|Leymah Gbowee ( (newafricanmagazine.com))|
While the civil war raged on in Liberia, one brave woman took it upon herself to call for a farewell to arms. Leymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her "non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work." As an outspoken advocate for civil liberties and equality Gbowee's main concern was to put an end to the violence and bloodshed, which had ripped Liberia apart.
Gbowee began her call for unity to oust warlord and President Charles Taylor. Her group founded in a fish market in Monrovia, implored the Muslim and Christian women in her nation to put aside religious differences and band together in peaceful protest. In solidarity, they protested along the road where Taylor traveled daily until he relented and agreed to meet with them. It was because of her efforts that he was pressured to attend peace talks in Ghana with other Liberian warlords to seek a resolution, which ultimately led to his exile.
A single mother of six, including one adopted daughter, Gbowee divides her time between her family and her extended family of youth across Western Africa. As head of The Gbowee Peace Foundation, she works tirelessly to promote equal access to work and education for West African women, girls and youth. She has also campaigned for orphans' wellbeing across the region. Orphans cast out by their own families, who have been adopted by families across western Africa, are later blamed for misfortune which befalls their new families. An increase in the number of accusations against these children, alleging them to be witches, has led her to speak out on their behalf. A growing number of orphans in West Africa are beaten, starved and tortured as a way to cleanse and purify their souls. An aid worker described it as "poverty being the twin sister to ignorance."
"Let us remember in our prayers and meditation every child that has ever been subjected or is being subjected to such treatment, that a guardian angel will find them and make their lives better," she said.
A guardian angel herself, Gbowee was the subject of a documentary produced by Abigail Disney. Pray the Devil Back to Hell covers the horrific events of the bloody civil war that ultimately led to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf becoming Africa's first woman President in 2005. Sirleaf was also the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize, alongside Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist, politician and human rights activist. The film went on to become a five part PBS series entitled Women, War and Peace.
Unstoppable in her quest for peace, Gbowee succeeded in creating a remarkable force by forming a coalition of Muslim and Christian women in Liberia and ultimately spared her country from more bloodshed and travesty after fifteen years of political unrest. Creating a situation that went from hopelessness to empowerment, Gbowee's determination is a testament to the power of peace, the power of perseverance, the power of solidarity and the power of a brave vision.
Grateful for the Nobel Prize, Gbowee told the Nobel audience in Oslo, " We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation." She considers the peace prize to be the recognition of women's rights, not only in Liberia and Yemen, but everywhere that women face oppression. "We must continue to unite in sisterhood to turn our tears into triumph. There is no time to rest until our world achieves wholeness and balance, where all men and women are considered equal and free." As well as being a recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, she is also the recipient of the 2010 John Jay Medal for Justice from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice, recipient of the 2009 Gruber Prize for Women's Rights, and recipient of the 2009 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.