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EJS Center / News / Madam Sirleaf advocates for women’s voices to be heard across Africa

Madam Sirleaf advocates for women’s voices to be heard across Africa

African women are a fundamental pillar of the continent’s future success, and must be given a voice in addressing the challenges of the 21st century. 

In a recent essay published in Brookings, former President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf offered a forward-looking vision for Africa where women play a leading role in the continent’s development. Reflecting on her experience leading Liberia through the 2014 Ebola epidemic, she urged leaders to invest in women as a pathway towards an inclusive and prosperous future:

“To craft inclusive and equitable approaches to the issues raised, African women and girls must play a leading role. It is not enough to recognize that African women and girls deserve rights by adopting new laws and frameworks; countries must ensure that these rights are a lived reality.”

She also called for Africa to “harness women’s knowledge, skills, and talents at all levels of the problem-solving process, as a means of reclaiming the continent’s future.” Describing women leaders as masters of “the pivot”—an “art form” that situates them as crucial problem-solvers in times of crisis—Madam Sirleaf underscored the essential role they have played in the face of the COVID-19 pandemic.

She went on to emphasize women’s growing representation in African leadership, and their continuous presence on the frontline for medical and health services throughout Africa: 

“African women’s growing presence as public leaders is not confined to national institutions, and African women now hold leadership positions in the World Trade Organization, African Union, and United Nations, among others.”

Identifying four distinct challenges—peace and security, gender justice, climate change, and technology and economic growth—she called for the voices of women and girls to be heard, their rights protected, and their leadership abilities acknowledged.

Concluding the essay, Madam Sirleaf urged African women leaders to forge a way forward for others to follow, and to “[make] room for women when they can do so.” She also called on African leaders to secure the continent’s future success by including women at all levels of leadership: 

“Though there are many successes to celebrate, let us not allow this moment to pass without making concerted shifts in attitudes, policies, and implementation that harness African women’s rich knowledge and experiences. This period calls for a collective pivot that ensures African nations succeed in the 21st century.”

Read the full essay here: https://www.brookings.edu/essay/african-women-and-girls-leading-a-continent/