Our Strength Comes From Our Bitter Past, Liberian Women Say
“We can’t forget our past, because its taste is still bitter in our mouths,” says Leymah Gbowee, one of Liberia’s most prominent human rights activists, who remains at the forefront of efforts to ensure that women occupy increasingly prominent positions in her society.
Gbowee is the executive director of the Women’s Peace and Security Network for Africa, based in Accra, Ghana, and was a commissioner-designate for Liberia’s Truth and Reconciliation Commission. She was instrumental in securing peace in the country after decades of instability and brutal conflict.
In the late 1990’s and early years of the present decade, Gbowee was one of the leaders of an unprecedented groundswell of female activism in West Africa, which many in the international community have credited with ending the war that killed an estimated 200,000 people.
Carla Koppell, of the Initiative for Inclusive Security in Washington D.C., agrees. She visited Liberia last year and was seated at a function alongside Vice-President Joseph Boakai. Koppell says she asked him for his views on the role that women played in getting peace in Liberia.
“He said: ‘Well, at a minimum I can tell you peace would not have come with the speed that it came, without the women; they were the ones that gave the negotiations impetus and a motor.’ He stopped necessarily short of saying that it wouldn’t have come at all (without the women). But he was absolutely open in giving a great deal of credit to the women’s movement in Liberia for bringing about peace.”
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