If I could have dinner with any living public figure, I would want to dine with Leymah Gbowee. Recipient of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize along with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist. She led the Liberian women’s peace movement that helped bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War.
Trained as a trauma healing counselor, Leymah established the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) in Liberia, which focused specifically on the power and roles of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding. In spring 2002, Leymah awoke from a dream where God told her in a clear voice: “Gather the women together and pray for peace!” By summer 2002, Leymah had organized the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement, which called on Christian and Muslim women to come together in the fish markets of Monrovia and pray for peace.
The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement staged a number of non-violent sit-ins and demonstrations, including threats of a curse, even a sex strike, in defiance of the orders of then-president Charles Taylor.
In a very risky move, the women began staging their protests on a soccer field that was beside the road on which Charles Taylor traveled twice a day. Wearing all white, the women sang, danced, and chanted, calling for peace as his motorcade drove by. The women were eventually granted a hearing in front of Taylor on April 23, 2003. More than 2,000 women joined Leymah at the hearing. Turning to face Taylor, Leymah pronounced:
We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, “Mama, what was your role during the crisis?”
In June 2003, Leymah led a group of women to Ghana where the peace talks were taking place in order to put pressure on the warring factions to sign a peace agreement. These brave women eventually took over the building where the peace talks were taking place, linking arms they circled the building, blocking the exits, and refused to let any of the men out. When the men tried to leave, Leymah threatened to take off all her clothes, which in many West African countries is a curse. The Second Liberian Civil War officially ended weeks later.
After the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on August 18, 2003, Leymah and the women’s movement led the 2005 election campaign of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who became the first female head of state in Africa.
Check out this amazing documentary on the experiences of Leymah and the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Movement. Or check out her inspiring TEDTalk here. You can also read her book.
How cool would it be to have dinner with this inspiring woman and peace activist?!