Outgoing Liberian President Johnson Ellen Sirleaf has identified education as key to women’s development and pledged commitment to assist in rescuing and changing women in Africa.
“As I prepare to leave office in a few months, I am proud that the women of Africa and world have now seen that women can be leaders; that they can do everything men can do, and most times better.
“As I leave, there will be a major gap because I will be leaving presidency as first democratically-elected woman in our continent. We have to work, build networks across borders, across seas, across continents and communities to achieve parity in politics.
“I will continue to reach out and work with institutions that work for women parity. Also, I will commit to change the status of women in Africa.”
Speaking in Nigeria on Friday, Sirleaf lamented that the gender parity gap has widened in Africa, and will take 99 years to close.
Therefore, African women should take advantage of their positions to work for parity in politics and close the gap, she said.
“It is predicted that closing the gap will take 99 years. This tells us we have a task. All women in West Africa will have to do much more to get the equality we all seek,” Sirleaf declared.
She gave the advice on Friday in Owerri, capital of Imo state in South East Nigeria, where she attended the “Imo Women Summit”.
The Nobel Peace Prize winner and first democratically-elected president of Liberia said, although young girls and women know what to gain in political office, they were hampered from attaining their dreams.
Sirleaf enumerated these barriers to include access to finance; access to factors of production; access to professional campaign advice; and, access to campaign support.
“Women in Africa are still behind in politics due to social, cultural and economic constraints,” she said.
Therefore, she went on, “we need to engage the government; we need to take the advantages we have to cover the disadvantages we are facing.”
To the 79-year-old Harvard University graduate, women “must do more to achieve parity in ministries, in education and in politics”.
“Parity means good news for the continent and the world,” she continued.
According to Sirleaf, education was the key to break these barriers and for women to be better equipped to achieve parity.
Rochas Okorcha, the Governor of Imo state, welcomed the Liberian leader, explained that her visit was to inspire women and expose strategies for women to take over.
Ellen-Johnson Sirleaf, he said, had demonstrated that she is one of the greatest in the world.
Sirleaf who met with students of the Rochas Foundation College of Africa in Owerri on Friday, called on African governments to provide children with quality education that would enable them proffer solution to poverty and under development.
Sirleaf commended the Imo Governor, Rochas Okorocha, for providing quality education to indigent African children through his foundation.
“When I see these children, I recollect what happened in my country 15 years ago when children like them were not able to go to school, because there were no schools.
“Children like them were conscripted into the army where they had guns bigger than them and had no comfort of life,’’ she said
The president commended the management of the foundation for making life comfortable for the students of the foundation.
“I have travelled to every part of the world and I have never experienced something like this.
“There is no other better way to fight poverty and preach unity than this.’’
Responding, Okorocha said the foundation he started about 20 years ago was a “Spiritual contract between him and God and a sacrifice to uplift humanity.’’
“What I do today is not a dramatisation of affluence as I am not amongst the richest in Africa; Rochas foundation is a dramatisation of sacrifice.
“This may as well be the Africa we are looking for.
‘’ I do not know if this institution will grow beyond me and my generation, but this may be the beginning of the unity we all crave for in Africa.
‘’These children now see themselves as one family,’’ he said.
Okorcha described Sirleaf as a woman of courage who was imprisoned two times, castigated and called names in her quest for political office in Liberia.
Sirleaf, he added, has been baptised by fire as is gold. “There cannot be gold without fire. She is gold and she went through fire”.