Leymah Roberta Gbowee
Women's Rights Peace Activist
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, 2011
Leymah Gbowee (pronounced LAY–mah, BEAU-wee) was a 17 year-old girl when the war first came to Monrovia. As she says, she turned, "from a child into an adult in a matter of hours." As the war dragged on, Leymah had difficulty focusing on anything but her thwarted opportunities to go to college, and out of bitterness she dodged any political or social involvement. But as time wore on she came to see that it would be up to the citizens of Liberia, especially its women, to bring the country back from the insanity of civil war. She trained as a trauma counselor and worked with the ex-child soldiers of Taylor's army. The more she worked with them the more she came to see that they were too were victims.
Ms. Gbowee joined the Woman in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) and quickly rose to leadership thanks to her leadership and organizing skills. She brought all the women of the Christian Churches together into a group called the Christian Women's Initiative and began issuing a series of calls for peace. Soon she formed a coalition with the women in the Muslim organizations in Monrovia and eventually Liberian Mass Action for Peace came into being. Under Leymah'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.
Ms. Gbowee is the author of her new memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, a gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world. Mighty Be Our Powers is co-authored buy Carol Mithers, published by Beast Books.
Leymah has spoken publically numerous times on the issue of women in conflict situations. She was a panelist at several regional and international conferences, including UNIFEM's "Women and the Disarmament, Demobilization, Reintegration and Repatriation (DDRR) Process," and the United Nations Security Council's Arria Formula Meeting on women, peace, and security.
Leymah has been honored by multiple organizations, most recently with the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman. She has been awarded the Blue Ribbon for Peace by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and in May 2009 she accepted the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award® on behalf of her countrywomen. A selected list of honors:
Etweda “Sugars” Cooper
Secretary General Of Liberian Women's Initiative
Etweda “Sugars” Cooper is one of the doyennes of the Liberian women’s movement and is known for speaking out. In 1994, during one of the darkest hours of the civil war in Liberia, she and other women -- tired of being victimized and frustrated at the stalemate in the peace process -- founded the Liberia Women Initiative to advocate for disarmament and free and fair elections, and also to bring pressure to bear on stakeholders for the inclusion of women in negotiating a settlement of the Liberian conflict.
Throughout 14 years of civil war she used mass action including picketing, sit-ins and marches involving grassroots and professional women and their groups to attract world attention to the plight of women and children and to urge the international community to take action to end the war. As a strategist for the Liberian Women peace activities under the auspices of Women In Peace building Network, WIPNET, Sugars was unrelenting in lobbying factional leaders through visits, dialoguing and pleading with them to resolve the stalemate in the Accra Peace Talks in 2003, urging them to agree to a ceasefire and to constitute a transitional government.
President of the Christian Women's Peace Initiative
Vaiba Flomo (pronounced VAH-bah FLOH-moh) was working with the Lutheran church’s trauma healing program when Leymah came to intern with the program and the two quickly became good friends. Vaiba, haunted by the constant reminders of war —children dying from hunger or being abandoned because their parents couldn’t feed them—began to press Leymah to mobilize the women of Liberia because as she says “there’s not a single woman in Liberia who will tell you that she doesn’t have pain from the crisis.”
Together with Leymah they worked to bring the Christian and Muslim women’s groups together. Where there was some initial reluctance to engage with the other faith, Vaiba developed the message: “can the bullet pick and choose? Does the bullet know Christian from Muslim?” Reluctance faded into action, and the women began their campaign.
To this day, Vaiba works with victims of trauma. And she marvels at what the women managed to achieve: “sometimes when I really think on the work I’m like ‘wow, just two little country African girls’ dream has become so big’.”
Asatu Bah Kenneth was a police officer for 25 years—since before the war began. As the president of the Liberia Female Law Enforcement Association, Asatu was invited to the first meeting of WIPNET and then to the launch of the Christian Women's Initiative. She was so moved by what she heard that she stood up and pledged to mobilize the Muslim women of Liberia to help bring peace to Liberia. And she did, creating the Liberian Muslim Women’s Organization. Liberian Mass Action for Peace came into being when the two organizations joined. It was the first time Christian and Muslim women had worked together in Liberia.
Asatu’s position in the police service gave her access to intelligence about the war. On one occasion, as the war was closing in on Monrovia, Asatu called a meeting with Leymah, Sugars and Janet and other key members of WIPNET. After that meeting the women issued the all-important position statement that they would eventually take to their meeting with Charles Taylor urging him to sit down at the peace table with the rebels.
Her nickname is the “stabilizer” because she doesn’t take sides. After the war she became Liberia's Deputy Chief of Police and focused on bringing more women into the security sector. Recently she was appointed the Assistant Minister of Justice for Administration and Public Safety. She is proud to be part of the international peace-building community.
Etty Weah was one of the hundreds of ordinary women who became involved with WIPNET and the Liberian Mass Action for Peace. She was one of the many women who wore white and sat on the field day in and day out. Rain or shine. Bullets or no bullets.
Before the war, she used to sell food in front of her house in one of the suburbs of Monrovia. As a regular church goer she responded to a call from the Christian Women's Initiative to become involved in Liberian Mass Action for Peace, and got to know Leymah. She was moved to attend the meeting because she deemed all Liberian women to be victims and thought there was strength in numbers if their voices were to ever be heard. As the war drew closer to Monrovia, and as the mother of two boys, she also feared for all the children who would be conscripted.
Janet Johnson Bryant was a journalist. Much of the time she worked for the Catholic radio station, Radio Veritas in Monrovia. Her beat was the Executive Mansion, occupied by Charles Taylor, who had a virtual stranglehold over the media. Journalists were often openly bribed during press conferences. She also hosted a radio show about women’s issues. Bryant’s efforts to expose corruption during Taylor’s regime earned her the nickname "Iron Lady of Media."
Janet met the women of WIPNET when she reported on them for a story. She soon became part of their outreach and advocacy program. Like Asatu, she used her position to garner important, strategic information that benefited WIPNET. In particular, Janet helped launch the Liberian Mass Action for Peace. Together with Leymah, Sugars and Asatu she helped draft the first press release calling for an immediate ceasefire and for all warring factions to sit down at the peace table. Janet then broadcast the message announcing the first meeting of the women in the field opposite Taylor’s house – hundreds of women showed up and stayed.
She now lives in Dracut, MA, working towards a new goal: earning a master's degree in international diplomacy and returning to Liberia.