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With Sirleaf, Liberia’s glass ceiling cracked but failed to shatter


Her colleague Williams says the difficulties of building a public profile for women start early, especially in a society where rape was systematically used as a weapon of war.

“The woman who decides that she wants to run for public office at 30 may have been the girl who was a dropout from elementary school because she got raped and had a child,” she says.

Until Liberian politics provides “access to economic resources all the way until the point that this woman wants to be a senator or representative”, women will remain excluded unless they have wealth or connections, Williams believes.

Others point to a gender violence court that only operates in the capital, Monrovia, depriving rural women of justice for sex crimes, as an example of a missed opportunity by Sirleaf to go further.

– ‘What more do women want?’ –

Few would place the blame for women’s low levels of participation in politics solely at Sirleaf’s door, however.

The UN’s agency for women warns that “deeply held traditional beliefs about women’s role as home makers make it particularly difficult for women candidates,” as it urges women to run.

Jewel Howard-Taylor, a senator and ex-wife of former warlord-turned-president Charles Taylor, believes her candidacy for the vice-presidency is viewed dimly after 12 years of another woman at the top.

“There’s a perception that because we have a female president in Liberia that everything has been handled,” she told AFP in between campaigning for votes with presidential candidate and former football superstar George Weah.

“What more do the women want?” was a common refrain, she said.

“Politics is a game. There are rules, there are regulations, there are dos and don’ts, but we don’t learn it when we are growing up; so you get thrown into the national legislature but the men seem better because they learn all of this when they are growing up,” she said.

In fact, Howard-Taylor contends her gender may be more of a talking point than her role as a former first lady to Taylor, who was president from 1997 to 2003 after leading a rebellion in 1989 that sparked one of Africa’s most brutal civil wars.

Taylor is serving 50 years in a British jail for war crimes over his role in fuelling neighbouring Sierra Leone’s own long civil conflict.


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