2011 Nobel Peace Prize Lecture

Tasneem Jamal

Leymah Roberta Gbowee

The Ploughshares Monitor Spring 2012 Volume 33 Issue 1

In 2002, Leymah Gbowee mobilized a network of over 2,000 women in 15 provinces in Liberia to protest peacefully against the war and the violence. She took the initiative in forming the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), which focused not only on Liberia but other parts of West Africa. Gbowee currently heads the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-Africa), headquartered in Accra, Ghana.

Early 2003, seven of us women gathered in a makeshift office/conference room to discuss the Liberian civil war and the fast approaching war on the capital Monrovia. Armed with nothing but our conviction and 10 United States dollars, the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign was born.
Women had become the “toy of war” for over-drugged young militias. Sexual abuse and exploitation spared no woman; we were raped and abused regardless of our age, religious or social status. A common scene daily was a mother watching her young one being forcibly recruited or her daughter being taken away as the wife of another drug-emboldened fighter.

We used our pains, broken bodies, and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. We were aware that the end of the war will only come through non-violence, as we had all seen that the use of violence was taking us and our beloved country deeper into the abyss of pains, death, and destruction.

The situation in Liberia in those war years indeed re-affirmed the profound statement of Nobel Laureate, the late Dr. Martin Luther King, Jr., when he said, “Violence never brings permanent peace. It solves no social problem; it merely creates new and more complicated ones.”

The women’s Mass Action Campaign started in one community and spread to over 50 communities across Liberia.

We worked daily confronting warlords, meeting with dictators and refusing to be silenced in the face of AK-47s and RPGs [rocket-propelled grenades]. We walked when we had no transportation, we fasted when water was unaffordable, we held hands in the face of danger, we spoke truth to power when everyone else was being diplomatic, we stood under the rain and the sun with our children to tell the world the stories of the other side of the conflict. Our educational backgrounds, travel experiences, faiths, and social classes did not matter. We had a common agenda: Peace for Liberia Now.

We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today—that our struggle would go down in the history of this world. Rather when confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land, and their future.

There are many examples globally of such struggles by women. I believe that the prize this year not only recognizes our struggle in Liberia and Yemen. It is in recognition and honour of the struggles of grassroots women in Egypt, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Côte d’Ivoire, Tunisia, in Palestine and Israel, and in every troubled corner of the world.

So allow me to pay tribute to some of the giants in women’s continued struggle to be free and equal. This prize is a tribute to:

  • Women of Zimbabwe Arise (WOZA), for their courage in the face of arrest and torture, for remaining the voice and face of the suffering people of Zimbabwe;
  • The Women of Congo, who have endured some of the worst acts of men’s inhumanity to women. The World is well aware that you still endure the horrific sexual violence that is the nature of the endless and senseless war in DRC;
  • Women of Acholi Land in Uganda who in the face of the so-called Lord’s Resistance Army’s continued torture and rape remain advocates for peace and justice;
  • Women of Afghanistan and many other places on earth where in the 21st Century women can be raped and still go to jail or sometimes be subjected to honour killing—this prize is a tribute to your cry for justice, freedom, and equality.

I must be quick to add that this prize is not just in recognition of the triumph of women. It is a triumph of humanity. To recognize and honour women, the other half of humanity, is to achieve universal wholeness and balance. Like the women I met in Congo DRC over a year ago who said, “Rape and abuse is the result of larger problem, and that problem is the absence of women in the decision making space.” If women were part of decision-making in most societies, there would be less exclusive policies and laws that are blind to abuses women endure.

© The Nobel Foundation 2011

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