Leymah Gbowee

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Leymah Gbowee was born on 1 February 1972 in central Liberia, as one of the four daughters born to her parents.

She had a normal childhood and dreamed of becoming a doctor in future.

She had freshly graduated from high school and was looking forward to attending the university in 1989 when the First Liberian Civil War broke out and catapulted the country into a period of uncertainty and violence.

Leymah Gbowee won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 for her part in ending Liberia’s civil wars, and for her efforts to promote peace, democracy and women’s rights in Africa.

She grew up in Monrovia, Liberia’s capital, and was a witness to the horrors of war as a teenager and young mother.

She was a social worker in Liberia in the late 1990s, but fled to Ghana and in 2001 earned a degree from Mother Patern College of Health and Sciences.

While in Ghana, Leymah Gbowee got involved with peace activists, and by 2002 she was a leading member of the Women in Peacebuilding Program (WIPNET) and the West African Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP).

Leymah is best known for leading a nonviolent movement that brought together Christian and Muslim women to play a pivotal role in ending Liberia’s devastating, fourteen-year civil war in 2003.

This historic achievement paved the way for the election of Africa’s first female head of state, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

It also marked the vanguard of a new wave of women emerging worldwide as essential and uniquely effective participants in brokering lasting peace and security.

Leymah was appointed its spokesperson and led the women in weeks-long public protests that grew to include thousands of committed participants.

Leymah led the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace participants in public protests that forced Liberia’s ruthless then-President Charles Taylor to meet with them and agree to take part in formal peace talks in Accra, Ghana.

She led a delegation of women to Accra, where they applied strategic pressure to ensure progress was made.

At a crucial moment when the talks seemed stalled, Leymah and nearly 200 women formed a human barricade to prevent Taylor’s representatives and the rebel warlords from leaving the meeting hall for food or any other reason until, the women demanded, the men reached a peace agreement.

When security forces attempted to arrest Leymah, she displayed tactical brilliance in threatening to disrobe – an act that according to traditional beliefs would have brought a curse of terrible misfortune upon the men.

Leymah’s threat worked, and it proved to be a decisive turning point for the peace process.

Within weeks, Taylor resigned the presidency and went into exile, and a peace treaty mandating a transitional government was signed.

In October 2007, the Women’s Leadership Board at Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government honored Ms. Gbowee with the Blue Ribbon Peace Award.

This annual award is given to individuals and organizations that have made a significant contribution to peace-building through innovative strategies that promote women’s leadership in peace processes on the local, national, or international level.