Trainers from the UN peacekeeping mission in Liberia, UNMIL, recently conducted a mock hostage exercise for visiting Security Council ambassadors, showcasing the innovative methods and capacity of female-dominated Liberian security forces. President Sirleaf, the first woman elected president of Liberia, has teamed with Ellen Margrethe Loj, the senior UN official in Liberia, to design a model whereby women are the empowered leaders addressing and overcoming challenges of corruption and lawlessness. Habits of a 14-year civil war have permeated Liberian society, emerging in forms of sexual violence such as the brutality of mass rape. As she seeks to forge peace, to introduce as viable the concept of peace itself, President Sirleaf is compounding this effort with a potentially transformative initiative of women’s empowerment.
An all-female police unit comprised of 130 Indian women trains Liberian female officers and defies perceptions that would dictate Liberian women are helpless to defend themselves against sexual violence. Commander Annie Abraham has witnessed “Liberian women seizing the opportunity to assert their rights,” adding that the impact is truly societal, “we have also been able to change the perception of the Liberian men. They feel their women can do much more.”
Posters hang throughout the capital, announcing it is “Time to rebuild mama Liberia, not time to destroy her.” From the heaviest burdens of a failed state, relief rises from a discounted resource -the women of Liberia.
In 2006, Vital Voices inaugurated the Global Trailblazer Award in honor of President Sirleaf, the first democratically elected African woman to serve as head of state. We only continue to be encouraged by the accomplishments of this remarkable leader, herself an impetus for positive reform within and without Liberia.