Peace Movements

“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.”

If it were not for her total faith in God, Gbowee would not have been so successful in her pursuits. By bringing together Muslim women and Christian women, Gbowee attempted something that was never really considered before. Because they all believed in the one God, they were able to work together for peace in Liberia. If it had not been for the devoted Muslim and Christian women who stayed steadfast throughout the whole course of the strike, they might not have been as successful.

She also calls God a “higher power.” She believes that with God you can do something to change your situation. In an interview with Odyssey Networks, Gbowee said: “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.”

And her faith was needed because without it, she would not have made it so far as she has…

Two of Leymah’s children had lived their whole lives in a war-stricken Liberia. And, when Leymah was 5 months pregnant, she and her children had to leave for her parent's house and walk 7 hours to get there. At this point in Liberia, there was an enormous gap between the rich and the poor, which is one of the reasons why the Wars began.

Now… How did it all Begin?

On Christmas Eve 1989, the First Liberian Civil War began. At that point, Leymah was still a teenager. The First Liberian War ended in 1997, when Charles Taylor was elected President of Liberia.

Then, in 1999, the Second Liberian Civil War began. This is where Leymah’s story really begins. President Charles Taylor had organized a small unit of 975 boys to deal with Al-Qaeda and carry guns around the streets. This was the president’s anti-terrorist unit. The country was in a state of terror. This is when Leymah gathered a group of Christian Women at her church, and started a Peace Initiative of Christian women, even welcoming Muslim women to help. While the army mobilized for war, and war lords with guns roamed the streets, even the countryside was being taken over. All people went to Monrovia in campsites. Here many young girls were raped, but the women who were working with Leymah still held hope.

So they decided to protest and rally so that they would be noticed. They based what they planned to do on Esther from the Bible, and all that she stood for. They wore white T-shirts to show their desire for peace and sat at a fish market in the dry heat for weeks on end. 2500 women were part of this White T-shirt Campaign. They declared that “Women of Liberia Want Peace Now,” but everyday cars and convoys would pass them without notice. They started a sex strike, spending most of their time in the same spot, singing for hope, and making the men pray for peace too.

And then the time came when rebels had finally attacked the camp where their families were. It was time. Things were getting worse. So Leymah went to the Capitol and presented a statement of peace to the government. But President Taylor would not come. Parliament stayed in session for 12 days until he agreed to meet with them. Finally, on April 23, 2003, he finally agreed. She wanted to secure the future of her children, and she was getting closer. Women were sent to Ghana to get refugees involved, and to further their cause, while meanwhile peace talks went on and on in Ghana. There was a summit of African leaders there.

It was announced over the radio that Taylor was indicted for war crimes, and he was arrested.

Taylor fled to Liberia, and war broke out in Monrovia. But the peace talks continued. And Leymah never lost hope. She went around and talked to all of the delegates. The women sat by the doors of the room where the leaders negotiated. They would not budge for 6 weeks and even beyond; they refused to go until peace was found. This was the last chance for LIberia. The missile, which went off in the American Embassy Compound on July 21, 2003, gave them even more reason to stay put. When the women threatened to start the sex strike again and keep the delegates confined, an agreement was soon reached two weeks later. Taylor was in Nigeria. On August 4, 2003, peace keeping troops were brought to Liberia.

The women of theWhite T-shirt campaign returned home in triumph. The children followed them around for miles. Leymah was no doubt bursting with happiness.

Upon return, Leymah began to campaign for the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf as the 1st woman president of Liberia. In fact, when she won, she became the first women president of any country in Africa. While Leymah worked with ex-child soldiers for a while, she began to heal herself too.

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