To celebrate Eastern Mennonite University’s homecoming, Leymah Gbowee a 2007 Master’s degree graduate from Liberia, came to speak about her work and receive EMU’s alumnus of the year award. It seems fitting for her to win the recognition from EMU, considering she was just announced as one of the Nobel Peace Prize winners. She won the Nobel Peace Prize along with two other women–Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman.
Leymah received the Nobel Peace Prize because of her leadership in bringing peace to Liberia following years of violence and oppression in the 1990s and 2000s.
Charles Taylor, one of the most oppressive and corrupt war lords in Africa, was president of Liberia at the time and was using his oppressive regime to rape and kill Liberians across the country. In addition to the violence, the country was short on food and extremely impoverished thanks to Taylor’s apathy for taking care of his citizens.
According to the award-winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” at the height of the violence, one woman remembers watching Taylor’s followers slowly murder her husband to her left while witnessing the rape of her 12-year-old daughter to her right.
Leymah remembers having to tell her son he couldn’t have a bite of food because they didn’t have any left and praying every night that a better world would exist the next day.
Because of the uncontrolled violence and oppression in the country, she decided to do something about it.
“If we allow evil, what do we tell our children in the future?”
She started organizing mass movements against the violence by tapping into hearts and minds of Liberian women and empowering them to stand up against evil. She eventually convinced a massive amount of women to help encourage peace in the country; “250,000 women stood in the blazing sun” for weeks to make a point that they weren’t stepping down until peace was in the country. Muslim and Christian women came together for the first time in Liberia and worked for peace in the midst of the violence, risking their lives everyday. They were “determined, and no one [could] deter [them]” and “demanding, not appealing.”
While the women received some recognition, violence and oppression was still everywhere in the country. The women were so desperate for peace, that they initiated a sex strike. They weren’t going to have sex with their husbands until the violence stopped. In the documentary, one women said,
“One way or the other, you have the power as a woman, and that power is deny the man your sex.”
Change happened in Liberia within weeks.
The movement became so popular, Charles Taylor was forced to listen to the concerns of women. Leymah was given the opportunity to address the president directly in front of thousands of Liberian women. In the documentary, she says
“going to meet Taylor was the moment I lived for.”
Another women said
“this is a man who could be smiling at you one minute and the next, order to have you killed.”
Because of the massive number of women protesting for peace, “General Leymah and her troops” forced Charles Taylor to go to peace talks, something which he had resisted up until that point.
After weeks and weeks of peace talks, Taylor was eventually exiled from Liberia and the violence and oppression came to an end.
How often do we hear stories about strong women fighting for what they believe in? Occasionally. How often do African women get recognized for overthrowing a war lord? Never.
Congratulations, Leymah. Thanks for being an inspiration to women, and men, all over the world.