On October 7th, the Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakul Karman, three women who have worked to foster peace and gender equality in Africa and the Arab world. Johnson Sirleaf, the President of Liberia, and Gbowee, a Liberian peace activist, are both featured in the film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which aired on October 18th on PBS as part of the “Women, War and Peace” series.
In addition to an interview clip in which Gbowee discusses balancing advocacy and motherhood post-Nobel Prize, the “Women, War and Peace” website features an excerpt from Gbowee’s memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. In the excerpt, Gbowee recounts the women’s peace protests that led to her finally receiving an audience with then President of Liberia Charles Taylor in order to broker peace:
The three days we had given Taylor to respond came and went. When we heard nothing, we gathered outside Parliament. The president didn’t acknowledge us and we returned to the field. We met at dawn and always started the day with prayers.
The Lord is my shepherd; I shall not want . . .
In the name of Allah, the Beneficent, the Merciful
Praise be to Allah, Lord of the Worlds . . .
When another three days had passed, we notified the press that Taylor’s time was up, and returned to Parliament, filling the parking lot so no one could get in or out. It was pouring that day, and we stood in the rain, not moving, as our clothes clung to us and our signs ran and tore. Local media were filming and photographing, and the Speaker of Parliament came outside, embarrassed by the spectacle. He told the security guards to move some cars so we could stand under a shelter. We refused to move.
Over the next twelve hours the women prayed, preached, sang, and sat together until finally Gbowee was called to meet with President Taylor. As she recalls,
About a week after our trip to Parliament, the Speaker came to where I sat on the field. “I have a message,” he said. “Come to the Executive Mansion on April twenty-third. President Taylor will see you.”
Gbowee’s full memoir, which details her peace work both during and after Liberia’s Civil War, is available from Beast Books, a member of The Perseus Book Group.
This year’s Nobel Peace Prize award has brought renewed attention to the small West African nation of Liberia, and to the work Christian, Muslim, and traditional women did to bring about peace in that country. The “Women, War and Peace” website highlights some of their stories, including Agnes Fallah Kamara-Umunna, who has worked with former child soldiers to foster reconciliation and healing. Kamara-Umunna’s memoir about her work and life, And Still Peace Did Not Come: A Memoir of Reconciliation, was published in March by Hyperion.
In addition to Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which is available in its entirety on the “Women, War and Peace” website, four additional films in the series air this month on PBS, including:
I Came to Testify
The moving story of how a group of 16 women who had been imprisoned and raped by Serb-led forces in the Bosnian town of Foca broke history’s great silence – and stepped forward to take the witness stand in an international court of law.
Three women in Afghanistan are risking their lives to make sure women’s rights don’t get traded away in peace negotiations with the Taliban.
The War We Are Living
In Cauca, a mountainous region in Colombia’s Pacific southwest, two extraordinary Afro-Colombian women are braving a violent struggle over their gold-rich lands.
The capstone of Women, War & Peace challenges the conventional wisdom that war and peace are men’s domain through incisive interviews with leading thinkers, Secretaries of State and seasoned survivors of war and peace-making.
The site also includes video segments and discussion guides for educators.
Find out more about the entire series here.