President of Liberia: Powerful female leaders embolden women in society

Women in parliament have a story to tell that serves to embolden the women in their society, according to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia and the first elected female head of state in Africa.

Speaking in London as a member of the high-level panel discussion on what the world can do to reduce poverty when the millennium development goals expire in 2015, she talked about the importance of strong and powerful female leadership that serve as role models for younger generations.

She said the increased visibility of African women in power helps promote a sense of opportunity and progress for young women in the region.

Women in parliament, she said, "have a story to tell and it says that If you educate women and give women an active role in society then society is more peaceful and the society gains more economy".

She expressed delight in being able to travel the country asking how the aspirations of young girls have changed. "They want to be leaders and presidents and senators," she said, an indication of the shifting mentality of traditional roles for women in Africa.

Johnson Sirleaf has been credited with stabilising the Liberian economy after virtually wiping out its foreign debt. Over the past six years the country has had annual growth rates of 6.5%. She was jointly awarded the 2011 Noble Peace prize in recognition for non-violent struggles for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work.