Women are central to political life, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says in conversation with political and country representatives in Liberia

The participation of women in political life brings about positive transformations that benefit society as a whole, from building lasting peace to promoting inclusive policies and equitable development.

Liberia, which is preparing to hold presidential and legislative elections later this year, made history in 2005 when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first democratically elected woman president on the African continent. During her tenure as president, Madam Sirleaf strove to rebuild the country following the devastation of civil war and uphold the rights of Liberian women and girls.

To discuss the role of political parties in ensuring wider participation of women in politics and how Liberia can enhance equity in political life, the EJS Center recently held a dialogue session in partnership with UN Women in Liberia and the Swedish Embassy.

Madam Sirleaf, Ambassador of Sweden to Liberia and Sierra Leone, Urban Sjostrom, UN Women Country Representative to Liberia, Comfort Lamptey, and several political party, civil society, and diplomatic representatives took part in the discussion that focused on ways to guarantee a wider representation of women in political life in Liberia and challenge the barriers that undermine their political ambitions.

Liberian women, Madam Sirleaf said in her keynote address, have been at the forefront of the fight for equity throughout the country’s history. They have built a legacy of women’s leadership that can inspire young women to challenge the current status quo and campaign for wider political representation.

She also noted that the challenges faced by Liberian women when it comes to political representation are shared by countless others around the world:

“Women everywhere face the same kinds of difficulties. In every country, every place, the same stereotyping, the same obstacles, the same issues, the inability to break through all the barriers, to become competitive, to get the kind of recognition and support to move up.”

Emphasizing the crucial role of education in upholding equity, Madam Sirleaf said that educational systems must be built around principles of parity and allow women to access the same opportunities as men. These systems, she added, are key to ensuring that women and girls are informed and “have the ability, knowledge, and capacity to compete.”

The whole world should wake up to the fact that women bring value to political life, Madam Sirleaf stressed. Countries that lag behind when it comes to equity in politics have an obligation to close this gap and eradicate unequal and unbalanced systems.

“It is time to recognize the value that gender equity brings to all society.”

The upcoming elections in Liberia this October, are an opportunity for women to claim their right to greater political representation. Women can come together through partnerships and fellowships to share advice, support, and values.

Concluding with a message of support to women candidates, Madam Sirleaf encouraged them to follow their leadership ambitions and be armed with the confidence “that you can do it.”

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