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Ellen Johnson Sirleaf wouldn’t need different girls to need to observe in her footsteps. That doesn’t imply she received’t encourage them to run for workplace. It’s simply that she needs it could possibly be much less arduous for many who come subsequent. When she ascended to the presidency of Liberia in 2006—changing into Africa’s first democratically-elected feminine head of state—she confronted deep-seated misogyny, exile, and jail. “My journey to the presidency was not a simple one,” Sirleaf says. “After I work for the promotion of ladies to larger positions, I achieve this in recognition of the truth that I’d not need any lady to have the experiences I had due to her ambition.”

Nonetheless, the Nobel Peace Prize laureate is setting Africa’s subsequent era of feminine leaders on the trail to energy, figuring out that whereas the climb is steep, the summit is price it—not only for the ladies who lead, however for all these they signify. “Ladies carry one other dimension to management,” she says. “They settle battle quite than battle to resolve it. That doesn’t take away from the appliance of the power of authority when required, however once they can discover another path to peace, they search it.”

Sirleaf has been a relentless advocate for peace, democracy, and girls’s empowerment since she first took public workplace as Liberia’s Finance Minister in 1979. As president, she deftly steered her nation by means of its tumultuous post-civil struggle interval, mobilizing greater than $16 billion in international direct funding, lifting commerce sanctions, and setting a trajectory for development, regardless of the 2014 Ebola outbreak that claimed greater than 5,000 lives. Early in her first time period, she made training free and obligatory for elementary-age kids, performing on her perception {that a} sturdy democracy requires an informed populace. She additionally appointed girls to a number of high-ranking cupboard positions, together with the ministries of finance, legislation, commerce, and growth, setting examples for the following era of Liberia’s feminine leaders. In 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize alongside fellow Liberian Leymah Gbowee and Yemeni activist Tawakkol Karman for his or her work amplifying girls’s function in peacebuilding efforts. Then, after concluding her constitutionally-limited second presidential time period in 2018, she stepped down peacefully—the primary Liberian president to take action in 75 years.

Having not too long ago turned 85, Sirleaf is making use of the identical diploma of ambition, pragmatism and willpower that outlined her presidency—she got here by her nickname, the Iron Girl of Africa, for a purpose—to domesticate a brand new era of African girls leaders. “I do not settle for the experiences popping out of the U.N. that it’ll take us 130 years to attain gender equality [at the highest levels of power],” she says. “The tempo of ladies attaining larger ranges shouldn’t be quick sufficient. Nevertheless it has gathered a momentum that’s irreversible.”

That momentum is feasible partly attributable to her efforts. Sirleaf’s Amujae Initiative, the flagship program of the Ellen John Sirleaf Presidential Heart for Ladies and Growth, fosters girls’s public service management by means of coaching, mentorships, teaching and the sharing of expertise. Practically 50 girls, drawn from all sectors of African society, have participated in this system since its 2020 launch, strengthening a rising community of succesful, dedicated girls in public service who’re already positively influencing the notion of feminine leaders throughout the continent. “I doubt if girls as we speak will undergo the extent of the difficulties I confronted,” she says, “however they are going to be ready—they should be ready—to just accept the truth that the world has not but accepted the total equality of ladies.” The one method to overcome it, she says, is to see much more girls in energy. 

For all her accomplishments and accolades, Sirleaf says a very powerful title she has is that of function mannequin. “Regardless of the difficulties, I’ve no regrets. Right this moment, I am going right into a room and younger girls come as much as me and say, ‘I wish to be such as you.’”

Now, she is making certain they are often.

This profile is printed as part of TIME’s TIME100 Affect Awards initiative, which acknowledges leaders from internationally who’re driving change of their communities. The subsequent TIME100 Affect Awards ceremony can be held on Nov. 17 in Kigali, Rwanda.

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