Liberia's Leymah Gbowee Earns Award
Leymah Gbowee (pronounced beau we), 2011 Nobel Peace laureate and Liberian peace activist, will receive the 2016 Community of Christ International Peace Award at 7:00 p.m., Saturday, June 4 during World Conference.
I had a dream. I didn’t know where I was. Everything was dark. I couldn’t see a face, but I heard a voice, and it was talking to me—commanding me: “Gather the women to pray for peace!” I could still hear echoes as I woke up, shaking. —Leymah Gbowee
Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War
The prologue to Leymah Gbowee’s memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, begins by asserting that modern war stories resemble each other mainly because of the actions of men—the commanders, diplomats, and fighters. She claims they “brag, threaten, brandish grisly trophies, and shoot off their mouths and weapons.” It was that way in Liberia.
Foreign reporters came to document the war. Their stories focused on power and destruction. In her memoir, Gbowee asks readers to closely examine those reports and…look more carefully, at the background, for that is where you will find the women. You’ll see us fleeing, weeping, kneeling before our children’s graves. In the traditional telling of war stories, women are always in the background. Our suffering is just a sidebar to the main tale; when we’re included, it’s for “human interest.”
The book describes how Gbowee’s calling to promote peace began to take shape when she started asking why women were sitting on the sidelines. “Why were women, who bore the brunt of war, expected to remain quiet while men debated how to make peace?” She invites us to hear her nontraditional story of war because it is an African woman’s story, “and our stories rarely are told.” Her story is about “an army of women in white standing up when no one else would—unafraid, because the worst things imaginable had already happened.…”
Gbowee describes the way women absorb pain.
Women are the sponges… We take it all in—the trauma of separated families, the death of loved ones. We listen to what our husbands and children tell us, we look at the destruction of our communities and belief systems, and soak up that pain, too. We hold it all because we need to be strong, and complaining—or even sharing—is a sign of weakness. But holding in that kind of misery was as crippling as holding onto rage. I had found a way for us to squeeze it out.
The women of Liberia began using an unburdening technique known as “The Shedding of the Weight,” in which they honestly shared their truths with one another. This talking and listening purged the shame they felt because of deep wounds. It provided strength, trust, and empowerment to women frustrated with life and abuses in their war-torn country. The “shedding” allowed women to see past the distinctions of religion, tribe, or social standing. They clearly saw one another as women—wanting more for themselves, their families, and their country. They wanted peace.
The “shedding” was freeing. It created a new energy. It brought a conviction that life must change, and the change needed their voices. Gbowee helped organize and lead Christian and Muslim women in Liberia. The movement since has expanded to other nations.
Gbowee wrote about a typical conversation of recruiting the women of Liberia:
“This war has been going on a long, long time, and all of us have been suffering. People have tried to end it, and there have been some big meetings, but we think the answer lies with women. We need to step forward and get involved.”
“I don’t know, my sister. How can we do that? Why would we?”
“Why is this your business? You are the one who has been raped by the fighters! Your husband is the one who has been killed. It is your child being forced into the army.”
“Yes…” A slow, nodding comprehension. “We’ve just been sitting here and people take our children! I will join with you.”
Gbowee learned that when women suffer a long time, they begin to look down, not ahead. She learned that as the women worked together they began looking up, listening, and questioning. Then they began to act.
“In the past, we were silent…But after being killed, raped, dehumanized and infected with diseases, and watching our children and families destroyed, war has taught us that the future lies in saying no to violence and yes to peace! We will not relent until peace prevails!”
Together the women (Muslim and Christian) sat in public protest and spoke against war. They dressed in white, symbolizing their goal of peace. Their demonstrations eventually led to the exile of President Charles Taylor and the rebel warlords; the end of the civil war; election of Liberia’s first female president; and perhaps most importantly to a new wave of women taking control of their political destiny and changing the world. More about Leymah Gbowee
Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, a memoir by Leymah Gbowee and Carol Mithers, (Beast Books: New York, 2011)
Pray the Devil Back to Hell, 2008 award-winning documentary features brave and visionary women who demanded peace for Liberia (www.forkfilms.net/pray-the-devil-back-to-hell)