She led the women’s peace movement in Liberia, which played a decisive role in bringing an end to the bloody civil war in the country. Leymah Gbowee’s work for peace resulted in her becoming one of three women to receive the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011.
Leymah Gbowee’s strong engagement started when she was a teenager. She was born in 1972 and grew up in Liberia’s capital city, Monrovia. When she was 17 the civil war had just broken out – a bloody war that would have a big impact on the young woman’s life. Gbowee trained as a social worker and started working to help all of those affected by serious psychological trauma as a result of the war, including many child soldiers.
She is best known for having brought together Christian and Muslim women in a peace movement to end the long war. What started off with a few women demonstrating at the local fish market grew, and before long thousands of women had joined in. Gbowee and her movement succeeded in pushing for peace negotiations, leading to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s eventual election as president of Liberia. Sirleaf made history by becoming Africa’s first democratically elected woman president.
But Gbowee’s commitment to peace and women’s ability to make a difference had only just begun. In 2006 she was one of the founders of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-A), based in Accra, Ghana. The aim of the network is to get more women into leading positions in efforts for peace and security on the African continent.
Through her lectures, Gbowee has also inspired and motivated a large number of women across the world to dare to occupy space in society. One example was a talk at Barnard College in New York in 2013, in which she urged students to refuse to “be in the shadows”:
“Break out about how you feel about things. Never hold back. Refuse to be in the shadows as you step out into this life. Don’t be shy no matter how crazy it seems to you. That crazy idea may just be the solution for some crazy global or local problem.”
In 2011, Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize together with Liberia’s first woman president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and the journalist Tawakel Karman, who for many people became the international face of the uprising in Yemen, part of the Arab Spring. And in her Nobel acceptance speech, Gbowee thanked all of the women who had made peace in Liberia possible.
“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 the faces of women’s global victory, but you did it. So thank you!”
Find out more on Leymah Gbowee here, or take 15 minutes to watch her inspiring TED Talk from 2012 below.