Monrovia — Drumming and fanfare amid a display of Liberian art works and speeches by heads state and government characterized the opening of the International Colloquium for Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security in Monrovia on Saturday.
The event, which drew hundreds of people from around the world, was jointly convened by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Tarja Halonen of Finland. Also taking part were Presidents Abdoulaye Wade of Senegal and Paul Kagame of Rwanda, whose countries were hailed by delegates as examples of countries who are advancing gender equality.
Amongst other high profile participants making opening remarks on the first day were the First Vice President of Spain, Maria Teresa Fernandez, Prime Minister Luisa Dias Diago of Mozambique, Governor Genera Michaëlle Jean of Canada and Vice President Aja Isatou Njie Saidy of the Gambia.
"Both women and men are needed to build a harmonious and civil society" Halonen said in her welcoming statement. She lamented the plight women and children face in armed conflicts and said that all United Nations member states are called upon to prevent this from happening. In brief opening remarks, President Sirleaf told the gathering that their presence inspires and motivates her to continue to work for change and national renewal in her country.
The event, which was conceptualized during Johnson Sirleaf's 2006 inauguration as the first female elected president in Africa, seeks to create an environment for women and their "champions" around the world to discuss, learn, demonstrate and act on the benefits and lessons learned from women in leadership.
Kagame highlighted a number of reforms Rwanda has undertaken for women's empowerment, including the right of women to inherit properties from the parents and their increased representation in the Rwandan parliament and judiciary.
U.S Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, in a pre-recorded video message, stressed the need for women to be involved in every aspect of society not only participating, but leading. "Many of you have leadership roles in your home countries but you also know how important it is for us to network and stay connected around global leadership" she said to the audience.
She highlighted the importance of achieving the third of the Millennium Development Goals - promoting gender equality and empowering women. She said without this, achieving the other goals would be difficult because it is only when women are equal partners that one can effectively fight poverty, eradicate disease and protect the environment.
Speaking about the current global economic crisis, Obiageli Katryn Ezekwesili, vice president for Africa at the World Bank, said there would be less of a mess had women been in charge on Wall Street and Main Street. "If Lehman Brothers had been Lehman Sisters or even Lehman Brothers and Sisters, it would have made a difference," she quipped.
Many local women were in attendance, showcasing in the open-air stadium various ways they are empowering themselves. Whether it was doing plumbing, being mechanics or designing art, they were keen to demonstrate their skills to the visitors.