Liberia's Sirleaf to campaign for female candidates in election

Monrovia (AFP) –


Liberia's outgoing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf says she will actively campaign for the handful of female candidates contesting elections in October, while her male vice-president seeks to replace her.

There is just a single female candidate among 20 contenders running for president this year in Liberia, as Sirleaf steps down as Africa's first female head of state following more than a decade in power.

"I will not be seeking re-election in the October 2017 elections, I will be on my feet everywhere in my own little way to campaign for women listed and certified by the National Elections Commission (NEC) as candidates to participate in the ensuing elections," Sirleaf said in a press statement issued Tuesday.

Beyond MacDella Cooper, the former fashion model turned humanitarian running for the presidency, just 15.9 percent of remaining candidates standing for vice-president and seats in the House of Representatives are women, according to NEC figures.

Sirleaf said she owed her own victories to women who came out in force to vote for her in 2005 and 2011 as she unified a nation emerging from the ashes of a civil war that ended in 2003.

She would be "reciprocating the Liberian women who stood under the sun and the rain -- telling the Liberian people that we, the women of Liberia, this is our time," the statement said.

Liberian women continue to suffer extremely high rates of sexual violence, according to the UN Women agency, the legacy of a war in which rape was used as a weapon by rebel forces and government soldiers alike.

Widespread illiteracy and discrimination based on sex also limit women's involvement in public life in Liberia, according to UN Women.

Joseph Boakai, Sirleaf's vice-president, is seeking the top job for the ruling Unity Party based on the record of peace and relative stability Liberia has experienced since Sirleaf was elected, and while he has received her endorsement it is not clear if she will actively campaign on his behalf.