Nobel Laureate Leymah Gbowee And The Roles Of Women In War And Peace

“Tomorrow our children will ask us, ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?’” Leymah Gbowee said that this thought motivated her to organize and lead what became a mass action women’s movement that ended Liberia’s brutal civil war in 2003. Under Gbowee’s inspired leadership, Christian and Muslim women joined together to face President Charles Taylor in demanding an end to the rape and slaughter of their children.  “The women of Liberia…I’m proud of them. We stood,” said Vaiba Flomo, with palpable emotion. Flomo was a member of Gbowee’s group. Gbowee and Flomo made these statements in the powerful new, multi-award winning, documentary film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

For her role in leading this nonviolent peace movement, Gbowee won a Nobel Peace Prize earlier this month. I had the extraordinary honor of sitting in Gbowee’s presence on Monday morning. You too can hear her compelling story by watching Pray the Devil Back to Hell and reading Mighty Be Our Powers. You will be inspired and enriched for doing so. We have Gini Reticker, Abigail Disney, and Pamela Hogan to thank for recognizing the importance of this story and capturing it in their five-part series on Women, War & Peace. “I would not have been a Nobel Laureate if not for Women, War & Peace, because my story would have been erased,” said Gbowee.

In Women, War & Peace, we see the central role that women play in times of war, not only in Liberia but also in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and elsewhere. This point of view is also brought into focus by Gayle Tzemach Lemmon in her recent best-seller, The Dressmaker of Khair Khana. This true story shows that it’s the women at home who protect and feed their families. Lemmon’s “shero,” as Gbowee would call her, built a stealth dressmaking factory under the noses of the Taliban. The women risked their lives to work to support their families. And author Lemmon risked her life during numerous trips and visits to hear the women’s stories in their homes in Afghanistan.

Women, War & Peace brought to mind an article I read about Ann Curry four years ago in The New York Times.  At the time, Ms. Curry was on a short list of American broadcast journalists who reported from Darfur. Curry went deep into conflict zones and relief camps to bear witness, and then, with photographic evidence in hand, she aggressively confronted a leader of the genocide. “If reporters who have children were unwilling to cover the most important stories of our time, where would we be?” said Curry. She said she was inspired to action by the memory that when she learned about the Holocaust as a child, she wondered whether she would have been one of the people who risked their lives to protect Jews. Asked about risking her life, Curry said, “I am more afraid of not having done enough to help others than I am of dying.”

The bond of motherhood is a continuous theme in Women, War & Peace and when you listen to Gbowee.  According to The NYT article, Curry said that when she would return from her Darfur trips, she would find her children’s drawings on the door saying, “Here’s mom, saving the world. Go mom, go mom.”  In Pray the Devil Back to Hell, the children crowd around Gbowee and her friends upon their return from Ghana to broker the peace to end the civil war.

On Monday morning, when asked about her goal was in making Pray the Devil Back to Hell, Disney said, “I hope that people will see what we are all capable of. That Americans will say 'What can we do to build a culture of peace in this country?'”

Click here to watch Leymah Gbowee in Women, War & Peace.

[Image: Michael Angelo for Wonderland]

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