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Empowerment of Women

Liberia Hosts International Women's Summit

Monrovia, Liberia - The International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security was held on March 7-8, 2009 in Monrovia, Liberia. The event was co-hosted by H.E. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, the first African female president, along with H.E. Tarja Kaarina Halonen, LLM, the first woman to be president of Finland.

H.E. Sirleaf was inaugurated as President of Liberia on January 16, 2006, after having fought many years for freedom, justice and equality. The International Colloquium was certainly one of the best showcases for the president to demonstrate the progress that the nation has accomplished in order to rebuild. Bringing hundreds of women leaders from around the world was an excellent way to bring attention to Liberia’s recent growth and development.

Nearly 1,000 women gathered with representatives from the United Nations New York headquarters, Switzerland, UNICEF, and UNESCO in attendance along with other foreign dignitaries such as H.E. Abdoulaye Wade, President of Rwanda; H.E. Paul Kigame, President of Senegal; H.E. Maria Teresa Fernadez de la Vega Sanz, the first woman Vice President of Spain; Rt. Hon. Michaelle Jean, Governor General of Canada; and many Liberian political and civic leaders.

Despite the late arrival close to midnight, government officials and protocol personnel welcomed the guests with traditional dancing and refreshments at the airport. They were then treated with care by UN Peacekeeping forces, which used their vehicles to transport guests to their respective hotels.

I was personally greeted when I arrived by Mrs. Chun Ja Coleman, the wife of the secretary general of UPF in Liberia. As we drove for almost one hour to the downtown area there were no lights to be seen. I found out later that this is due to the severe shortage of electricity. It seemed that my hotel was not a quite ready for the guests' arrival because workers were still repairing steps and for some there was no hot water. Nevertheless, hotel employees welcomed us warmly and were very kind. Breakfast was graciously served on our first full day in Monrovia.

The Opening Plenary started at 10:00 am and ended around 3:00 pm on the first day. It was a long session and was quite hot and humid in the open field at the Samuel K. Doe Stadium. The facility’s roof was constructed with palm tree leaves supported with poles creating a welcome shade and protection from the sun. The temperature was almost 90 degrees fahrenheit. The external conditions were far from ideal and we were certainly challenged; yet we were so excited to meet so many women from around the world at this historic gathering. We greeted each other and exchanged ideas with the hope of future collaboration helping and working together.

The main topics of dialogue were strategies for achieving women’s empowerment, fostering the growth of young leaders, and strengthening women’s leadership in the business, political, and educational arenas. The crucial question of how women’s vulnerability to sexual and gender-based violence can be reduced was also discussed. Representatives from UN agencies, the Gender Team, UNDP and others shared experiences and policy initiatives in how to achieve gender equality.

I was glad to meet with a few Ambassadors for Peace along with the Minister of Energy of Sierra Leone and the former Minister of Finance of Liberia. I am deeply grateful for the opportunity to participate in and to get to know many women leaders during the colloquium. I would like to emphasize the value of UPF participating in this type of seminar especially in the international arena and would like to encourage such participation in the future.

The discussions and seminars were an opening to create future cooperation with governmental agencies and other NGOs. The stimulating dialogue encouraged greater responsibility and challenged the participants to put into action what was discussed. The participants promised to meet again with the hope of bringing greater achievements.

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