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Ellen Sirleaf: ‘Burst of Women Leadership in Africa Cannot be Stopped’

A burst of women at the forefront of policy can feature in some men’s worst nightmares, but lately, it’s a dream that has become a very real and very current part of society. Women are moving into positions of power left and right, whether it be in the political gallery or as recognizable media figures with the power to influence a large audience. These women understand the importance of taking advantage of their wide-reaching opportunities to make change after having spent so long feeling stripped of their agency.

One such woman is former Liberian President Ellen Sirleaf, who spoke earlier this month at an event in Washington, D.C. that celebrated female leaders in Africa, headlined as “Celebration of African Women Leaders.” She was a chief speaker at the event, along with other prominent African women, such as former Malawian President Joyce Banda. The event itself was hosted by Dr. Arikana Chihombori-Quao, who is a permanent ambassador of the African Union (AU) to the United States, and featured both women as speakers, followed by a question-and-answer period.

Of the conference’s importance, Chihombori-Quao described the occasion as one intending to celebrate women who had dared to succeed in overcoming whatever challenges they had faced. “Let us in collective rejoice over the accomplishments of women who have broken through the glass ceiling,” said Lois Brutus, the Liberian ambassador to the United States.

In the presence of several prominent figures, including representatives of the US, Sirleaf spoke about the progress African women have made in terms of political participation. Banda, a large supporter of Sirleaf’s beliefs about women in power, felt the same, declaring that she believed that the day women become well-integrated into the process of political leadership would be their day of empowerment. Despite the opinion of society, there are wheels in motion for a widespread number of women in politics, and there is no stopping the large number of African women making their way into the ranks of leadership.

Banda also strongly advocated for women’s unity during the talk, stressing the idea that now, more than ever, women needed to look out for each other and band together in community and support; in doing so, they will have the best method for facing the problems presented to them in the future. So far, her advice has held true: through combined efforts, women have been able to make large waves of change, seen in the incredible outcomes to the Women’s March and the stories spread worldwide about the Harvey Weinstein scandal through different social media movements. Should women share a common ground, not only will they no longer feel alone, but they may also break new ground and push new boundaries in leadership.

While the strides are appreciable and are indicative of major shifts in history (and were appreciated as such during the event), Sirleaf believes that there is still more work that needs to be done before all African women are empowered. “We don’t yet have the equality we seek as women,” she said. The glass ceiling may be broken, but it seems that it is not yet built in the best way it should be.

Featured Image by AMISOM Public Information on Flickr

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