LIBERIA: 'You Did it' - Leymah Says of Women

Thursday, December 15, 2011
The Analyst
Western Africa
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security
Peace Processes
Sexual and Gender-Based Violence
Reconstruction and Peacebuilding

When the bazooka ruled in 2003 and only the opinions of Liberian warlords and a beleaguered head of state mattered to the world community, Leymah Gbowee and seven immortal others rose to project the power of peace through non-violence. The world did not miss that single act of heroism of nearly a decade ago, and it rewarded the heroines over the weekend as Gbowee threw up the V-sign to Liberian women, “You did it!” The Analyst, reports.

Nobel Peace Prize laureate Ms Leymah Gbowee has called on the women of Liberia “to unite in sisterhood to turn our tears into triumph” now that the world has recognized and rewarded their long struggle for peace, justice, and reconciliation.
The 2011 peace prize co-recipient made the call as she received, last Saturday in Oslo, Norway, the Nobel Award for Peace along with President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Yemeni “Arab Spring” activist, Tawakkol Karman. The award comprised a gold medal and a diploma. Like her compatriot and co-recipient, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, and fellow laureate Karman, Ms. Gbowee praised the Nobel Committee for recognizing the efforts of the women of Liberia, whom she represented.

Women's struggle for justice

“This is the day the Lord has made and I and my sisters globally will rejoice and be glad in it,” she said, evoking a popular Liberian Christian chorus. She described the award as historic and noted that she was humbled to have been selected by the Nobel Committee. “I receive the Prize in the name of women who continue to work for peace, equality, and justice across the World.” Ms. Gbowee called for a moment silence to paid tribute to the memories of first African woman Nobel Peace Prize laureate, Prof Wangari Maathai of Kenya, and the women of Liberia and Ivory Coast, who she said were inspiring. Amongst them, she said, were Ms. Dheka Abdi, Ma Wleti Freeman, Ma Asata Kandakai, Ma Fatu Bah, Rebecca Flomo, Ma Klunah Brown, the seven Ivorian Women who lost their lives during the post-elections violence, and women across the world who lost their lives whilst fighting for peace, social justice and equality.

She recalled the day seven Liberian women peace crusaders met at a makeshift conference room in 2003 with only ten US dollars to found the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign, which she said had a profound impact on the brokering of a peace deal in Accra.
According to her, the plight of women during the Liberian civil war, most of who were used as ‘toys of war' and abused, coupled with the desire to expose the cruelty of the war, inspired the women mass action. “We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. We were aware that the end of the war would only come through non–violence, as we had all seen that the use of violence was taking us and our beloved country deeper into the abyss of pains, death, and destruction,” she told her Nobel audience, gathered at the grandeur and flower-decked Oslo City Hall.

Despite the difficulties and the danger of a non-violence struggle against violence and injustice, she said the women's mass action succeeded, just before those who never thought it would succeed wrote it off. “We were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today — that our struggle would go down in the history of this world,” she told her mesmerized audience of regality, former laureates, and other celebrities.

Ms. Gbowee said even though the Nobel Prize Committee recognized the efforts of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign by presenting her the award, it was also recognizing the plight of women in other troubled countries, including Egypt, the DRC, Uganda, Cote d'Ivoire, Tunisia, Palestine, and Israel. Women in these and other countries, she said, were facing daily threats of arrest and torture. “Women of Acholi Land in Uganda, who in the face of the so-called Lord's Resistance Army's continued torture and rape, remain advocates for peace and justice; women of Afghanistan and many other places on earth where in the 21st Century women can be raped and still go to jail or sometimes be subjected to honor killing – this prize is a tribute to your cry for justice, freedom, and equality,” she said.

Rededication: “You did it”

“The world used to remember Liberia for child soldiers but they now remember our country for the white t-shirt women. Who would have ever thought that Liberian women would have been among faces of women's global victory, but you did it. So thank you!” the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate said. She thanked the women for “making our country proud” and rededicated the award, saying, “Thank you for sitting in the rain and under the sun. This is your prize. This is our prize.” She said even though the world has recognized the efforts of the Liberian women and women crusaders across the globe, it was no time to disengage.

“Let this recognition serve as a renewed compact between women and World leaders, that commitments made to women through various UN and other global institutions' resolutions will be pursued with greater commitment and vigilance,” she said.

She then called on women of Liberia and West Africa to band together to respond to crisis in our subregion. “There is no time to rest until our world achieves wholeness and balance, where all men and women are considered equal and free,” she said. Considering the award as coming at the time the global community was exerting efforts to correct the injustices of society, she said the award was “not just in recognition of the triumph of women. It is a triumph of humanity”. With this “triumph of humanity” then, she said, must come the total involvement of women in decision-making.

“If women were part of decision-making in most societies, there would be less exclusive policies and laws that are blind to abuses women endure,” she said. Then turning to the Nobel Prize Committee, she said this: By this act, you affirm that women's rights are truly human rights and that any leader, nation, or political group that excludes women from all forms of national and local engagement is setting itself up for failure.