In Liberia, a country where women once had no power, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee forged a new path to help bring about the end to a brutal civil war.
As part of the new five-part series Women, War and Peace, which premieres tonight on PBS, Gbowee spoke out about how she led Liberian women to take on both rebel groups and the ferocious regime of dictator Charles Taylor using peaceful tactics—including public protests and withholding sex from their husbands until the fighting ended. When peace talks stalled, Gbowee presented warring factions with the threat of her own naked body—an act considered a curse in her country—if they did not continue to negotiate (which, thereafter, they did, as she explains in the video below).
"You go to bed and pray that you have something different the next day. You know, that the shooting will stop, that the killing will stop, that the hunger will stop, saying, 'God, please,'" Gbowee says. "I had a dream. And it was like a crazy dream, that someone was actually telling me to get the women of the church together to pray for peace."
And that's exactly what Gbowee did. Starting in 2002, she brought together thousands of Christian and Muslim women to peacefully protest and pressure religious and political leaders to stop the 14-year war that had led to mass gang rapes of an estimated three-fourths of the country's women and girls, the conscription of young boys in Taylor's marauding armies, homelessness for nearly a third of the country, and the deaths of at least 250,000.
"What we did was to make Liberians bold, to step out," Gbowee says. "We stepped out first and did the unimaginable."
Gbowee is featured in the series' second episode, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, premiering Oct. 18, along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, another winner of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. The third winner is Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman; this is the first time ever that three women have won.
[Image: Michael Angelo]