Women Key in Making Peace

Women Key in Making Peace
Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee and Women’s Division head Harriett Jane Olson chat after Ms. Gbowee’s speech at the Interchurch Center.

When the Norwegian Nobel Committee announced three women were the 2011 winners of its prestigious peace prize, United Methodist Women leaders in New York City for the Women’s Division’s semi-annual meeting Oct. 7-10 joined women peacemakers the world over in jubilation and a collective, “Finally!”

So did Leymah Gbowee of Liberia who, along with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen, shared this year’s Nobel Peace Prize for “nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”

Ms. Gbowee spoke at the Interchurch Center, the home of Women’s Division offices and where division directors met, to promote her book Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changes a Nation At War Oct. 7, the day the Nobel Peace Prize winners were announced. Ms. Gbowee was honored for her leadership in organizing women in civil protests that included celibacy and led to negotiations that ended Liberia’s 14-year civil war — and ushered in the election of President Sirleaf, Africa’s first woman president.

“The first thing that came to my mind was, ‘Wow, finally an acknowledgement that, first, we [women] are the ones that bare the greatest brunt of all of the world’s conflicts,’” Ms. Gbowee said, sharing her initial reactions to the news she and two other women had received the award.

“Secondly, that we have unique skills and talents that can be used. Thirdly, that whatever we’ve done from North to South, East to West has been recognized as a good thing. Finally, this award is a loud call that no more can we negotiate peace and leave 50 percent of the world’s population out. There is no way we can do Iraqi peace talks without women. There is no way that Afghan-istan can be a success story without the involvement of women.”

Ms. Gbowee’s words sound the same cry as the resolution on Afghanistan that Women’s Division is presenting to the General Conference of the United Methodist Church meeting in Tampa, Fla., April 24-May 4, 2012. That resolution calls for complete withdrawal of U.S. and NATO troops from Afghanistan; an immediate unilateral cease-fire, including drone strikes, in Afghanistan and Pakistan; and peace talks that include Afghan women in all negotiations in a substantive way.

Ms. Gbowee shared Liberian women’s story of crossing lines of religion and tradition to work for peace, an experience that illustrates the importance and validity of the Speaking Out for Compassion and Against Hate resolution that Women’s Division is also bringing to the General Conference.

Ms. Gbowee said Liberia’s women’s peace movement leaders had to first bring the nation’s Christian and Muslim women together.
“You may think that the problem was getting the Muslim women, but it was Christian women who said, ‘What fellowship has light with darkness?’” Ms. Gbowee said quoting some Christian women who mistakenly thought the 2 Corinthians 6:14 verse barred them from working with people of other religions, even for the good of their nation. “One woman said, ‘I had a dream, a vision that a Muslim woman was trying to kill me!’ We told her, ‘Your vision is a lie!’ We had to tear down walls of ‘us’ and ‘them.’”

Ms. Gbowee described an exercise they used to help the Christian and Muslim women unite for peace. They met with the Christian women and the Muslim women on separate days and asked each group to write down all of the stereotypes, negative and positive, that they had about the other group. On the third day, they let the women, still separated, view the lists of stereotypes.

“They said, ‘Oh, my God! Do they really think that about us?” Ms. Gbowee said. “One of the things the Muslim women admired about the Christian women was that they had one husband and didn’t have to share their husband with other wives. When the Christian women saw that, they said, ‘Uhm.’ So it was tearing down all those walls, all those words demonizing a group of people so you’re not looking at individuals anymore, you’re looking at a thing.”

Ms. Gbowee, a Christian, said the experience taught her that peacemaking is spiritual work. “You have to have a connection with a higher power,” she said. “To look at an enemy, smile and still tell them the truth, you have to go back and kneel down to someone and say, ‘In my own strength, I cannot do this.’”

“Women, War & Peace”

United Methodist Women members previewed much of Ms. Gbowee’s story and the peacemaking work of Liberian women at the 2010 Assembly screening of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary produced by Abigail Disney and featured in her new five-part PBS series “Women, War & Peace.”

Ms. Disney showed the trailers for the series when she addressed Women’s Division directors Oct. 8. She said the series aims to lift the voices of women who’ve lived through wars because movies, games and other fictional depictions of war often make people think they know more about conflict than they actually do.

“If you have a house to house fight, where are the women? They didn’t disappear,” she said. “Take the camera away from Rambo and give it to a woman. … When you take the camera and give it to a woman, that John Wayne thing melts away, and it’s just not pretty. It’s no way to resolve conflict and make peace.”

Ms. Disney said she showed “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” to women in several war-torn areas, and they had a singular response during discussions that followed the viewings: “After 20 minutes some woman would stand up and say, ‘What are we going to do about it?’ You could set a watch to it.”

Ms. Disney urged people to view “Women, War & Peace” in groups and discuss the films and ways to work for peace. Discussion guides are available on the documentary’s website under “screenings.”

Yvette Moore is editor of response.


Posted or updated: 11/30/2011 11:00:00 PM
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