Tuesday, November 15, 2011

Leymah Roberta Gbowee

Today’s woman of the day is Leymah Roberta Gbowee (b. Feb. 1, 1972) peace activist. Famous in Liberia for mobilizing women against war. She, along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."

Leymah Gbowee trained as a trauma counselor during the civil war in Liberia and worked with the ex-child soldiers of Charles Taylor's army. The more she worked with them the more she came to see that they too were were victims. She joined the Woman in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) and quickly rose to leadership thanks to her leadership and organizing skills. She brought women of the Christian Churches together to issue a series of calls for peace and soon formed a coalition with the women in the Muslim organizations in Monrovia, resulting in the Liberian Mass Action for Peace. 

Ms Gbowee is less well known outside Liberia than President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf but is famous inside the country for mobilizing the women peace protesters ahead of the war's end in 2003. She is credited with organizing a group of Liberian woman in 2002 to put pressure on then-President Charles Taylor to end the country's brutal civil war.

One of the most visible protests was an almost permanent prayer meeting on a football field on the edge of Liberia's capital, Monrovia. They were the mothers, wives and sisters of the men doing the fighting and their victims.The women, dressed in white T-shirts, would sign and pray in the hot sun and through heavy rain.
Under Gbowee’s leadership the group managed to force a meeting with Charles Taylor and extract a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. She then led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process. Gbowee is the central character of the award-winning documentaryPray the Devil Back to Hell, which tells the story of the women’s peace movement in Liberia.

After the war Ms Gbowee organized hundreds of female Christian and Muslim activists in nine of Liberia's 15 provinces to help Mrs Sirleaf's successful campaign for the presidency in 2005.

Then in 2006 she co-founded the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Accra, Ghana. It works with women in West African countries with a history of conflict.

In 2007 Gbowee was awarded the Blue Ribbon for Peace (2007) by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government and, with the women of Liberia, received the Profiles in Courage Award (2009) from the Kennedy Library Foundation. Gbowee is the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, a women’s peace-building organization in Ghana, that will act to build relationships across the West African sub-region in support of women’s capacity to prevent, avert, and end conflicts. 

The Nobel Committee declared that Leymah Gbowee "mobilized and organized women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war in Liberia, and to ensure women's participation in elections. She has since worked to enhance the influence of women in West Africa during and after war".

She holds a master’s degree in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, Va.