Nobel prize laureate to speak at USD

Leymah Gbowee brings message of nonviolence to campus next week.

By Jackson Somes

In war-torn Liberia, Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee was able to unite over 3,000 Muslim and Christian women to help initiate peace talks among warring factions, depose one of Africa’s most prominent warlords and bring lasting peace to Liberia for the first time in 14 years.

Next week, Gbowee brings her harrowing story and message of peace and nonviolence to USD.

On March 13, USD will be hosting two events featuring Gbowee. The first, held in the morning, is the 9th annual International Women’s Day Breakfast, located in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Rooms A-D.

Proceeds from breakfast ticket sales will support the Women PeaceMakers Program, which documents the stories and practices of international women leaders involved in human rights efforts. The second event is a lecture entitled “Transforming Conflict through Nonviolent Coalitions” at 6:00 p.m. in the Peace & Justice Theater.

Both of these events are sold out, but overflow seating is still available for those who hope to attend.

Gbowee’s story began in 1997, when the First Liberian War ended with the warlord Charles Taylor taking power.

The Second Liberian War quickly followed two years later when a group of Liberian dissidents named the Organization of Displaced Liberians invaded Liberia from Guinea, sparking another bloody and brutal war.

One of Taylor’s tactics was the extensive use of child soldiers to combat the group.

Tired of constant war, fighting and death, Gbowee decided that it was through an organized movement of women that they could hope to bring peace.

She organized protests and asked mothers, grandmothers, aunts and sisters to drape themselves in white clothes to symbolize peace.

Thousands of women across broad ethnic boundaries formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, headed by Gbowee. They participated in nonviolent protests, sit-ins and even sex-strikes, in which women refuse to have sexual relations with their spouses until the issues they are fighting for are resolved.

Because of their protests, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace forced peace talks with the government. As a result of their efforts, the WLMAP members were able to remove Taylor from power and bring peace to Liberia after 14 years of civil war. Soon after, Liberia saw its first female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

In 2011, Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace prize for her nonviolent efforts that brought about extraordinary change.

The incredible journey of Gbowee is chronicled in the award-winning documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” as well as in her memoir “Mighty Be Our Powers.”

Today Gbowee is the Newsweek Africa columnist, a member of the African Women Leaders Network for Reproductive Health and Family Planning, and serves on the Board of Directors of the Gbowee Peace Foundation USA, Nobel Women’s Initiative and the PeaceJam Foundation.