Remarks by Executive Director at a side event on How the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund of Liberia is Spearheading the Market Women’s Movement across Africa

Remarks by UN Women Executive Director Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, at a side event on How the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund of Liberia is Spearheading the Market Women’s Movement across Africa, New York, 12 March 2014


[Check against delivery]

Good evening,


Ladies and gentlemen,

It is wonderful to be here with you.

I would especially like to thank the Governments of Liberia, Malawi and Ghana, and the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund!

Thank you for inviting me to be here with all of you, with such a distinguished panel of women leaders.

I have one message: Africa is rising!

Africa is rising with women’s leadership and participation!

Africa is rising with the movement of market women!

Throughout the continent, market women are working hard.

They are rising at the crack of dawn.

They are working until the sun goes down.

And they are making Africa more prosperous and peaceful.

We can take inspiration from market women building peace in Liberia.

Women played a strong role in promoting peace, supporting disarmament and building communities.

I recently read a report on the movement.

I would like to quote a participant, who said:

“The women attended all of the peace conferences."

“We were never invited but we made our way there."

“They would say, ‘You are here again?’” 

“I would say, ‘Anywhere you men go, I will follow you until you decide to put the guns down and stop fighting.’”

Eventually they did, of course. Hooray to the women, the peacemakers and the peacebuilders! 

In 2011, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee of Liberia received the Nobel Peace Prize for “their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peacebuilding work.”

In her 2006 inaugural speech, as Africa’s first female President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf referred to the important role of market women in bringing peace to Liberia, after many years of conflict. 

She committed her government to ensuring that market women reach their “proper place” in Liberian society.

Like President Sirleaf, UN Women also believes in the “proper place” for Africa’s market women.

A place where they are recognized and respected for their major contributions to their families, communities, society and economy. 

A place where they enjoy security and are protected from gender-based violence. 

A place where they have decent work and enjoy an adequate standard of living. 

In 2010, UN Women’s Fund for Gender Equality awarded a USD 3 million grant to the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund. 

Because of the grant, women in eight markets now enjoy a better and healthier work environment, and access to skills training and finances to help them earn a decent living, educate their children and contribute to the overall development of Liberia.     

To date, this program has reached more than 10,000 women and is expected to reach 20,000 more by 2017.

We also helped establish the Association of Women in Cross Border Trade.

With more than 4,000 members, the Association is now nationally recognized.

It serves as a model for increasing women’s leadership and enhancing their opportunities for expanded trade and commerce across Africa.

One of its members is a woman named Asata Kemokai.

She sells dry goods she purchases from Sierra Leone and Guinea.

She says her business was relatively successful, but she didn’t know how to monitor her profits before she joined the Association and attended its business training.

Today her accounting skills have improved so much, she no longer has to depend on a calculator.

She can check her money and make payments on her own.

Asata now feels more confident and feels great joy in belonging to an organization like the Association of Women in Cross Border Training.

Stories like this, personal stories of real people benefitting from the programme, bring joy to all of us.

I personally, along with all of us at UN Women, look forward to continuing to work in partnership with the Sirleaf Market Women’s Fund.

I end with a quote from President Sirleaf herself. She once wrote:

 “The size of your dreams must always exceed your current capacity to achieve them. If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough."

So let us all continue to dream big dreams and let us join hands and work together so that we can achieve them!

Thank you for your kind attention.