Why Liberia’s Sirleaf is no feminist icon

Robtel Neajai Pailey, University of Oxford

President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, pictured in South Africa in August, has furthered the success of only n elite, not women in Liberia in general, says the writer of the following article. Photo: ANA Reporter

When Liberians go to the polls in October 2017, there will be a disproportionate number of men on the ballot papers. Only 163 of 1,026 approved candidates – just 16% – in these presidential and legislative elections are women. This represents only a marginal increase since 2005 and 2011, when women accounted for 14% and 11% of candidates, respectively.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf – who, 12 years ago, became the first woman to be elected head of state in any African country – has often been hailed as a feminist icon. But the poor representation of women in elections is as much her fault as it is a reflection of Liberia’s acutely patriarchal political system.

Her presidency has actually served the interests of a small, elite group of women and men in politics. It has upheld the country’s long-standing patriarchal norms. She has publicly distanced herself from the very movement that first got her elected, decrying feminism as “extremism”.

Sirleaf’s brand of femocracy – a term coined by Nigerian feminist scholar Amina Mama – has severely stifled women’s political participation.

Mama, whose research focused on African first ladies as femocrats, makes an important distinction between feminism and femocracy. She argues that while feminism attempts to shatter the political glass ceiling, femocracy deliberately keeps it intact. This remains true even though, some decades on from her original writing, the continent can now boast of women presidents like Sirleaf and former Malawian head of state Joyce Banda.

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Source: News Now/ www.enca.com

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About Cholo Brooks 12182 Articles
Joel Cholo Brooks is a Liberian journalist who previously worked for several international news outlets including the BBC African Service. He is the CEO of the Global News Network which publishes two local weeklies, The Star and The GNN-Liberia Newspapers. He is a member of the Press Union Of Liberia (PUL) since 1986, and several other international organizations of journalists, and is currently contributing to the South Africa Broadcasting Corporation as Liberia Correspondent.