Liberian peace activist shares thoughts on women’s movement during lecture at Florida college

BY SAMUEL JOHNSON
SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee is engaging as she urges for community outreach. On Sept. 17 at Eckerd College in St. Petersburg, the Liberian winner of the Nobel Peace Prize spoke to students, staff and residents about the global women’s peace movement. Her demeanor – calm, erudite and deliberate – belies her deep passion.

Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee speaks at Eckerd College on Sept. 17 as part of the school’s Presidential Events Series.(SAMUEL JOHNSON/SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER)
Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee speaks at Eckerd College on Sept. 17 as part of the school’s Presidential Events Series.
(SAMUEL JOHNSON/SPECIAL TO THE FLORIDA COURIER)

Gbowee is a world-renowned peace activist. She regularly travels the globe conferring with diplomats and politicians about women’s rights and peace initiatives. Gbowee was instrumental in bringing and end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

In her memoir, “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex Changed a Nation at War,’’ she describes, among many things, her personal struggles as an African woman. She also chronicles the challenges of forming a peace coalition of Liberian woman, both Muslim and Christian. This coalition was to stand up to the warlords of her country. For her efforts, she later won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 with two other women.

A mother’s insight
Gbowee is adamant that curbing urban plight, like drugs and guns violence, can only be accomplished by utilizing the social resources of women and mothers within that community. Gbowee says that any mother could point out the ringleaders.

Unfortunately, she reflects, “The socio-political space is not conducive or is not prepared well enough for their engagement.” There are old, deep-rooted stereotypes, which view women as the ‘weaker vessel.’ This is what prevents the input of women at the national and community level, she said.

Gbowee further explains the need for enriched socio-political involvement of women as she compares statecraft to motherhood: “Imagine your parents’ house as the nation, you and your siblings as…(citizens)…. Though your father is the president of that nation, your mother is the community organizer – is the leader.” The mother is, thusly, the one who has a finger on the pulse of the nation just like at home when the mother is acutely aware of things like her daughter’s sexual activity or her son’s drug use.’’

Burden and blessing
She sees the notoriety as a female African Nobel Laureate more as a challenge and an obligation. To her, the honor bestowed upon her is also a moral burden. She is compelled to be the voice to those unheard when conditions are “not right.”

Often people come to her with situations of injustice of which she admittedly, has “no clue about.’’

This sometimes ratchets up the pressure and causes her to experience sleepless nights. Moreover, when Gbowee is in North America or Europe she is keenly aware that she is the representative of millions of Africans and African women.

All of the anxiety is offset by the good feeling Gbowee gets when she receives awards from people and groups in Africa. These people, she says, know that she is doing her “tiny best” for Africa.

Separating one’s own ego from the task at hand can be daunting, she admits. Shortly after winning the Nobel Peace Prize she spoke with fellow Noble Laureate Desmond Tutu about that conflict. Gbowee recalls that Tutu told her generosity of spirit makes men great and when it’s always about the other it makes men even greater. This principle she continues to use to help her focus on helping others.

Samuel Johnson, a Tampa Bay-based journalist, wrote this story for the Florida Courier.

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