Nobel winner Leymah Gbowee speaks out on peace, women, and leadership
Leymah Gbowee's Women Peace and Security Network Africa came out of her confrontation with Liberian warlord Charles Taylor. Now she's sharing this year's Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemen's Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman.
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The first benefit is debunking all of the stereotypes about women’s involvement in political processes. The second benefit is this renewed energy: Women’s involvement in these processes creates a sense of hope that we are moving away from the old order and we are going toward a new order. I have seen that in a lot of these communities when these women rise up and decide, ‘This is the way I want it to go.’Skip to next paragraph
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Thirdly, the other thing I have seen is just the mere fact that women are stepping out of their traditional roles, it creates a sense of urgency with political leaders. You see that anxiousness from the male counterparts, that, "We have to do something, or else it is going to be taken from us."
In 2003 you went before then-President Charles Taylor to call for peace in Liberia and for women's involvement in the peace process. How do you think progress for including women in peace processes has evolved since then?
I haven’t really seen a big change … progress has been really, really slow. You’d think that we have more women mediators, more women at the negotiation tables, and the general assumption is the
UN has done it over and over, and it would be getting it right, but I haven’t really seen that yet.
You still have women advocating for their involvement at the peace table and then you wonder, "Do they really take any of these recommendations seriously?" There have been some little, snail-paced strides they have made in terms of bringing stronger legislation against rape and sexual violence, and you could see now more special requests being made for women in the UN missions. So those kinds of little things you see, but there is still a lot more that could be done.
What would it take to accelerate progress? Another massive sit down strike?
We as women activists, globally, really ... need to sit down as a constituency and say, "This is where we are, this is where we want to go in the next two, three years." The language we need to speak should be the same at every level from Europe to Africa to America.
Liberia is the first African country to have a female president [Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, also a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipient]. Do you think this positions Liberia a leader for other African countries?
A female president within herself doesn’t change institutionalized patriarchal structures. We still have more men in parliament, we still have more men at the ministerial level. And you also need to remember one thing, because we still have an educational gap – for the past 14 years of war women did not predominately sit in the space of learning. So we still have those challenges we need to overcome.
When you went to see Charles Taylor, you were just in your early 30s. What was going through your head at that moment?
Pure, raging anger.... [I thought] "This one man, this one person, is responsible for the death and destruction of so many people and is responsible for the backwardness of this country. This one man, he sits here without any remorse, and I have to make this statement right because I may never have this chance to tell him off again."
Did he look you in the eye?
He had on dark glasses.
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