Liberian Leader Discusses Women Empowerment With Finnish and Latvian Presidents

Thursday, 25th January 2007
Davos, Switzerland - Following her arrival in Davos, Switzerland on Thursday for the annual meeting of the World Economic Forum, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf joined the presidents of Finland and Latvia along with the Prime Minister of Pakistan in a seminar to talk about women empowerment.
President Sirleaf along with the other three leaders made opening statements in which they mentioned the low level of women participation in society, starting at the primary level when limited income result in families giving preference to boys in school.

In her remarks, President Sirleaf said a part of Liberia’s response in seeking to eliminate the gender gap is to enforce universal primary education by removing all fees. She added that this policy has led to 80 percent increment in school enrollment.

The Liberian leader also mentioned that women who have had the opportunity for education generally prepared themselves for stereotype positions like teaching and in the health service because of their role as mothers.

“This is changing,” she said, noting: “In Liberia we have appointed women in strategic positions.”  She mentioned the Ministers of Finance, Commerce, Justice, and the Inspector of Police as examples of the effort her government has made toward the empowerment of women.

President Sirleaf indicated that the Liberian Government is working with the United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) in bringing in a contingent of women police from India to serve in Liberia. She added that the idea is to encourage Liberian women to be represented at 20 percent in the police force.

The President also pointed out that the biggest challenge is women political empowerment, such as getting them to be actively involved in political parties and for them to contest in elections. She said her government is looking into what kind of affirmative action programs that to be instituted to assist toward the political empowerment of women.

The seminar, entitled, Women’s Empowerment and World Leaders: Narrowing the Global Gender Gap, brought together several women leaders from around the world.  In another development, President Sirleaf has named two key elements in transforming African agriculture to bring about a Green Revolution of the kind that doubled food supplies and drove economic development in Asia.

Also speaking at a seminar on how to boost Africa’s food supply for economic development at the World Economic Forum, President Sirleaf expressed the need to develop partnerships with businesses and other institutions, as well as the development of rural roads. President Sirleaf said in order for Africa to be self-sufficient in food production, which could serve as a vehicle for economic development, there was a need for partnerships to identify and develop seeds and other agricultural mechanisms to enhance productivity.

She said it was equally important to develop the rural road networks, without which sustainable development was impossible. “Rural roads provide the basis for development to get crops to the market, as that enables the economy to grow,” she said.

President Sirleaf was joined at the agricultural seminar by Tanzanian President Jakaya Kikwete, as well as Liberia’s Commerce Minister Olubanke King Akerele and Finance Minister, Dr. Antoinette Sayeh.

In addition to her speaking engagements, President Sirleaf also had a series of meetings with some of the leaders gathered in Davos for the World Economic Forum

Less than an hour after she arrived in Davos Thursday afternoon following an overnight flight from Liberia, the President Sirleaf held a private meeting with Mr. Lakshmi Mittal, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of the Arcelor Mittal Steel Company, which recently signed a USD $1 billion deal with the Liberian Government to operate in Liberia. The discussion centered on how soon Mittal Steel will commence operation in the country.

The Liberian leader also held talks with the President of the World Trade Organization (WTO), Mr. Pascal Lamy, who promised his organization’s technical assistance to Liberia, as the Liberian Government institutes the necessary democratic and economic reforms to bring the country into compliance with international standards.

President Sirleaf also met with the Executive Chairman of the World Economic Forum, who told the President that attendees at the global forum were very excited to have her participate.

Over a hundred leaders from all walks of life, including up to 40 Heads of State and other world leaders from business, the media, academia, the arts and civil society are participating in the World Economic Forum, which is being held January 24-26.