The story sounds like a movie right out of Sundance; ordinary Liberian women manage to help cease their country's almost 14-year-long civil war. Heart-wrenching, riveting, powerful, and it all happens to be true.
Leymah Gbowee was a 17-year-old girl when the brutal civil wars first threatened to destroy her native African nation of Liberia. For 15 years Liberia was crippled by civil war between the government of the corrupt and ruthless Charles Taylor, and the warlords battling to overthrow him. More than 200,000 people had been killed and over 1 million made into refugees. Eight years later, Gbowee and many other Liberian women were fed up and finally had the guts to stand up to the warlords.
Raised primarily in Monrovia, Gbowee was one of the lucky ones. Nurtured by unusually enlightened parents, Gbowee was urged to go to university where she studied social work. Unhappy with what was going on around her, Gbowee eventually joined the Women in Peacebuilding Network and quickly rose to the leadership ranks thanks to her organization skills from university. She brought all the women she had met from the Christian churches together into a group called the Christian Women's Initiative.
As peace talks collapsed, the women of Liberia, both Christian and Muslim united, began issuing a series of calls for peace. Gbowee persuaded Monrovia’s market women, a largely uneducated, unarmed group of moms and merchants, to stage daily sit-ins demanding peace for their people. Convincing the women to deny sex to their husbands until the fighting ended, Gbowee created one of the most innovative movements for peacekeeping. They formed a thin but unshakable white line of T-shirts between the opposing forces, and successfully demanded an end to the fighting.
In one remarkable scene, the women barricaded the site of stalled peace talks in Ghana, and announced they would not move until a deal was done. Faced by more powerful contenders and the issue of eviction, they resorted to the most powerful weapon in their arsenal; they threatened to remove their clothing, and it worked. A small band of unarmed women who had enough of watching their husbands, children and other family members murdered, raped and terrorized, decided to risk their lives to bring peace to the West African country that was founded as a home for emancipated American slaves.
This story is not only unfathomable, it's inspiring. Women who came from the poorest of poor were somehow able to communicate well enough to stage an entire peacemaking operation.
Gbowee and the Liberian women's story was told through a full-length documentary called Pray the Devil Back to Hell by Abigail Disney, grandniece of Walt Disney. The documentary recounts the events of the war and the remarkable sit-in for peace. The film premiered at the Tribeca Film Festival earning many outstanding reviews and awards. Gbowee also was recently awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her impressive efforts in her homeland.Images courtesy of Africanarguments.org, Ideastream.org