The Journal of Modern African Studies

Research Article

Women and the 2005 election in Liberia*

Jacqui Bauera1 c1

a1 Workshop in Political Theory and Policy Analysis, Indiana University, 513 N. Park Avenue, Bloomington, Indiana 47408, USA


In 2005, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf defeated George Weah to become President of Liberia and the first woman elected to head an African country. Women voters were widely credited with her victory. This paper quantifies this claim by analysing newspaper content during the election period to gauge civil society group activity. It finds that consistency in their activities may have allowed women's groups to surpass other civil society groups in impacting the election. Activity levels of women's groups remained stable between the election and run-off periods, unlike other major group types whose activity level dropped by between 37% and 70%. It concludes that the environment surrounding the 2005 election was conducive to participation by women because of their existing, latent power in many spheres; their long experience as peacebuilders; the decimation of conventional social and political structures; Liberian women's experience in leadership positions; the failure of multiple male-dominated efforts; and the presence of a well-qualified female candidate.


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* Special thanks to Verlon Stone of the Liberian Collections Project at Indiana University for making available the materials used in this study, and for his comments. Thanks also to Amos Sawyer for his encouragement, review and advice; and to Xavier Basurto, Shelley-Jean Bradfield, Michael Cox, Thomas Evans and Maria Claudia Lopez Perez for their thoughtful input.