Women and Democracy

From Vote Democracy! collection, lesson plan 5 of 7

(90-120 minutes + assignments)

Grade level: 9-12, College

Subject Areas: Government, Political Science, Social Studies, Current Events, Language Arts, Debate, Sociology, Womens Studies

Purpose of the lesson: From the Women’s Suffrage movement in the United States to Africa’s first elected female president to the possibility of the United States’ first female presidential nominee from a major party, the voice of women in democracy has been and continues to be a critical struggle. In this lesson, students examine the significant women-led administration of Liberia and consider whether the world’s governments would be different with more women in power. Students will also consider the ways in which notable women in American politics have challenged government to change or maintain the status quo.


Students will:

  • analyze and critically view film as text and pull out quotations for further discussion
  • participate in small-group and class discussions
  • learn about women in prominent positions in the U.S. government
  • make inferences from public statements about a politician’s views
  • present a persuasive argument about the impact of women on government


Stating and supporting opinions in class discussion and in writing, critical reading and viewing, researching, persuasive writing techniques, note taking and oral presentation


  • board or overhead projector
  • chart paper
  • Iron Ladies of Liberia Film Module
  • Teacher Handout A
  • Student Handout B
  • Iron Ladies of Liberia Discussion Guide
  • art supplies

National Teaching Standards Addressed:

Grades 9-12

National standards from the following organizations were used in developing this lesson plan. See Recommended National Standards available in the educator guide for full descriptions of standards employed.

  • National Council for the Social Studies
  • National Council of Teachers of English/International Reading Association

Writer: David Maduli

David Maduli is an independent educational consultant who has contributed many curriculum guides and conducted various workshops for PBS programs. He has a master’s in teaching and curriculum from Harvard Graduate School of Education and continues to work as a veteran Bay Area public school language arts and social studies teacher.

  1. Divide a chart paper into two sides: “Should” and “Should Not.” Have students brainstorm what women/girls “should” like to do, what they “should” be like and how they “should” act based on stereotypes in the media, popular culture and society at large. Do the same for the “Should Not” side.

  2. Discuss using the following guiding questions:

    • How do you, your friends and the adults you know fit these stereotypes? How are they different from these stereotypes?
    • How do these stereotypes of how women/girls “should” and “should not” be influence some people your age?
    • Name some women you know personally or have seen in the news or popular culture who do not fit these stereotypes.
    • How might these stereotypes affect women in leadership positions?
    • How might women in leadership positions challenge these stereotypes?
  3. Introduce this quotation from Iron Ladies of Liberia:

    “They call me ‘Iron Lady’ because they feel I am very strict, tough. I want to prove a point: That women can be trusted and placed in dangerous positions. And they can even do better.” — Beatrice Munah Sieh, chief of police of Liberia

    Have students write a response using this sentence stem:

    • The United States and other countries around the world might be slow in accepting women in top leadership positions because…

    Have the class share and then call on a few students to read their sentences.

  4. View the Iron Ladies of Liberia Film Module and prompt students to observe President Johnson Sirleaf and her interactions and dealings with the citizens of Liberia, corporations, and world leaders. While they watch, have students record quotations from various speakers that reveal attitudes toward the president and the other women leaders for further reference and discussion after the film using Student Handout B: Speaker and Quotes Grid.

  5. Think-Pair-Share

    • Think – Choose one of the quotations from your chart. Write a journal response using these questions: What is the speaker’s view of the President and/or the women in government? If you could respond to the statement, what would you say?
    • Pair – With a partner, compare what you wrote about your respective speakers. Discuss using the following guiding questions: Would the two speakers agree with each other? What would they say in response to each other’s statements? Which of the speakers most represents your view?
    • Share – You and your partner share with the class using these speaking stems: We agree with , who says… /We disagree with , who says…
  6. Explain that the class will now look at quotes from past and present women in positions of power in government. Note to teachers: Also research local female politicians and community leaders to include in the list of quotations. Distribute the quotes in Teacher Handout B to students in the class who will read them aloud and identify the speaker. Have students discuss their initial reactions to the quotations using these speaking stems:

    • A voice that stood out to me was ________ because …
    • I think she means that …
  7. Assignment: Research Project

    Do further research on one of the women quoted above or research another woman in a position of power in government (community, local, state, national or international; historical or contemporary). Research should include biographical information, more quotes, speeches or writings and analysis of the woman’s views on gender, politics and leadership. Some good online sources include the International IDEA’s page [“Voter Turnout by Gender”] (http://www.idea.int/vt/survey/by_gender.cfm) and the WSS of the Association of College and Research Libraries’ page [“Women and Politics”] (http://www.libr.org/wss/wsslinks/politics.html). Create a multimedia presentation that includes information from the research. This should be on poster board or overhead transparencies or in the form of a PowerPoint presentation and may include video clips, sound files and images, along with text highlights.

  1. Invite a panel of guest speakers to come into the classroom to address student questions and comments about women in politics and community leadership positions. Use the expertise of the panel members to learn more about what it is like to be a woman in politics. Include politicians from your local city and county governments, directors of local advocacy and nonprofit organizations and local business leaders. Have students prepare questions for the panel in advance.

NOTE: See Teacher Handout A: Guidelines for Convening a Community Forum.

  1. Write an opinion-editorial piece arguing whether governments and politics are run differently when women are in positions of power. Use selections from the quotations exercise and make inferences as to what the statements say about the speaker’s philosophies and views on government. Support your opinion with additional background information and address opposing viewpoints and counter-arguments. Make predictions about the future of the U.S. government and the role of women politicians in it.
  • Film module:
    Iron Ladies of Liberia

Download lesson materials