How Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Failed Young African Women
COMMENTARY

#Read: How Ellen Johnson Sirleaf Supposedly Failed Young African Women

While her pronouncement may appear praiseworthy, it is too little, too late.

Robtel Neajai Pailey and Korto Reeves Williams argue that Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, has done little for the African feminist agenda, this is an extract of their guest post on MsAfropolitan.


In a public statement in August, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – Africa’s first woman elected head of state – vowed to campaign actively for female candidates running in presidential and legislative elections in October. While her pronouncement may appear praiseworthy, it is too little, too late.

In this year’s high-stakes elections – the country’s third since the end of a devastating 14-year armed conflict – only 163 out of 1,026 (16 percent) approved candidates are women, including one running for president in a crowded field of over 20 men. This represents only a marginal increase since 2005 and 2011, when women accounted for 14 percent (110/762) and 11 percent (104/909) of candidates, respectively.

During a meeting with 152 female contenders, Sirleaf lamented the abysmally low number of women in elected office. In 2005 when she triumphed over footballer-turned-politician George Weah in a duel for the presidency, only 13 women were elected to the national legislature. That number dropped to eight in 2011, when the president secured a second mandate to lead Liberia. There is a strong likelihood that fewer women will win seats come October 10.

This is as much Sirleaf’s doing as it is a reflection of Liberia’s acutely patriarchal political system. In the past 12 years, she has done next to nothing to position women favourably to win votes.

In 2009, when female politicians petitioned Sirleaf to support a woman in her party during a by-election to replace a deceased female senator, she campaigned instead for a man (the candidate Sirleaf supported eventually lost to a woman from the opposition).

Though a 2014 elections law amendment encourages political parties to increase their representation of women in leadership roles, Sirleaf’s own Unity Party ranks below smaller, less-prominent parties in fronting female candidates this year.

This is in part due to Sirleaf’s lukewarm response to a gender equity in politics bill similar to the ones that propelled women in Rwanda, Senegal and South Africa to high public office. When in 2010 the Liberian women’s legislative caucus sponsored an act mandating that women occupy at least 30 percent of political party leadership with a trust fund established to finance their electoral campaigns, Sirleaf did not actively support the proposed law and it was never ratified. When a less radical bill allotting five seats for women in special legislative constituencies was rejected as “unconstitutional” by largely male legislators this year, Sirleaf remained conspicuously silent.

In high-level political appointments, Sirleaf has also failed women. Although she hired a few female technocrats for executive positions in previous years, only four of her 21 cabinet officials are women, with the strategic ministries of finance, public works, education and commerce led by relatively inexperienced and underqualified men.

You can read the full story here: How Ellen Johnson Sirleaf failed the African feminist agenda

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