Women's Dialogue

Women standing in front of a mural painting


Empowering the Next Generation of Female Leaders through Dialogue, One Step at a Time

As the spirit of change takes hold of the American political landscape, discussions around female leadership are also taking center stage around the world. Since January 2009, the Liberian Ministry of Foreign Affairs, in close collaboration with the Global Development Learning Network and Audiovisual Technologies, Informatics and Telecommunications (ATiT), has been organizing a two-part virtual dialogues series called “Women's Dialogue”, linking women around the world to learn and exchange ideas about leadership and also empowering each other to be more effective leaders.

The series focus on issues related to female leadership by featuring live interviews and open discussions with current and former female Heads of State and a worldwide audience. Each Dialogue consists of a two-hour event supported by videoconferencing and live web streaming and is designed to bring together key stakeholders in an open conversation with women leaders in different regions of the world.

On January 22, 2009, the first Dialogue featuring an interview with President Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, the first democratically elected woman president of an African country, took place. Calling on women to work hard, she urged them to excel in school and in so doing, pave the way for taking up more leadership positions across the continent. She said “Girls should work hard at school. You should be strong enough to overcome all the challenges that come your way. Importantly, you must show that you can do it”.

The interview was followed by a discussion with a global audience located in Liberia, Sri Lanka, Tanzania, Egypt and Indonesia on closing the political gender gap and finding ways to empower and prepare the next generation of women leaders. Participants ranged from activists, to policy makers, United Nations and NGO representatives, as well as members of peace movements such as the Suzanna Mubarak Women’s International Peace Movement.

The second Dialogue took place on February 25, 2009. It featured an interview with Former President of Ireland (1990 - 1997) and the United Nation’s High Commissioner for Human Rights (1997 - 2002) Mary Robinson. From UN Headquarters in New York, Mrs. Robinson had live discussions with audiences located in Jordan, Ghana, Kenya, and Lithuania.

Drawing directly from her personal experiences, opinions and life history, Mrs. Robinson covered issues related to the nature of leadership; the specific challenges faced by women leaders, and the impact of leadership on an individual. “We need to be able to meet challenges by using innovative solutions such as technology. Sometimes a bit of technology can be very effective. In the countries that I have visited, women are making very striking differences… and they are doing it against sometimes strong previous cultural barriers. Whenever there is a critical mass of women, we can make a difference. This is when priorities change and we must also not be too harsh in how we judge other women”, she said during her introductory remarks.

Commenting on Mrs. Robinson’s participation in the Dialogues, Mrs. Yvette Chesson Wureh, Manager of The International Colloquium in Liberia said: “Mrs. Robinson not only provides a strong role model for potential women leaders throughout the world, but she is also through her current work in Realizing Rights: the Ethical Globalization Initiative, making sure that women play their rightful role in global governance and policy-making.”  She is also the person responsible for organizing the Virtual Dialogues in the lead up to the International Colloquium.

The International Colloquium will be co-convened by President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and President Tarja Halonen of Finland. Under the theme of “Women's Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace & Security”, to be held on March 7 – 8 in Monrovia, to coincide with the International Women's Day on March 8.

Each Discussion provided a series of common recommendations and solutions on how to break down barriers to leadership. These included a focus on the social and cultural barriers preventing women from taking leadership positions; the lack of financial empowerment; and laws such as the right to vote. All of these recommendations will feed into the Colloquium, which aims to create an environment for women and their champions from around the world to discuss, learn, demonstrate and act on the benefits and lessons learned from women leaders.

Conceptualized in 2006 during President Johnson Sirleaf’s inauguration, the Colloquium will bring together some 800 national and international female leaders at various levels, including Heads of State, Ministers, business women, activists, NGO leaders and youth.

The Virtual Dialogue Series is coordinated by the Global Development Learning Network (GDLN), a partnership of over 120 institutions in 80 countries that uses distance learning tools and information technology to help clients working in development deliver cost-effective training, consultations and dialogues.


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