Ellen Johnson was born to an ethnically mixed family in difficult circumstances in Monrovia. She studied economics and accounting at the College of West Africa and completed a Master of Public Administration at Harvard in 1971. She married at age 17 and has four sons. In the 1970s she worked for the Liberian government in a period of great political turbulence. She was then employed by the World Bank and Citibank. Later she became Director of the UN Development Programme’s Regional Development Bureau for Africa and investigated the Rwandan Genocide for the Organization of African Unity. Sirleaf remained politically and controversially active during the Liberian civil wars of the 1980s and 1990s. In 2005 she became President as the candidate of the Unity Party and was re-elected in 2011. Her policies have included free education for children and close ties with the United States and China. In 2006, Forbes Magazine named her the 51st ‘most powerful woman in the world’ and in 2010 Newsweek described her as one of the ten best leaders in the world. In 2011 Sirleaf, together with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, won the Nobel Peace Prize “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work” (Nobelprize.org). She is sometimes known as Liberia’s “Iron Lady” in an allusion to Britain’s Margaret Thatcher, which raises questions about both the recurring stereotyping of powerful women and the nature of her performance and policies.
Resources & Further Reading
“Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”. Encyclopaedia Britannica On-Line. http://www.britannica.com/EBchecked/topic/1109600/Ellen-Johnson-Sirleaf
“Ellen Johnson Sirleaf”. Wikipedia. http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Ellen_Johnson_Sirleaf
Johnson Sirleaf, Ellen (2009). This Child Will Be Great: Memoir of a Remarkable Life by Africa’s First Woman President. New York: HarperCollins.
Johnson Sirleaf, Ellen; Rehn, Elizabeth (2002). Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace-building. New York: UNIFEM.
Stiehm, Judith. 2006. Champions for Peace: Women Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize. Lanham, MD.: Rowman & Littlefield Publishers.
“Women Winners of the Nobel Peace Prize.” 2011. Women in World History Curriculum. http://www.womeninworldhistory.com/contemporary-03.html