FILMS > 10 DOCUMENTARIES > Iron Ladies of Liberia

About this film:
Producer:   Henry Ansbacher and Jonathan Stack
Director:   Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge
Editor:   Davis G. Coombe
Duration:   post-production
Country:   Liberia

Are Woman More Democratic than Men?

- Join the debate

Angela Merkel, Pratibha Patil, Nancy Pelosi and of course Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf are just a few of the women that have been voted into power in recent years. But does gender really make a difference in politics? As more women enter politics, will the political system change? Will the world become better? Are women more democratic than men?


After fourteen years of civil war, Liberia is a nation ready for change. On January 16, 2006, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf was inaugurated President, following a hotly contested election which she won with the overwhelming support of women across Liberia. She is the first elected female head of state in Africa. Since taking office she has appointed other extraordinary women to leadership positions in all areas of government, including the Police Chief and the ministers of Justice, Commerce and Finance.

Can the first female Liberian president, backed by other powerful women, bring sustainable democracy and peace to such a devastated country?

Iron Ladies of Liberia gives behind-the-scenes access to President Sirleaf’s first year in government, providing a unique insight into the workings of a newly elected African cabinet.



Daniel Junge was named by Filmmaker magazine as one of 25 up-and-coming filmmakers in 2003. Junge had his feature-length directorial debut with Chiefs, which premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival, where it won the award for Best Documentary, and subsequently received national airing on PBS. He also won four regional Emmy’s for Common Good (2005), a six-part series on socieal entrepreneurs. Co-Director Siatta Scott-Johnson was born in Buchanan, Liberia, 1974, and raised in rural Grand Bassa County. She has five years of experience as a reporter and producer at DCTV, one of Liberia’s few broadcast television stations, and is a founding member of Omuahtee Africa Media.


Sirleaf’s challenge is to bring stability to a country wrecked by two civil wars in the last two decades (which took the lives of over 200,000 Liberians and displaced 1 million more) and the violent legacy of former rebel leader and former president Charles Taylor. Liberia today is wracked with debt and struggling to re-establish basic infrastructure and social programs destroyed by the wars.

Political History
In 1989, Taylor and his Libyan-trained rebels, The National Patriotic Front of Liberia (NPFL), invaded Liberia from the Ivory Coast with the intent of removing President Samuel Doe from government and avenging the arbitrary deaths of hundreds of people from the Gio and Mano ethnic groups. It soon became apparent that Taylor sought to take over Liberia, and as a result, the NPFL split into three different factions: forces loyal to Doe, forces led by Prince Yormi Johnson, and forces led by Taylor. Doe was later killed by Johnson’s forces, but no particular rebel group was strong enough to fill the political vacuum. The bloody conflict raged until 1996, when the Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS) brokered a peace accord and set elections for 1997. Taylor won the elections with 75% of the vote. Despite this temporary peace, civil war broke out again as opposition groups began to fight to oust Taylor from government. Liberia’s second civil war ended in 2003 with Taylor’s indictment by a UN-backed court and subsequent exile to Nigeria.

The Political Scene
At the end of 14 years of civil war, roughly three quarters of the population lives on less than $1 a day, and as much as 85% of the Liberian population is unemployed. At the same time, Liberia has an outstanding debt of $3.7 billion, which is 8 times the nation’s annual GDP (which is just $80 million a year). Although the US has pardoned all of Liberia’s $391 million debt, the IMF and the World Bank are still owed billions of dollars. To date, Liberia is still unable to qualify for IMF/World Bank debt cancellation because they must first pay $1.5 billion in arrears.

World Relevance
Rebuilding a nation after 14 years of civil war is not easy. The people are longing to for change but the government can only deliver after going through the hurdles of the international bureaucracy. In Iron Ladies of Liberia we get first row seats to the challenges and struggles faced by the first democratically elected President in 14 years. The movie teaches the viewer to appreciate not only the hard work of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf but of new governments everywhere.

Looking Ahead
With the end of Liberia’s second civil war, disarming the country’s thousands of rebels has been a top priority. The United Nations Mission in Liberia (UNMIL) was created in 2003 to help bring peace and order back to Liberia. With a force of about 15,000 peacekeepers, UNMIL has succeeded in disarming over 100,000 men, women, and children and is working to reintegrate these former soldiers back into civil society. Although UNMIL has created several rehabilitation programs and has successfully introduced around 7,000 former soldiers back into formal education, criticism remains that the rehabilitation and reintegration process is moving too slowly.

As many as 30,000 Liberian refugees have been assisted by the UNHCR to return home since a voluntary repatriation program began in 2004. A further 300,000 remain in countries throughout western Africa, waiting to return home. Over 200,000 Liberians remain internally displaced, also waiting to return to their communities of origin. Some Liberian refugees are refusing repatriation, arguing that they have no homes or land to return to, while youth in displaced people’s camps remain at risk of being co-opted as child soldiers within active rebel factions in Liberia and in neighbouring Sierra Leone.

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BBC Country Profile: Liberia
Learn more about Liberia and the political and economic context for the movie

Iron Ladies of Liberia online:
The Perspective
Liberian news source on the Internet.

All Africa News
African news and information for a global audience

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