In 2011 Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee — along with her country’s president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Yemeni activist Tawakul Karman — was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize. At age 18, Gbowee’s comfortable life was smashed with the beginning of the First Liberian War. She was separated from her family, lived in a refugee camp for a time and had children with a physically and emotionally abusive man.
By 1999, the Second Liberian War had broken out. More than 100,000 people had died, many of them children, and countless women had been raped. As many as a third of Liberians had been displaced. Much of the country’s infrastructure — its sewage and electrical system, roads, hospitals and schools- lay in ruins. Thousands of boys had been pressed into fighting for one side or another, fed liquor and drugs and turned into killers. By then Gbowee was a struggling single mother of four and a newly graduated social worker. One night she had a dream where a voice told her to “gather the women and pray for peace.”
In 2003, Gbowee began organizing women into peace demonstrations. Thousands of women dressed in white gathered in a field along the capital of Monrovia’s central road and refused to leave. Christians and Muslims, young and old, educated and illiterate, all sat together to voice a single demand: “The women of Liberia want peace.” The women picketed in downtown Monrovia, they held events and news conferences, but mostly they sat, day after day, month after month, in searing heat and pouring rain, demanding that attention be paid. With outreach, the protests soon spread across Liberia. Some women even participated in a sex strike, saying they would not have sex with their husbands or boyfriends until there was peace, prompting the men to demand peace as well. Partly due to these women’s actions, Charles Taylor left Liberia and Ellen Sirleaf Johnson was elected as Africa’s first modern female head of state.
The book is an amazing read. Women are so often undervalued and they suffer the most during war time. They are the ones who have to bury their husbands and sons, walk miles in search of food, see themselves and their daughters raped and mutilated and then must somehow find the strength to carry on. She addresses an issue that I have often thought of when I read about people such as Billy Graham or Dr. King – how much are you willing to sacrifice your family to create a better world? She barely saw her children but was spurred on in her desire to leave a better world for them. Her nonviolent protests changed her country.