Interview with the President of Liberia, on the occasion of the International Women’s Day - “Determine your role, determine what your goals are, and pursue them relentlessly”

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Question: Madame President, you remain Africa’s first and only female president. Could you please tell the women of Africa how you manage to balance family life and the responsibilities of being president of Liberia ?

Answer: I look forward to the day when I will no longer be referred to as the first and only female president in Africa.

The women of Africa are empowering themselves and taking on leadership roles in all facets of society, and I am happy to serve as a role model and trailblazer for those who will come after me.

As for balancing family life and my responsibilities as President, let me say that by the time I became President in 2006, my sons were all grown men, pursuing successful professional careers and with families of their own.

Remember, I was seventeen when I married. Because I had my four sons when I was still very young, I was more like a big sister to them than their mother; we grew up together, playing ball, swimming, riding our bikes.

When my marriage broke up, and I was separated from them as I tried to build a career, not to mention the political upheavals in that career, there was some disconnect with my sons. But I am grateful to God that all of them came out of those times very well. I am proud and honored to be their mother and the foundation of their own success.

Question: How do you feel about being one of three women 2011 Nobel Prize Laureates? Do you believe that this can be an entry point for changing the lives of the women of Africa for the better?

Answer: Along with the announcement that I been selected as one of the three women to be awarded the 2011 Nobel Prize for Peace came the realization that my life was forever changed.

With such distinction comes great responsibility to work even more for women’s participation, empowerment and leadership.

Winning the Prize places me under a microscope at all times, and everything I do or say is judged within the context of the highest honour I have received for peace. Yet the burden of the Nobel Peace Prize is a welcome responsibility that strengthens my conviction and commitment to continue to advocate for human rights, for women, equal opportunity,  and for a better life for all Liberians. The Nobel Peace Prize is not a licence to speak for women; rather, it is a platform from which to speak to women, women around the globe, whatever their nationality, their color, their religion, or their station in life.

Winning the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize will not change the plight of the women of Africa, or elsewhere, but it provides a platform from which the women of Africa can find a voice to continue to denounce injustice and inequality and to pursue peace.

Question: If you have just one proposal to share with your colleagues, the Heads of State of Africa, in order to promote a sustainable gender equality process, what will be this one key action?

Answer: I would propose to my peers to increase the level of women’s participation in leadership roles and decision-making in all levels of society.

The women of Africa must be empowered to play a more prominent role in decisions that affect their lives. The gender gap looms large, continentally and globally. The world needs to be reminded again and again that where women have overcome enormous challenges and achieved political participation, their countries have advanced.

We need to redeploy energies and resources towards pursuing not only gender equity but women’s participation in decision-making to generate the desired change. At the same time, we acknowledge the positive developments in our continent, with women occupying and rising to top-level economic and political management portfolios, and demonstrating clear and formidable leadership skills.

But more needs to be done, and this would be my appeal to my fellow Heads of State and Government.

Question: And what would be your message to all women on this International Women’s Day

Answer: My message to the sisters of the world is this: determine your role, determine what your goals are, and pursue them relentlessly. Stand by the courage of your convictions.

We are different in many ways, but let us celebrate the differences with our goals in harmony. The pursuit of peace and justice, the struggle for representative democracy, human rights and social justice is a difficult journey. It requires our voices, many voices. Our shared sacrifices are essential to achieving the justice that we seek.

Question: Any particular message for the women of the African Development Bank?

Answer: My experiences from working at the World Bank, a sister development financial institution, have helped me to focus on development in Liberia, and to choose the policies and programs that might be more suitable for overall economic development in Africa.

The women of the ADB, being professionals, should utilise their time there not only to contribute, on a broad level, to development throughout the 54 African countries,  they should also use that time to hone their skills in order to contribute to their respective nation’s development.

To our sisters from the non-regional member countries, let me say that women’s contributions to the development of nations is indispensable; women constitute, in both developed and developing countries, half of the population, and can rise to leadership positions at the highest levels in any country by dint of determination.

On this International Women’s Day, I call upon the women of the AfDB, indeed the women of Africa and the world, to stand tall in our quest for equality, sustainable development, peace, justice and prosperity.