Power of Women: Liberia President Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf’s Rise to Leadershi
edited: Monday, April 17, 2006
By Julia Nielsen
Rated "G" by the Author.
Posted: Monday, April 17, 2006
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History has been made. Liberia has a new president—a woman president—a black woman president, who defeated her opponent, George Manneh Weah in the November, 2005 Liberian presidential election. No, this is not a fictional drama on TV, but the real thing, and according to some sources, is the best thing to happen to Liberia, the first republic of Africa. However, opposition is also rearing its ugly head with those who think the election was wrought with fraudulent results. Before the official announcement declaring SirLeaf the winner, Weah disputed the results and an investigation took place. On November 23, 2005, SirLeaf was confirmed the winner of the presidency. The Congress for Democratic Change contested the results, saying it would go to the Supreme Court if necessary.
Sixty-seven-year-old Ellen-Johnson SirLeaf was sworn in as Liberia’s new president, in her second attempt, on Jan. 16. She first ran for president in 1996, when she ran against Charles Taylor, who ended up taking 75 percent of the vote to her 10 percent, out of a field of 14 candidates. SirLeaf came back in 1997 and contested the results. Now, political disarray continues and by the looks of it, she’s in for a fight—not only regarding the election results, but the presidency in general.
The Republic of Liberia, the first free country in Africa, gained its freedom in 1847 and is known to mimic America, with their flag very similar to the American flag, except there is one big white star, in the left hand corner, meaning freedom. However, freedom is not free and for the last decade and a half, Liberia has been in a political war. However, a 15,000 U.N. Peacekeeping force—possibly the largest peacekeeping force in the world—has restored security to the country and disarmed and demobilized at least 100,000 fighters. More than half of the population were war refuges and are trying to start over in the war-torn country. SirLeaf, it seems, has her work cut out for her, with not much support from the opposing team.
SirLeaf is not the only woman president in the world, but many countries, including Germany, are starting to take after her lead in emulating the role of the woman in the highest office.
SirLeaf has had a colorful political history, including Africa’s first female Finance Minister in the seventies. Her other positions of power were that of Vice-President of Citibank, Senior Advisor for World Bank, Vice President Africa Regional Office of Citibank in Nairobi, Director of UN Development Programme Regional Bureau for Africa and now as the top executive—the President of Liberia.
Influential women, who took office before SirLeaf, comprised that of the first woman president in the world—Maria Estela (Isabel) Martinez de Peron. She took over the presidency of Argentina; with the death of her husband Juan Domingo Peron. She served from 1976-1978 and was also the first woman president to be ousted in a military coup. Since then, twenty-nine women have become president, however, we have a long way to go, as America is still electing men as presidents and will, unless women step forward and voice their opinion, just as Liberia did when they elected SirLeaf as president.
Women in power have increased steadily, as they are gaining ground and showing just what they can contribute to society. Nevertheless, the fight for equality has been a long journey.
The Women’s Suffrage Movement, which began in the 1840’s, in upstate New York and led by Elizabeth Cady Stanton, Susan B. Anthony, Matilda Joslyn Gage and Lucy Stone, initiated a vast change in equality rights for women. In 1848, the Declaration of Sentiments, convened with Stanton and her good friend, Lucretia Mott brought up the Declaration of Independence, when speaking about women’s rights. Included in the declaration were facts about men’s tyranny over women. “The history of mankind is a history of repeated injuries and usurpations, on the part of man toward woman, having in direct object the establishment of an absolute tyranny over her.” She then continued to state several facts in regards to women’s rights or the lack thereof. Over two days of discussion, the Declaration of Sentiments and 12 other resolutions passed unanimously and the start to equality among the sexes was ignited. Still, it would be nearly 50 years later, in the late 1800’s that women were afforded rights concerning property, employment and education, divorce and child custody laws and social freedoms. In the early 1900’s, women gained significant ground in equality when a successful push for the vote was made through a number of groups, such as temperance groups, coalition of suffragists, political-reform groups and women’s organizations.
Finally in 1920, the passage of the 19th amendment was passed, after 72 years of aggressive campaigning, allowing all American women the right to vote. Unfortunately, those women, who struggled so hard with trying to change the vote, did not live to see the victory.
After the 19th amendment was added to the constitution, other countries began to follow America’s lead. Soon after, Europe declared equality rights for women in 1928, as well as Ireland; Japan, Argentina, Mexico and Pakistan in 1947; the next year was Belgium. In 1950, Canada, Barbados, Haiti and India women were allowed the vote; in 1971, it was Switzerland, followed by Bangladesh in 1972. South Africa women were allowed the vote in 1984—1994 for blacks and Central Africa in 1986; Kuwait has now followed the examples of over 240 countries, when in 2005, women were finally given the right to vote, amongst heavy opposition from political leaders.
The women’s movement has brought about positive and negative change, in all aspects of politics and has redefined what role women have in society and the world in general.
It’s up to President Ellen-Johnson SirLeaf whether her presidency will go down in history as the woman who changed the face of Liberia or brought it to its knees. Nevertheless, women have an influential power in most everything they do. For they rule with their hearts—when prompted—and their heads, when necessary.