Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace and women's rights activist who played a pivotal role in peace-building and promoting women’s leadership in peace processes in her war-ravaged country. She led the peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003 and paved the way for peace to prevail in the hitherto politically unstable nation of Liberia. Along with fellow women’s rights activist, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, she worked relentlessly towards the betterment of the Liberian women-folk who had borne the greatest burden in the war ravaged nation. She had freshly graduated from high school and had ambitious plans for her future when the he First Liberian Civil War erupted in 1989 and turned her life upside down. After a few years she learned about a program run by UNICEF for training people to be social workers who would then counsel those traumatized by war. She immediately joined the program and became aware of the rampant abuse women faced and the challenges and difficulties that lay ahead of them. Eventually she became a prominent spokesperson for women’s rights and led the women's peace movement that ultimately put an end to the Second Liberian Civil War. She along with her collaborators, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman, were awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for their significant peace works.
Childhood & Early Life
Leymah Gbowee was born on 1 February 1972 in central Liberia, as one of the four daughters born to her parents. She had a normal childhood and dreamed of becoming a doctor in future.
She had freshly graduated from high school and was looking forward to attending the university in 1989 when the First Liberian Civil War broke out and catapulted the country into a period of uncertainty and violence.
The war raged on for years and was finally subsiding in 1996 when she learned of a program run by UNICEF for training people to be social workers who would then counsel those traumatized by war.
She enrolled for the three-month training program during the course of which she realized that she herself was in the throes of an abusive relationship with a man. Already a single mother to young children, she decided to rebuild her life in order to beget a better future for herself and her family.
In 1998 she became a volunteer at the St. Peter's Lutheran Church in Monrovia, serving within a program called Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (THRP). It was here that she realized that the purpose of her life was to become a peace activist.
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She had been at the Trauma Healing project for a year when she met Samuel Gbaydee Doe who was the executive director of Africa's first regional peace organization, the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP) which he had co-founded in 1998 in Ghana.
Motivated by Doe, she began reading widely in the field of peacebuilding. She was particularly influenced by ‘The Politics of Jesus’ by Mennonite theologian John Howard Yoder and works by Martin Luther King Jr. and Gandhi.
She became involved with WANEP when she learned that the organization was actively seeking to involve women in its work. During this period she became acquainted with Thelma Ekiyor of Nigeria, a well-educated lawyer and visionary who secured funding from WANEP and organized the first meeting of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) in Accra, Ghana. Gbowee joined the WIPNET and quickly became its leader.
In 2002, she organized a women’s peace movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, in which thousands of women joined hands to hold nonviolent peaceful protests including the threat of a curse and a sex strike. In order to garner more attention the women wore white T-shirts with WIPNET logo and white hair ties.
She was eventually granted a meeting with Liberia’s President Charles Taylor where she demanded peace. As a result of her relentless efforts, the Liberian war finally came to an end with the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement on August 18, 2003.
She led the women’s peace movement, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which ultimately brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. The movement involved silent nonviolence protests including a sex strike by the women and the threat of a curse.
Awards & Achievements
In 2007, she was honored with the Blue Ribbon for Peace from the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
She received the John Jay Medal for Justice from the John Jay College of Criminal Justice in 2010.
In 2011, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded jointly to Leymah Gbowee, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and Tawakkol Karman "for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".
In 2013, she was presented with the New York Women's Foundation Century Award.
Personal Life & Legacy
Leymah Gbowee is a single mother of six, including one adopted daughter. Years ago she had been in an abusive relationship with one of the fathers of her children though she finally found the courage to walk away from the relationship and rebuild her life.