Nobel Peace Prize laureate comes to USD

By Leeza Earl

Nobel Peace Laureate, Liberian peace activist, social worker and women’s right advocate Leymah Gbowee spoke with women from all over the world at the 9th Annual International Women’s Day Breakfast about the violence against women in the world and how we can positively change the international average.

The international average for women who have been the victim of sexual or gender-based violence is one out of three.

Jennifer Freeman, the director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice Women Peacemakers program, believes that this statistic is an alarming number.

“We do need to be clear that this is an epidemic,” Freeman said. “The statistic is one in three women and as it was said before, look around you and that will show you how small that really is.”

Gbowee spoke about the rapes and abuse women she has encountered in Liberia and around the world. She expressed concerns for all women, saying that they need to start making a change.

“It is time for us [women] to start a revolution,” Gbowee said. “Sexual and gender-based violence is not going anywhere.”

Although Gbowee believes sexual and gender-based violence is not currently making great progress, she thinks people should still attempt to make a change. She suggested mentoring the young women in their communities. She acknowledged that this is only a step and will not solve this epidemic but it will be a start of a new conversation.

Academic coordinator Rebecca Bernhardt believes the power of mentoring will help but educating the young girls will solve the epidemic.

“Education is powerful,” Bernhardt said. “If we can mentor and educate, we have more of a chance to help these girls.”

Gbowee has started this conversation by creating programs with men and women across the nation. Beginning mentoring programs in Liberia and a women’s segment on a TV show are just a few ways she is starting activist projects.

She has also conducted several awareness events such as giving t-shirts to men that read “I am a real man” on the front and “I hate rape” on the back in support of the fight against women’s violence.

Senior Dylan Heyden said that the shirts could be a powerful show of male sympathy with the female cause.

“This is a group effort for all genders,” Heyden said. “We as human beings need to step up and fight for a change starting in our very own backyards.”

Gbowee is not afraid to speak her mind and stand up for what she believes in.

In 2003 she brought together the Christian and Muslim women in Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which played a major role in ending Liberia’s 14 year civil war. She currently is a columnist for Newsweek/The Daily Beast and serves on the Board of Directors for the Gbowee Peace Foundation USA, the Nobel Women’s Initiative and the PeaceJam Foundation. She has been featured in the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” and her memoir “Mighty Be Our Powers.”

She also holds a Masters in conflict transformation from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg Virginia.

With this background Gbowee is committed to serving women around the world to make a change in not only sexual but gender-based violence as well. She is focused on getting individuals talking about this issue so it will no longer be overlooked. She anticipates that this breakfast will be the start of a change and a new discussion for sexual and gender-based violence in the world today.