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Liberian women's protest
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June 19, 2009

The JOURNAL profiles Leymah Gbowee, a woman who led her fellow countrywomen to fight for and win peace in war-torn Liberia, and Abigail Disney, who produced the documentary of their struggle and triumph in the award-winning film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL.

For 15 years Liberia was gripped by civil war between the government of the corrupt and ruthless Charles Taylor, and warlords battling to overthrow him. More than 200,000 people had been killed and one out of three were made homeless.

Leymah Gbowee and her countrywomen were so desperate they decided to try and put a stop to the fighting. Armed with only a simple white t-shirt, they took to the streets knowing they could well be beaten and killed. They became "the market women," cajoling the fighting men and employing a tactic so old it was once used by the women of ancient Greece: No peace, no sex.

Ultimately, Charles Taylor was toppled from power and banished from Liberia. The country then elected a new president, the first woman head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

  • Find out more about Liberia's history
  • Find out more about Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
  • Find out more about women and peace movements

    Leymah Gbowee
    Photo by Robin Holland Leymah Gbowee was a 17-year-old girl when the war first came to Monrovia. As she says, she turned, "from a child into an adult in a matter of hours." As the war dragged on, Gbowee had difficulty focusing on anything but her thwarted opportunities to go to college, and out of bitterness she dodged any political or social involvement. But as time wore on she came to see that it would be up to the citizens of Liberia, especially its women, to bring the country back from the insanity of civil war. She trained as a trauma counselor and worked with the ex-child soldiers of Taylor's army. The more she worked with them the more she came to see that they too were victims.

    Gbowee joined the Woman in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) and quickly rose to leadership thanks to her leadership and organizing skills. She brought all the women of the Christian churches together into a group called the Christian Womens' Initiative and began issuing a series of calls for peace. Soon she formed a coalition with the women in the Muslim organizations in Monrovia and eventually Liberian Mass Action for Peace came into being.

    Under Gbowee's leadership the group managed to force a meeting with Charles Taylor and extract a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. She then led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process.

    Gbowee has since been awarded the Blue Ribbon for Peace by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She also has been chosen as a recipient of the 2009 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award. In July 2009, the Celebrate Africa 2009 committee will honor Gbowee and WIPNET during their annual celebration in Philadelphia at the African–American Museum.

    Gbowee is currently building Women, Peace and Security Africa, a women's organization in Ghana that will act to build relationships across the West African sub- region in support of women's capacity to prevent, avert and end conflicts. She serves as executive director of the organization.

    Abigail Disney
    Photo by Robin Holland Abigail Disney is the producer of the Oscar-shortlisted PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL. She is also a philanthropist, business woman, and community activist who has a long history of work in support of women's leadership and peace building internationally. Disney is the founder and president of the Daphne Foundation, a progressive, social change foundation that makes grants to grassroots, community-based organizations working with low-income communities in New York City. She recently retired as chair of The New York Women's Foundation, of which she was a board member for over 14 years.

    Disney serves on the boards of the Roy Disney Family Foundation, the White House Project, the Global Fund for Women, and the Fund for the City of New York, as well as the advisory boards of a broad range of organizations working in the areas of poverty, women's issues, education and environment.

    Pray the Devil Back to HellWhen the groundbreaking periodical MS. Magazine was in danger of extinction, she worked with Gloria Steinem and a group of other passionate investors to form Liberty Media for Women to secure the fate of MS. magazine for future generations. Disney also acts as vice chair of the board of Shamrock Holdings Incorporated, a professional investment company.

    The Film

    PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL follows its US theatrical run with a worldwide screenings tour this fall. Beginning in September, hundreds of community organizations around the globe will show the film in celebration of the UN's International Day of Peace. The film airs next spring as part of "Women, War & Peace" on PBS's WIDE ANGLE, and will be released on DVD this fall with copies currently available for educational and institutional screenings. For more information please visit

    Lynn Sherr
    Photo by Robin HollandAward-winning journalist Lynn Sherr joined ABC's 20/20 as a correspondent in May 1986. She has covered a wide range of stories, specializing in women's issues and social changes, as well as investigative reports. Prior to her assignment at 20/20, Sherr was a national correspondent for ABC NEWS since 1982 and a general assignment correspondent since 1977. Lynn Sherr has been reporting on Libera for the PBS program WORLDFOCUS. Also for PBS, Sherr hosted the special "Tall Blondes" for NATURE, about giraffes and wrote a book of the same title.

  • Lynn Sherr's WORLDFOCUS reports on Liberia
  • More about Lynn Sherr from ABC
  • "Tall Blondes" on NATURE

    Guest photos by Robin Holland

  • Related Media:
    FBI Congo messengerWomen, War & Peace
    PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL will be shown in its entirety as part PBS's WIDE ANGLE's Women, War & Peace series. The four-part series will focus on women's strategic role in the post-Cold War era, where globalization, arms trafficking, and illicit trade have intersected to create a whole new type of war. On the WIDE ANGLE site you can view an interview with producers Abigail Disney and Gini Reticker.

    In 2006, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was inaugurated Liberia's first elected female president and Africa's first freely elected female head of state. Johnson Sirleaf has appointed an unprecedented number of women to leadership positions in all areas in the Liberian government. With the exclusive cooperation of President Sirleaf, IRON LADIES OF LIBERIA goes behind the scenes of this groundbreaking administration during its first year, as it works to prevent a post-conflict nation from returning to civil war. You can watch the film on YouTube.

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    References and Reading:
    Also This Week:

    The JOURNAL profiles Leymah Gbowee, a woman who led her fellow countrywomen to fight for and win peace in war-torn Liberia, and Abigail Disney, who produced the documentary of their struggle and triumph in the award-winning film PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL.

    From the arrival of freed U.S. slaves through civil war and beyond.

    View a photo essay of women's peace movements around the globe.

    Where do women stand in terms of political power? And, find out more about Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

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