Recently so much of our attention has been focused on the stunning political upheavals in North Africa — including, of course, Libya. However, there’s a West African nation in crisis, too. The president of Ivory Coast refuses to leave office even though he was voted out four months ago during an election many hoped would unite a country divided by civil war. Laurent Gbagbo has retained power by deadly force and thousands of people are fleeing the country. According to the U.N., which has a peacekeeping force in Ivory Coast, more than 400 people have been killed, most by Gbagbo loyalists, including seven women who had been gunned down while protesting peacefully a few weeks ago.
Those protesters in Ivory Coast were following a trail blazed by some women in the neighboring country of Liberia. In Liberia a group of everyday women organized. They became powerful peace activists who ultimately played a major role in forcing that country’s brutal dictator, Charles Taylor, into exile into 2003. His exit from Liberia brought an end to 14 years of violent civil war that had forced many young boys to become gun-toting warriors. Taylor’s war crimes trial at the Hague ended just two weeks ago. Now Liberia is run by the first woman to be elected head of state in Africa, and many link her rise back to the success of the women’s peace movement.
Leymah Gbowee worked tirelessly to secure Liberia’s future as a leader of that peace effort. She is featured in the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” — part of the forthcoming PBS series “Women, War and Peace.”
“People tend to think that what was accomplished in Liberia was an overnight thing by the women,” Gbowee told Alison Stewart. “No. We did three years of mobilization. We did three years of sensitization. We did three years of bringing people to understand the agenda for peace. Ivory Coast has been having this problem up and down for a while now. And people are still — especially women’s groups, they’re still divided, based on political lines.”
“When we got back to Liberia after the peace agreement, the first thing that slapped us in the face was we had a whole peace agreement that had one paragraph referencing women,” Gbowee continued. “So if the women of Egypt and the women of Tunisia think that it’s going to come on a silver platter by virtue of the fact that there are videos that show them protesting alongside men, they’ll miss it. They’ve missed the point. They’ve missed everything. It’s now time for them to start their own revolution.”