03/08/2011 03:48 pm ET | Updated May 25, 2011

International Women's Day: Celebrating Women Who Forge Democracy In Liberia

There are 192 countries that are recognized members of the United Nations. Women are heads of state in only 19 of them. Most of us know that women make up more than half of the world's population. So does something feel off balance to you?

Today is the 100th anniversary of International Women's Day. One hundred years ago, women could vote in only two countries (Australia and New Zealand). Today they can vote in all but three (Saudi Arabia, the United Arab Emirates, and Brunei Darussalam). So we could say we've come a long way in 100 years -- and we have -- but we also must recognize that we've got a ways to go.

To mark this 100th anniversary of International Women's Day, Michelle Bachelet, former President of Chile and current Executive Director of UN Women, joined Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf - the first democratically elected woman President in Africa -- in Liberia to highlight the importance of women's leadership in forging strong democracies, economies and re-building societies after conflict.

"I am very pleased to celebrate this milestone in Liberia, a country where women's influence in forging peace and recovery offers lessons for all countries committed to advancing gender equality and women's human rights," said Ms. Bachelet in a press briefing.


Female United Nations peacekeepers yesterday with Kathy Calvin, CEO U.N. Foundation, left, and Executive Director of U.N. Women and former President of Chile, Michelle Bachelet after visiting a Peace Hut, a forum for community justice, in rural Liberia. Photo credit: Stuart Ramson/Insider Images for the United Nations Foundation

Liberia is not only the first country in Africa to democratically elect a woman as president, but the home to one of the first female peacekeeping units. "This is a country that has stood up and has been able to build a stable democracy for five years after more than 10 years of conflict," said Ms. Bachelet. "I believe women are essential agents of peace. They are always trying to find the consensus."

It turns out that today women make up less than 8 percent of peace teams around the world, and of those eight percent, no women are at the head. Property ownership is even less. Women today own one percent of the world's property.


Teen girls meet with the United Nations Foundation's Girl Up Campaign over the weekend to talk about the challenges women face in post-conflict Liberia. The girls are part of a special program at the THINK empowerment center in Liberia's capital Monrovia. Photo credit: Stuart Ramson/Insider Images for the United Nations Foundation

It can seem like we have come so far in 100 years, and we have. But it's also obvious that there is so much more work to do.

Today let's celebrate being women and give thanks to the courageous women before us who have spoken out for women's rights and risked their lives for the sake of all women. Let's honor the women in Liberia who have been confronted with devastating violence and are re-building their country and boldly setting an example of what is possible with women as agents of peace.

Let's continue to celebrate how far we've come, and with this, deepen our commitment to speaking up for ourselves and for the rights and respect of all women and girls around the world. I am convinced this will be a win-win for everyone.