GET UP, STAND UP!
It’s easy to romanticise Nobel Peace Prize winners.
We imagine saintly creatures, gliding through war-torn countries exhibiting a dignified, martyr-like grace that we could only hope to emulate if someone slipped us enough Valium to drop a horse. If only it happened so easily.
Leader of peace, Liberia’s Leymah Roberta Gbowee.
Over the weekend, the three female winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakel Karman – received their awards. They were recognised “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work”.
Non-violent doesn’t mean being polite. Non-violent doesn’t mean they donned twin-sets and pearls and trotted off to Parliament House with petitions tucked in their handbags.
These are spirited, brave, complex women. To put it bluntly, these are women who don’t take shit from anyone.
Leymah Roberta Gbowee led a peace movement that contributed to the end of 14 years of almost unbroken civil war in Liberia. That’s no mean feat.
This was a war that saw 250,000 people die. Thousands of women were raped, children were turned into soldiers and warlords ran rampant, massacring people in their hundreds. It was a country of unending violence and terrifying, random attacks.
In the midst of all this, Gbowee started a women’s movement and each day, she and her sister protestors would sit unprotected, in a park, right where their warlord President drove past. They were attempting to annoy him into meeting with them.
I’d be scared I’d annoy him into chopping off my head.
Gbowee’s victory finally came in 2003 at a hotel in Ghana. Liberian government representatives (warlords with fancy titles) and the opposing warlords (warlords wanting fancy titles) were meeting. Gbowee’s women blocked the hotel foyer, ensuring that no-one could get out until the men inside stopped grandstanding and started talking seriously.
When the police arrived and the men upstairs came down with the intention of kicking the women to force them out, Gbowee and the others stood up and threatened to strip naked. In West Africa, a married woman stripping naked in front of you is a terrible curse. (I’m assuming Liberia didn’t get the issue of Vanity Fair with a pregnant Demi Moore on the cover).
Two weeks later, a peace deal was reached. The vicious and corrupt President Charles Taylor was ousted and in 2005, Liberia’s first female president was elected.
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