Women as Liberia’s guardians of peace and social change

Not long ago, images of child soldiers and the nation of Liberia were wedded in the minds of the international community. The country was struggling to end a horrific civil war, but military efforts were going nowhere. Then the mothers, grandmothers and sisters of Liberia stepped forward and formed the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace campaign. They pressured Liberian men to pursue peace or lose physical intimacy with their wives.

“We felt like the men in our society were really not taking a stand,” recalls Leymah Gbowee, a leader of the peace group for which she won a Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. “They were either fighters or they were very silent and accepting all of the violence that was being thrown at us as a nation.… So we decided, ‘We’ll do this to propel the silent men into action.’”

The women perfected the art of “corridor lobbying,” waiting for negotiators as they entered and exited meeting rooms during breaks. The women demanded a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor and got him to agree to attend peace talks with the other leaders of the warring factions. Dressed in white, the women blocked every entry and exit point, including windows, stopping negotiators from leaving the talks without a resolution, leading to the signing of the 2003 Comprehensive Peace Agreement.

Liberian women then flooded the polls during the country’s first postwar presidential election and voted to usher a woman into power for the first time on a continent that for centuries had been the world’s most patriarchal.

All in all, Liberian women have been a force against violence in the country, and their actions contributed to the ending of hostilities after a 14-year civil war, and continued advocacy.

[United Nations]

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