“The status of women is the status of democracy. Even more so, it is the status of inclusive economic growth, health, peace, and security.”
With these words, former President of Liberia Ellen Johnson Sirleaf delivered a strong message on the central role of women in the democratic process as she contributed to a discussion on ‘Advancing the Status of Women to Advance the State of Democracy’ at the virtual Summit for Democracy hosted by US President Joe Biden. Amujae Leader Yvonne Aki-Sawyerr, who is the Mayor of Freetown, Sierra Leone, also joined a panel for the event entitled ‘Bolstering Democratic Resilience: Building Back Better Together from COVID-19.’
During her closing remarks, Madam Sirleaf said that women were at the heart of restoring Liberia’s reputation and credibility following two decades of civil war. She also noted the progress achieved in recent decades around the world, and particularly in Africa, to protect women’s rights and pave the way for their full participation in all levels of leadership:
“Women today are coming from outside the political power center, bringing a fresh perspective to enable the type of transformational change that will be required. And we see that this is happening particularly in our continent, Africa.”
Madam Sirleaf pointed out that there is still progress to be made to overcome the inequities and injustice that women continue to suffer. She underscored the effort made across the African continent by several organizations, notably the EJS Center, that strive to guarantee equity and prepare women to take on leadership positions.
Women should be part of the democratic process if the world wishes to ensure durable, global sustainability, and peace, she stressed. She continued:
“The call today is the call for action in the coming year to give full recognition to the status of women, on the basis that the status of women is the status of democracy.”
Mayor Aki-Saywerr also emphasized the need for good governance to be ingrained in leadership and democracy at both local and national levels. Speaking about the ongoing efforts to revitalize Freetown through the #TransformFreetown initiative, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr noted that engaging with residents has increased accountability for the government’s efforts to tackle the COVID-19 pandemic.
Visible and accessible politics creates social trust with a country’s population. “When we talk about democracy, we don’t do it in a vacuum,” said Mayor Aki-Sawyerr. “Democracy is not an option, it’s a must.”
Closing her remarks, Mayor Aki-Sawyerr called for further strengthening of good governance:
“We must continue to invest in actions that strengthen democracy at all levels of government.”
The Summit for Democracy is a virtual summit hosted by President Biden and the US Department of State that features leaders from government, civil society, and the private sector. The event focuses on the challenges and opportunities facing democracies and provides a platform for leaders to announce both individual and collective commitments, reforms, and initiatives to defend democracy and human rights at home and abroad.
Watch Madam Sirleaf’s panel discussion here.
Watch Mayor Aki-Sawyerr’s panel discussion here.