01 Feb Happy Birthday Blog: Leymah Gbowee
The Good Doctors wish the very happiest of birthdays to Nobel Prize recipient, Liberian peace activist, and all around complete hero – Leymah Gbowee. Awarded the Nobel Prize in 2011 for her peace work in 2003, but she has not treated that as a cap on her work. Since the award, her work has continued in earnest and we are excited to introduce you to her (for those of you who haven’t been fangirls for years).
Gbowee was seventeen years old when the Second Liberian Civil War broke out. As she says, she went from a child to an adult overnight. As her country raged around her, Gbowee trained as a social worker and trauma counselor, as well as raising her child. Overtime, she became convinced that the only path to peace was through women working together. She became a founding member of WIPNET (Women in Peacebuilding Network). As a result of her own faith, she mobilized fellow Christian women to actively work for peace. As an extension of that faith, she built bridges with women in the Muslim faith to do the same. Overtime, she formed networks within WIPNET and became a spokesperson for the country. (For the record, 85% of Liberians identify as Christians, so from Dr. Donnelly’s religious scholar perspective this move is even more significant. By inviting the marginalized religious voices to the table, Gbowee expanded the potential of restorative work.)
It all came to a head in 2003. Quoting from the Nobel Prize website:
Leymah was appointed its spokesperson and led the women in weeks-long public protests that grew to include thousands of committed participants. Leymah led the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace participants in public protests that forced Liberia’s ruthless then-President Charles Taylor to meet with them and agree to take part in formal peace talks in Accra, Ghana. She led a delegation of women to Accra, where they applied strategic pressure to ensure progress was made. At a crucial moment when the talks seemed stalled, Leymah and nearly 200 women formed a human barricade to prevent Taylor’s representatives and the rebel warlords from leaving the meeting hall for food or any other reason until, the women demanded, the men reached a peace agreement. When security forces attempted to arrest Leymah, she displayed tactical brilliance in threatening to disrobe – an act that according to traditional beliefs would have brought a curse of terrible misfortune upon the men. Leymah’s threat worked, and it proved to be a decisive turning point for the peace process. Within weeks, Taylor resigned the presidency and went into exile, and a peace treaty mandating a transitional government was signed.
Yeah. She’s pretty rad.
Dr. Donnelly first heard about Gbowee’s work through the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which features her work and the work of the other women who agitated for peace. Dr. D cannot recommend the documentary heartily enough.
Since being awarded the Nobel Prize, Gbowee has received many honors (including an honorary doctorate from the University of Rhodes in South Africa), founded/started more organizations (like Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa), and even got to be a torch bearer in the 2012 London Olympic Torch parade.
The world is different because Leymah Gbowee is part of it and we are grateful. Happy Birthday!