This Lent I am listening to the voices of women– voices full of wisdom, truth and beauty that do not always get the volume they deserve in our church and our society. This week I would like to lift up the voice of Leymah Gbowee. She is a Liberian peace activist who led a women’s peace movement that helped end the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
The war in Liberia was started by warlord Charles Taylor and pitted armed child soldiers against civilians. Gbowee found the strength to speak out and organize women to answer violence with non-violence. She said she knew that any changes made in society had to be made by mothers and urged, “Don’t wait for a Gandhi, don’t wait for a King, don’t wait for a Mandela. You are your own Mandela, you are your own Gandhi, you are your own King.” She became a non-violent hero by going out and organizing women. Her flyers read, “We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up– you have a voice in the peace process!” She led non-violent protests, prayer sessions, demonstrations and sit-ins until the war ended.
The end of the war enabled a period of peace that made a free election possible in 2005. In that election, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf won, becoming the first African female president. Gbowee continued to work, challenging the UN to listen to Liberian women in their efforts to help Liberia rebuild. “A whole generation of young men had no idea who they were without a gun in their hands. Several generations of women were widowed…young people had lost hope, and old people, everything they had painstakingly earned. To a person, we were all traumatized.”
Leymah Gbowee is a woman of faith who prays to her God for strength. It takes incredible strength to turn violence into peace, to organize a group of mothers to take on a warlord, to sit with a country of people as their heal. As we work toward peace inside of our own hearts and inside of our our communities this Lenten season, let us honor the strength and voice of Leymah Gbowee and help her spread a message of peace.