Born into poverty in Monrovia, Liberia, in 1938 and subsequently educated as an economist in the United States, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf hit the radar as an in-your-face woman in the early 1970's when she gave a speech accusing her country's corporations of hoarding profits and sending them abroad rather than using them to strengthen Liberia. When a coup took over the government, though Sirleaf gave them a chance to prove their good intentions, by 1980, she was openly criticizing the new leaders so boldly that she had to flee the country. And her speeches got her in so much trouble that she was eventually tried and sentenced to ten years for sedition, then released because of international outcries, re-imprisoned for being connected to a different coup, and finally forced to flee the country yet again.
Because Sirleaf had spent some time at the World Bank and Citibank before joining the United Nations where she helped to investigate genocide in Rwanda and studied the effect of conflict on women in Africa, she was recognized by the international community as well as being famous in Liberia. So no one who follows African politics was surprised when Sirleaf ran for office and ultimately won the Presidency of her country in 2005 and a second time in 2011.
As President, Sirleaf has made education free and compulsory for all children in Liberia. She was responsible for the establishment of a Truth and Reconciliation Commission to unify the country after thirty years of civil war. She signed into law a Freedom of Information Act (the first like it in any African nation). And she has pulled Liberia out from under a massive load of debt and asked for legislation to make it illegal to put the country in such a position again.
In 2006, Forbes Magazine called her one of the most powerful women in the world. In 2010, Newsweek called her one of the ten best leaders of the world. And in 2011, she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her work related to the rights of women and their involvement in the peace process.
Sirleaf has herself garnered criticism for backing the wrong political horse in 1989, but -- in-your-face woman that she is -- she has simply pointed out that she always jumps in with both feet to support whoever and whatever she thinks is the best choice. Then, should she subsequently decide she's wrong, she'll be first in line to mete out the criticism loud and long, not only withdrawing her earlier support, but jumping in with both feet to work against her earlier point of view. In-your-face women aren't afraid to admit they can be wrong, but don't get in their way when they think they're right!