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To give a voice to the unheard, get more women leaders

By Ellen Johnson Sirleaf | Mar 8th 2021 | 2 min read

Former Liberia President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Much has been written in recent months about the effectiveness of women leaders throughout the Covid-19 pandemic. They have been lauded for their empathy, their straightforwardness and honesty, and for swift, decisive action. The results confirm the narrative — countries with women leaders have reported half of the deaths of those led by their male counterparts. 

As we reflect on the past year on this International Women’s Day, it is clear that we need more women leaders — across Africa and around the world. In Africa, women currently hold 24 per cent of positions across upper and lower chambers, just below the global average of 25 per cent. Only Rwanda has achieved parity with men in its representation of women in its parliamentary system.

Africa’s targets are commendable. The African Union’s Agenda 2063 sets a goal of 50 per cent women’s representation, significantly higher than the 30 per cent laid out in the 1995 Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. Yet, at the end of 2020 there were only three African countries with sitting women prime ministers and one with a woman president.

We could argue that we are doing better than other parts of the world, that the United States has only just sworn in its first woman vice president. But we should not be taking our benchmarks from other countries. Instead, we should set our own and become the benchmark against which other nations will set their targets.

It is not just at the national level that we should be seeking to add more women leaders. They are also critical to successful governance at regional and community levels.

The Amujae Leaders — a group of women selected by the Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Presidential Centre for Women and Development for their capacity in leadership roles — have shown how women did not merely understand what work needed to be done to help communities deal with the Covid-19 pandemic, they also took action. 

Throughout the pandemic they have cared for the sick, worked to maintain education when schools are closed, and played a vital role at a community level in countering misinformation about the pandemic —exposing fraudulent treatments as well as enabling and enforcing good hygiene practices needed to fight this virus. 

To rebuild a more inclusive Africa in the wake of the Covid-19 pandemic, we must enable more women to take a seat at the tables where decisions are made, ensure that their voices are heard, and that policies are shaped to deliver a more equitable future. Let’s work for a future that has women at the forefront of designing education and healthcare systems for those who need them most, and in which our young people can thrive and enable Africa to play a role equal to the world’s biggest economic powers.

-The writer is the former Liberia President

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