We Are Tired of Being Raped.October 20, 2011
This was the chant of the women of Liberia as they righteously demanded a cease-fire to the bloody civil war in their country that took the lives of their families and subjected people to unimaginable horrors. Women and young girls were systematically raped, and killing and torture were a part of everyday life. This brought to mind the memory that, as a young woman, I was slated to serve as a Peace Corps volunteer in Liberia. Due to a coup attempt, I ended up serving in Cameroon, but I remained interested in the fate the Liberian people.
On October 18, I watched part two of Women, War, and Peace, a five-part series that shatters the myth of war as a man’s realm and tells unique, powerful, and tragic stories of how women suffer and prevail during times of war. It is a moving (and at times disturbing) example of the power of grassroots advocacy and how women must be counted in the peace process.
In part two, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” Liberian women, under the leadership of peace activist Leymah Gbowee, bravely took on vicious warlords and the brutal regime of dictator Charles Taylor because after 14 years they were “tired of war, tired of being raped, tired of our children dying.” Gbowee brought Christian and Muslim women together to fast and pray and use nonviolent tactics. She also organized a “sex strike” in the hope that it would encourage the men to stop fighting. She told NPR in 2009, “We didn’t have the power to go to peace talks, so we just thought, what else do we have to lose? Our bodies are their battlefield. Let’s just put our bodies out there because it was just about at that point in time, all of us, the mindset was we need to do something to change the situation if our children must live in this country.” Ultimately, clad in white, they prevailed, and their steady, peaceful demonstrations resulted in Taylor’s exile to Nigeria in 2003. Liberia then elected Africa’s first woman head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The series’ timing couldn’t be more perfect. I was overjoyed earlier this month when, for the first time ever, three women — Gbowee, Liberian President Sirleaf, and Yemeni activist Tawakkul Karman — won the Nobel Peace Prize “for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.” Each woman has made profound efforts to promote peace and women’s rights in their countries. It was a tremendous recognition of the strength and perseverance of women in transforming their countries.
In a recent interview, Gbowee talks about life after winning the prize and notes that she has had little time alone with her college-age son and that she also missed her 2-year-old’s first day at day care. She said, “I know that I am going to continue my advocacy for women’s rights in Liberia and across the globe … but how do I also continue to be that friend for my kids?” A leader and champion also struggles with motherhood and work-life balance.
Be sure to check out part three, “Peace Unveiled,” on October 25.