As a young woman, Leymah Gbowee was broken by the Liberian civil war, a brutal conflict that tore apart her life and claimed the lives of countless relatives and friends. Years of fighting destroyed her country — and shattered Gbowee’s girlhood hopes and dreams. As a young mother trapped in a nightmare of domestic abuse, she found the courage to turn her bitterness into action, propelled by her realization that it is women who suffer most during conflicts — and that the power of women working together can create an unstoppable force. In 2003, the passionate and charismatic Gbowee helped organize and then led the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women who sat in public protest, confronting Liberia’s ruthless president and rebel warlords, and even held a sex strike. With an army of women, Gbowee helped lead her nation to peace — in the process emerging as an international leader who changed history. Now she’s sharing this year’s Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemen’s Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman. Her just released memoir, “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War (Beast Books, $25),” is the gripping chronicle of a journey from hopelessness to empowerment that will touch all who dream of a better world.
Gbowee, who also serves as Newsweek and The Daily Beast’s Africa columnist, recalls how war ravaged Liberia. When Gbowee realized it is women who bear the greatest burden in prolonged conflicts she began organizing Christian and Muslim women to demonstrate together. Gbowee’s part in helping to oust Charles Taylor was featured in the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell.”
“Modern war stories often resemble each other, not because the circumstances are alike but because they’re told the same way,” explained Gbowee. “Commanders are quoted offering confident predictions of victory.. male diplomats make serious pronouncements. And the fighters — always men, whether they are government soldiers or rebels, whether they are portrayed as heroes or thugs — brag, threaten, brandish grisly trophies and shoot off their mouths and their weapons. It was that way in my country, Liberia. During the years that civil war tore us apart, foreign reporters often came to document the nightmare. Read the accounts. Watch the video clips. They are all about the power of destruction. Bare-chested boys on foot or in pickup trucks fire enormous machine guns, dance crazily in wrecked city streets or crowd around a corpse, holding up a victim’s bleeding heart. But look more carefully, at the background, for that is where you will find the women. You’ll see us fleeing, weeping, kneeling before our children’s grave. Our suffering is just a sidebar to the main tale.”
Gbowee, who co-wrote her memoir with journalist Carol Mithers, is a single mother of six, including one adopted daughter, and is based in Accra, Ghana.