IRI to Honor Mrs. Laura Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf

Washington, DC – IRI will honor Mrs. Laura Bush and Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf with the 2006 Freedom Award for their dedication to the advancement of freedom and democracy and their work in encouraging women’s participation in the democratic process. Both Mrs. Bush and President Johnson-Sirleaf will be in attendance to accept their awards.

“The International Republican Institute is honored to recognize Mrs. Bush and President Johnson-Sirleaf with this year’s Freedom Award,” said Senator John McCain, IRI chairman.  “They have inspired women all over the world to become more involved in the political and civic life of their countries and have shown us all that for democracy to truly serve all the people it must include all the people.”

Mrs. Bush has made women’s empowerment a key part of her global diplomacy initiative, and is recognized as an advocate of freedom through her work promoting education and literacy, particularly for girls and women.  “By investing in literacy instruction for women and girls now, governments ensure that future generations will enjoy the benefits of reading. Women who can read are much more likely to be advocates for their children’s education,” said Mrs. Bush.  At the White House and during her travels abroad she has encouraged more women to become involved in the political process of their countries. During a visit to Mongolia and in Washington, DC, Mrs. Bush met with women participating in IRI programs, and advocated women’s empowerment.  She recently hosted a White House Conference on Global Literacy and a roundtable at the United Nations on Burma, where she highlighted Burmese democracy activist Aung San Suu Kyi and other political prisoners.

Known as “Iron Lady,” President Johnson-Sirleaf is Africa’s first elected female head of state.  After 25 years of turmoil and 14 years of civil war, her election as president in November 2005 marked a turning point for Liberia’s democratic future.  After completing her education in 1971, President Johnson-Sirleaf returned to Liberia and served as Assistant Minister of Finance.  She was forced to flee the country in 1980 following a military coup, but returned in 1985 to run for Senate.  Arrested and sentenced to 10 years in jail for speaking out against the military regime during her campaign, she was released from jail and forced into exile a short time later.  After initially supporting Charles Taylor in his efforts to remove the military regime, she returned to Liberia in 1997 to oppose him in the presidential election.  Following his victory, Taylor announced her to be an enemy and once again President Johnson-Sirleaf was forced to flee Liberia.  During the next six year’s she campaigned for Taylor’s removal from office, and upon his resignation in 2003 returned to Liberia and became actively involved in the transitional government.

Since her election, President Johnson-Sirleaf has turned her attention to national reconciliation and rebuilding her country’s economy and infrastructure.  During a speech to the U.S. Congress she said, “We will strive to be America’s success story in Africa, demonstrating the potential in the transformation from war to peace; demonstrating the will to join in the global fight against terrorism; demonstrating that democracy can prevail, demonstrating that prosperity can be achieved.”

Also being recognized at the IRI Freedom Dinner are four women who have faced significant challenges in their own countries as they struggled to advance women’s participation in politics and governance.  The special guests are the Honorable Rana Al-Hajaia, a former Mayor in Jordan; Banzragch Delgermaa, President of the Democratic Women’s Union in Mongolia; the Honorable Saima Khugyani, a Member of the Wolesi Jirga in Afghanistan; and, the Honorable Maria Elena Cruz Urrutia, the Auxiliary Secretary of the Municipal Council of Guatemala City, Guatemala.  The four women will participate in an IRI Women’s Democracy Network luncheon and forum the day following the Freedom Dinner.

Past honorees have included President George W. Bush, then-National Security Advisor Dr. Condoleezza Rice, President Hamid Karzai of Afghanistan, Vice President Dick Cheney and Mrs. Lynne Cheney, and Nobel Laureate and Burmese democracy leader Aung San Suu Kyi.

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