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The Film

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, dressed in a formal white dress and white turban, walks down a red carpet, waving and smiling. Several men and women in dark suits walk beside her as a crowd looks on.
The President at her inauguration Photo: Eric Kanalstein
"We have had many governments here in the recent past that have relied upon brute force, instilling fear into people. We say that you can still exercise leadership without repression. As far as I’m concerned, so far in this administration it’s working better than the use of force."
—Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia

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View clips from a video interview with Co-Director Siatta Scott Johnson for updates on her life and Liberia.
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After nearly two decades of brutal civil war, Liberia is a nation ready for change. On January 16, 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated the country’s first elected female president and Africa’s first freely elected female head of state. A Harvard-educated economist and grandmother of eight who had been exiled to Nigeria and nicknamed the Iron Lady, Johnson Sirleaf won a run-off election with 59 percent of the vote, but faces enormous obstacles in rebuilding a war-torn country.

Despite massive support both in Liberia and abroad, Johnson Sirleaf must not only find ways to reform a corrupt authoritarian government saddled by astronomical debts, but must also confront opponents loyal to former President Charles Taylor—all without alienating her voter base.

Since taking office, Johnson Sirleaf has appointed an unprecedented number of women to leadership positions in all areas in the Liberian government. With the exclusive cooperation of President Sirleaf, IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA goes behind the scenes of this groundbreaking administration during its first year, as it works to prevent a post-conflict nation from returning to civil war.

IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA follows leaders in the Johnson Sirleaf administration such as Beatrice Munah Sieh, the newly appointed national police chief. A former deputy chief in Liberia’s police force, Sieh survived an assassination attempt allegedly ordered by her boss and worked as a special education teacher in New Jersey for 10 years. As the national police chief, Sieh must maintain order while heading an institution known more for its corruption and repressive tactics than public service.

The film also follows Dr. Antoinette Sayeh, the minister of finance, as she battles a crippling national debt of over five billion dollars and a notoriously corrupt staff. As Dr. Sayeh says, “Women have not been, to the same extent as men, party to all of the bad things of the past. They certainly were very strong voices against the atrocities in Liberia in the war, and they fought very, very hard to make sure that the democratic process worked this time around. And so, this is our biggest opportunity to change Liberia.”

Other “iron ladies” seen throughout the film include Minister of Justice Francis Johnson-Morris, Commerce Minister Olubanke King Akerele and Minister of Gender Vabah Kazaku Gayflor. How would the world be different if women were in the seat of power? As IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA illustrates, they already are.

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Read about Liberia's history, government and economy >>

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