Women Are the Emerging Power of the 21st Century

   •    March 9, 2009

This article was originally published by Radio Free Europe.

As the world celebrated International Women’s Day on March 8, one gathering in particular testified to the resilience of the human spirit.

Some 800 guests assembled in Monrovia, the capital of Liberia on the coast of West Africa, for the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security. Most of the leaders present hailed from Africa, although a sizable number were Europeans and Americans. Among the colorful sea of head-dressed women were a handful of brave men.

Our car pulled up to a soccer stadium guarded by an all-female Indian battalion in snazzy blue uniforms. Inside, the crowd was seated in the middle of the field, theater-style, under a roof of green reeds laid across long bamboo stalks. With a sweet breeze, the air was remarkably cool; never mind that life outside the stadium was blighted with ruin from decades of war: young men with legs amputated at mid-thigh, burned-out buildings, cartoon posters warning girls not to be seduced by teachers promising grades for sex.

“This peace is so fragile,” an aid worker whispered to me on the sidelines. “Illiteracy and unemployment at 80 percent or higher…. Meanwhile, we’ve thrown away tens of millions of dollars to train people badly for jobs that don’t exist. Frankly, everything good here revolves around one person. One person only.”

That one person is President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, former Liberian finance minister, World Bank official, and UN expert.

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