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African Democracy Forum Conference Calls for Political Women

Women attending an Africa-wide conference are expressing dismay at what they call the mismanagement of Africa and are urging women to work together to find solutions to problems facing the continent. Naomi Schwarz reports for VOA from Dakar the conference on empowering women in politics is wrapping up in Liberia's capital, Monrovia.

Hundreds of participants from across Africa gathered in Liberia this week for a workshop focused on increasing women's involvement in politics.

Maria R.K. Matemba, a former government minister from Uganda, said the time was right for women to take a more active role.

"The women of Africa are fed up," Matemba said. "They are really tired of the mismanagement that our brothers have made of the African continent. This is not to say that if women go there, they may not mismanage. But we are prepared to take our destiny, the destiny of Africa in our hands and move forward."

Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf spoke Monday, when the conference opened. She urged women to collaborate across borders and create networks of women to share experience and help face Africa's problems.

One of the program coordinators from the African Democracy Forum, Franck Kamunga, says Sirleaf is an important symbol for women in Liberia and across Africa who want to get more involved.

"Liberia is an example of women political expression," Kamunga said. "It is not a mistake for us to have chosen hosting the workshop in Liberia. This is the way to encourage Liberian women and sustain what has begun. I think this is the most important reason we chose to have this workshop in Liberia."

But Liberia's leading women's rights advocate, Mary Brownell, said more women need to be encouraged to speak up.

"Most of them are not very vocal," Brownell said. "They still have their silent mentality, that a woman is not supposed to be in politics because it is a dirty game it is just for men, or something of the sort."

She also said, for many women, lack of education is a barrier to political expression.

"The majority of the women in Liberia are illiterate," Brownell said. "This is very, very sad. And that is why I am very happy for these different and educational endeavors they have taken up, whether you have women in the market, women going to school to learn how to read and write and everything else."

The U.N. Children's Fund reports more than two-thirds of illiterate adults are women, and in sub-Saharan Africa, more than 20 million girls are not in school.