Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, Blogger, Speaker

Women’s History Month

Women’s History Month

I’m borrowing an idea from blogger Margaret Anderson who mentioned honoring Women’s History Month.

I’ll write about a few women whose history is important to me. And I invite you to suggest women you’d like to honor in Women’s History Month. If you would like to write a profile for publication, let me know!

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, my first honoree for Women's History Month

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, President of Liberia, my first honoree for Women’s History Month

My first is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. In 2005 she was elected President of Liberia. She was the first woman to be elected head of an African country. I think she is the only one so far.

In 1992, she was appointed Director of the United Nations Development Programme‘s Regional Bureau for Africa. I called on her at the UN. I can’t remember why. Probably I was seeking to understand how I might work in African development with my Yale Master’s Degree and Peace Corps experience.

I found her impressive and have followed her career ever since.

She returned to Liberia to run for president in 1997. She did not succeed then but a few years later, with determination and support from other women, she did.

As women evaluate Hilary Clinton’s loss in 2016, Helene Cooper wrote a piece about Sirleaf Johnson’s 2005 election in yesterday’s New York Times. Her main opponent was a well-loved Liberian football (soccer to us in the U.S.) star.

“It all started on the morning of May 2, 2005, a week into the voter registration period for the looming presidential elections, when Vabah Gayflor, the minister for gender, woke up to discover that women had not been registering to vote,” Cooper wrote.

The minister enlisted the help of a women’s activist known as Sugars. Together they held rallies. The government minister would encourage women to register. Then her friend would take the stage and urge a vote for Johnson Sirleaf.

The football player had the lead in the first round of elections, but didn’t have the required 50%. Johnson Sirleaf came in second so would compete against Weah in the run-off.

“Mr. Weah, honing a message explaining why he, and not Mrs. Sirleaf, should run Liberia, settled on an “educated people failed” theme,” Cooper said in the article.

“But what the men who endorsed that strategy failed to realize was how much that very idea was angering the market women. Those women may not have been educated themselves, but they worked in the fields and the market stalls to send their children to school. Now the men were telling them that education wasn’t important.”

For the run-off, women supporting Johnson Sirleaf campaigned hard.

They also resorted to a variety of strategies. Some women offered beer money to men in exchange for their voter ID cards. The men were too stupid, and too eager for beer, they said, to realize they needed their cards to vote in the run-off!

In the end Johnson Sirleaf won by a large majority. During the next few years, she negotiated the write-down of Liberia’s crippling external debt. She has kept the country peaceful.

“In 2011, she shared the Nobel Peace Prize with Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, awarded ‘for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.'”

She was re-elected that year.

Visiting Son and Missing Sunglasses

We had our Sister Grandmothers meeting this evening. Our hostess always prepares a main dish and the rest of us bring accompaniments. Tonight I took salad.

Our older son Chinaku was here for a quick visit – just 24 hours! It was great to see him. I asked him to accompany my husband for a medical appointment. But he had errands to run, so I drove my husband to the appointment, then rushed home to buy my ingredients and make my salad.

Not my sunglasses, but a little bit similar.

Not my sunglasses, but a little bit similar.

I dashed to Fresh Market in Westport. I wanted fresh kale and pecorino cheese for a Tuscan salad. I had found the recipe in my NYTimes Cooking Recipe Box. Melissa Clark wrote about it in 2007.

In my haste, I apparently dropped my sunglasses. I had walked in and straight to the variety of salad greens, evaluating which would best fit my needs. I thought I stuffed my sunglasses in my coat pocket. But when I got to the car, the sunglasses weren’t there.

I went back inside to the same area in front of the salad greens.

A store employee was putting fruits on display. As soon as I said the word “sunglasses,” he said, “Yes, I gave them to a woman.” He led me to her. I was expecting another store employee. Instead it was a customer. She wore a blue jacket. She had sunglasses stuck in the front.

He pointed at her. “I gave her the sunglasses.”

She looked at me and said, “Oh, yes, they were just like mine,” and dug my pair out of her purse. They were nothing like the ones she sported at the front of her jacket!

“Are these yours?” she said.

“Yes, they are.”

“I’m so glad you found me,” she said, handing me the sunglasses.

Huh? How about “I’m sorry, I was trying to steal your sunglasses!”

What would you do if a store employee approached you with sunglasses and said, “Did you drop these?”

Seems to me if they weren’t yours, you would say, “No, they aren’t mine. Why not take them to Customer Service for Lost and Found?”

When I told the Sister Grannies tonight, Judy said, “Hmm. She was so ready with an answer. Sounds like she’s done this before!”

They loved my salad.

Author: Catherine Onyemelukwe

Author, blogger, speaker. Born in New York, grew up in mid west United States, lived in Nigeria for 24 years, back in U.S. since 1986. Advocate for racial justice.


  1. Thanks so much for telling Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s story. I knew about her, and that she did a very good job as president, but I never heard the story of her election. Sometimes truth is more entertaining than fiction.