International Women’s Day: Pioneers of Peace 

Today (8th March) is International Women’s Day; a day that celebrates the achievements of women in the past and present. As our last blog post on ‘Female Trailblazers’ will tell you, the achievements of women have been many and varied over the centuries, ranging from politics and STEM breakthroughs, to notable milestones in art and literature.

However, as the world rallies around Ukraine in the wake of their conflict with Russia, we would like to highlight three amazing women who have dedicated their lives to something more important: peace.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf 

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is a Liberian politician who served as the President of Liberia from 2008-2016. Although she is famed for becoming the first female leader of an African nation, her achievements extend far beyond that accolade.

Upon taking office in 2008, Sirleaf took a zero-tolerance stance on corruption within government and worked tirelessly to rebuild the economy and diplomatic relations after the civil war in 1999-2003. She introduced more women into office, with the intention to broker and maintain peace in a post-conflict nation.

In her 2020 TED talk, she is quoted as saying: “When I assumed the presidency of Liberia in January 2006, we faced the tremendous challenges of a post-conflict nation… I knew that I had to form a very strong team and I wanted to put women in all top positions, but I knew that was not possible. And so I settled for putting them in strategic positions.”

Her strategy worked: within the first few years of her presidency, foreign relations had improved, domestic and international debt was at an historic low, and her government had successfully prioritised education and healthcare for Liberian citizens.

Throughout her career, she has been honoured with many awards, including the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for ‘for her non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.’

Wangarĩ Muta Maathai

Our second ‘Pioneer of Peace’ is actually the first African woman to win a Nobel Peace Prize. She was awarded the honour for ‘contribution to sustainable development, democracy and peace.’

Maathai (1940-2011) was a Kenyan social, environmental and political activist, and the first woman in East and Central Africa to achieve a PhD, which she earned from the University of Nairobi. Her lifetime achievements are astounding, ranging from campaigning for equal employment rights for women, to starting the Greenbelt Movement in 1977, to serving as the Chair of the Middle Ground Group in order to install a working democratic government in Kenya. In 2002, Maathai was elected to Parliament with an overwhelming 98% of the vote.

Upon awarding Maathai the Nobel Peace Prize, the committee are quoted as saying: “Maathai stood up courageously against the former oppressive regime in Kenya. Her unique forms of action have contributed to drawing attention to political oppression—nationally and internationally. She has served as inspiration for many in the fight for democratic rights and has especially encouraged women to better their situation.”

Angela Merkel

Angela Merkel is a retired politician, best known for her role as the Chancellor of Germany. Merkel’s appointment to Chancellor in 2005 marked the first time a woman had held that office in Germany and, during her premiership, she was referred to as the ‘de facto leader’ of the European Union and ‘the most powerful woman in the world’.

Merkel has been undeniably influential on global policy and is a vocal supporter of international co-operation. She is not only known for promoting the benefits of organisations such as the EU and NATO, but has played a crucial role in strengthening transatlantic economic relations, including managing the global financial crisis of 2007-2008 and the European debt crisis.

Merkel has been the recipient of many awards and honorary doctorates and, even though she is a retired from office, is still politically active. Her influence is regarded with such respect that there have recently been calls for her to come out of retirement in order to hold talks with Vladimir Putin, in an effort to end the current invasion of Ukraine.

To find out more about International Women’s Day, visit:

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