President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberia’s first female president will step down after 12 years in power. Twenty candidates are running to replace Johnson but MacDella Cooper is the only woman among them.

Cooper was born in  Monrovia in the 1970s but the country’s civil war soon unended her quiet childhood growing up in the countryside, says Annabelle Timsit. After her stepfather was killed, her mother fled to the United States and eventually obtained an American visa in 1993.

While Liberia’s first female president has enjoyed popularity abroad, back home, her administration has been tainted by accusations of corruption.

Living with her mother in New Jersey, Cooper first attended college there before she began a career as a model. In 2004, Cooper founded a charity dedicated to fighting poverty.

“A lot of people talk about ‘women’s empowerment’ across the continent—especially in Liberia,” Cooper told Tismit. “People talk a lot of talk but rarely take a lot of action.”

In 2005, she returned to Liberia “to confront the trauma of her past. She never left. Here, she speak to Tismit about her experience as the only woman running for president and the state of “women’s empowerment.”

Read more at The Atlantic

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