Source: This Day Live
Leymah Gbowee is a woman, a Liberian, who has stared down the barrel of a smoking gun and had the guts to demand her rights as a human being. In a precarious political situation when she could easily have been abducted, raped or killed, Leymah has amazingly succeeded, not just in overthrowing the tyrannical despot, Charles Taylor of Liberia, in 2003, but in bringing about with other women and mothers the end to a tumultuous period of civil war in her country. If, in the last decade or so, Liberia has been transported into a period of relative prosperity and a greater awareness of human rights, then it is thanks to Gbowee and her Liberian sisterhood.

This daughter of middle-class parents had dreams just like any teenager before the Liberian civil war in 1990 turned her and her family's life upside down. In a transformed environment of rampant bloodshed and killings, Leymah wrote: "Fear was the first feeling when I opened my eyes every morning. Then gratitude: I'm still living. Then fear again. While you're thankful for being alive, you worry about being alive." In a dangerous and volatile environment where her and her clan's lives were in danger from moment to moment, the family fled to a refugee camp in Ghana. The same year she returned to the battle-scarred capital Monrovia, her home town, and entered into a relationship with a man with whom she had four children. It was a physically abusive relationship and with this — her most intimate frontiers breached by violence — she had nowhere to turn.

Eventually, she was introduced to a growing organisation of women working for peace and there, happily, she found her voice. Her learning to speak out both individually and in unison, unintimidated by the surrounding violence and bloodshed, was the marker of her will and the only weapon she had against the crazed and bloodthirsty forces. Though nobody would have guessed it, the process of leading this band of wives and mothers who spearheaded non-violent protest against the killings, wearing their trademark white T-shirts, was extraordinarily successful.

Gathering together with her tenacity and her talent the country's first Christian-Muslim alliance of women, the entity eventually grew into the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a nonviolent women's protest movement. In her autobiography Mighty Be Our Powers, Gbowee writes of her grassroots struggle: "During the war in Liberia, almost no one reported the other reality of women's lives. How we hid our husbands and sons from soldiers looking to recruit or kill them.

How, in the midst of chaos, we walked miles to find food and water for our families — how we kept life going so that there would be something left to build on when peace returned. And how we created strength in sisterhood, and spoke out for peace on behalf of all Liberians." Through an extended, tortuous process and one that garnered international recognition, Gbowee and her sisterhood were instrumental in helping end the dictatorship of Taylor and the civil war.

In the peaceful aftermath that followed, a woman president, the first in Africa — Ellen Johnson Sirleaf — was installed in Liberia in 2005 and subsequently won re-election in 2011. For their efforts, the same year both Gbowee and Sirleaf were jointly awarded the Nobel Peace prize. Today, Gbowee's Nobel platform may help her reach millions of sympathisers as her struggle has escalated to a much-needed fight for women's equality and against their oppression across the nations of the world.

Go to top