the advancement of their wives and daughters, who should have equal opportunities to achieve their dreams. Until men also recognize that women’s involvement in decision-making processes can ensure sound economic performance, and that violence against women affects a country in many ways, it will be impossible to break existing stereotypes:
“What do I think we need to do most? We need to bring the men together. We need them to have the capacity to listen, to include, to adapt, and to care.”
You can watch the full discussion here.