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“Non-violence is a powerful and just weapon, which cuts without wounding and ennobles the man who wields it. It is a sword that heals.”

Martin Luther King, Jr.

Leymah Gbowee, Nobel Peace Laureate, peace activist and women’s rights advocate, was only seventeen years old when the first of two civil wars in Liberia broke out in 1989 and turned her (as she described it herself) “from a child into an adult in a matter of hours”[1]

Throughout the war Leymah studied peace and trauma healing and trained as a social worker as well as a trauma counselor working with ex-child soldiers. She became a founding member and Liberia Coordinator of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET). She started Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which gathered women who worked for peace day and night as the war tore apart their country. 

One night, Leymah awoke from a dream in which she had been told: 

“Gather the women and pray for peace.”[2]

The women mobilized through tireless everyday activism in the mosques, markets, churches and streets. A key characteristic of the women’s movement was its diversity, i.e. the women came together from all levels of society – with different religions, ethnicities, and educational or socio-economic backgrounds. All with the goal to end the suffering and bring peace[3].  

 They travelled to Accra where the peace talks were held. When they were waiting outside the meeting hall and the progress stalled, the women refused to leave until the men had reached a peace agreement. The women’s movement had a direct impact on that the warring factions signed the peace agreement in 2003. 

 Back in 2003, Liberia had made more than thirteen peace agreements. Leymah describes her thoughts back then: 

“The men have done the same thing over and over. We have to bring some sense to the process. Instead of starting a women’s warring faction, let’s start a women’s peace movement.”

When the women were wounded, they were able to absorb their pain without passing it on. But when the men were wounded, they needed to make someone pay. That is what fed the cycle of war.[4]

There are many lessons to learn from Liberia. Above all, we shall never underestimate the reconciling power in forgiveness and the unity in diversity.

Maria Salenstedt, Board trainee 2020, Operation 1325. 

#Liberia #Leymahgbowee #Womenspeacemovement #Womenofliberiamassactionforpeace

Picture: Africa Renewal. https://www.un.org/africarenewal/magazine/december-2019-march-2020/we-mu…  

[1] https://www.nobelprize.org/prizes/peace/2011/gbowee/biographical/ 

[2] Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. Leymah Gbowee & Carol Mithers 2011. 

[3] Victims of War or Agents in Peace? A Feminist Perspective on Women’s Contributions in Conflict Transformation in Liberia. Maria Salenstedt 2020.   

[4] The Moment of Lift: How Empowering Women Changes the World. Melinda Gates 2019.