Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has been President of Liberia for a while now and is the first ever African woman to be elected President and has been credited together with other women in Liberia with ending the war in that country. Many African leaders have touted her a front of the United States of America. Deborah Solomon (DS) editor of the World Women Forum talks to her on this and other issues.
DS: As the only female head of state in Africa, what did you think of the recent documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," which gives the women of Liberia complete credit for ending the country's bloody civil war?
EJ: I have seen it, and I applaud the women who sat in the rain and sun promoting peace, advocating reconciliation and the end to the war. I say our country owes them a whole lot.
DS: You took office in January 2006, in a kind of feminist fantasy come true.
EJ: People didn't think it would happen in Liberia because we are a poor, war-torn country that they thought required a man and a macho person - but the women showed differently, and I must say that I hope we're proving them wrong.
DS: On her trip to Africa earlier this month, which included a stop in Monrovia, your nation's capital, Hillary Clinton railed against the rape epidemic in eastern Congo. Is that also a problem in Liberia?
EJ: Absolutely! It certainly is a big problem in Liberia. It still is because for one thing there's a culture of silence - silence because of shame to the families.
Yes, there's that recent case in Phoenix, Ariz., where an 8-year-old Liberian refugee was raped by four Liberian boys, only to have her parents initially shut her out of the house. We have asked our ambassador to work with the family to see that the child is put in some protective shelter for a while.
Also, we think the boys need counseling because during the years of war, morality and discipline and legality all broke down. It made these young people men before their time.
DS: What does that say about the inherent character of men?
EJ: I just think that unless you have that cohesiveness in the family unit, the male character tends to become very dominant, repressive and insensitive. So much of this comes also from a lack of education.
As more men become more educated and women get educated, the value system has to be more enhanced and the respect for human dignity and human life is made better.
DS: What percentage of your country is literate or educated?
EJ: I am sad to say that the literate population is not more than 30 percent.
DS: Although you are popular internationally, in your own country you have been denounced for your association with former President Charles Taylor, who is currently on trial in The Hague for murder, rape and conscripting child soldiers. I assume you have broken with him?
EJ: A long, long time ago. Six months into his movement, I found that his intention was wrong, and I have personally fought him from that time consistently.
DS: Do you plan to invite President Obama to visit Liberia?
EJ: I am sure he knows that every African country, Liberia included, has an invitation to him. The population just loves him so much.
I'm very surprised - I'm driving around sometimes, and I see the Obama grocery or the Obama minimart. People have opened little stores that are named in his honor.
DS: As president, how much are you paid?
EJ: I get $7,500 US a month.
DS: How much does the average Liberian civil servant earn?
EJ: We have now raised it to a minimum of $80 US a month.
DS: If women ran the world, would wars still exist?
EJ: No. It would be a better, safer and more productive world.
A woman would bring an extra dimension to that task - and that's a sensitivity to humankind. It comes from being a mother.
But if women had power, they would be more likely to acquire the negative traits that power breeds, like selfishness and territorialism.
It would take a very long term of women absolutely in power to get to the place where they became men.
DS: Why do you think we've never had a female President in the United States?
EJ: I have to ask you that question. You've got to vote for her.