MONROVIA, Liberia -- She has swept floors and waited tables and earned a degree from Harvard. She has been jailed at home and exiled abroad. Now she's on the verge of making history.
Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, 67, is set to become not just Liberia's first elected female president _ but the first in Africa, and one of only a handful in the world.
"I hope young girls will now see me as a role model that will inspire them," Johnson-Sirleaf said an interview with The Associated Press at her Monrovia villa late Monday. "I certainly hope more and more of them will be better off, women in Liberia, women in Africa, I hope even women in the world."
With more than 99 percent of ballots counted from a Nov. 8 runoff, Johnson-Sirleaf holds an apparently irreversible lead with 60 percent of the vote, compared to 40 percent for her soccer star opponent George Weah. He is contesting the poll, though international observers say it was fair.
A winner is unlikely to be declared for several more days while Weah's complaints are investigated.
Top female officials are rare in Africa, but there are a few _ South Africa's deputy president, and prime ministers in Mozambique and the twin-island republic of Sao Tome and Principe.
Johnson-Sirleaf wants women to make up at least 30 percent of her own Cabinet.
"If you look around the continent, there are many women in Africa that are holding high positions, in parliament, in the ministries," she said. "Women are doing well, and I'm just going to be adding to that."
The widowed mother of four, who also has eight grandchildren, said it wasn't easy climbing the career ladder in a male-dominated world. She has served as her country's finance minister and taken on top jobs at Citibank and the United Nations.
"If you're competing with men as a professional, you have to be better than they are ... and make sure you get their respect as an equal," Johnson-Sirleaf said. "It's been hard. Even when you gain their acceptance, it's in a male-dominated way. They say, 'Oh, now she's one of the boys."
Buttons from her presidential campaign say it all: "Ellen _ She's Our Man."
Johnson-Sirleaf said she swept floors and waited tables at a drugstore restaurant in Madison, Wis. while attending a business college there. Later, she earned a masters in public administration from Harvard University.