Normally, I am not drawn to reading memoirs, but this was a selection of my book club and once I began reading it I could not put it down. It’s an amazing chronicle of a girl who became a woman during a devastatingly brutal and long conflict, the second Liberian civil war of 2003. Leymah Gbowee gives an incredibly intimate account of her personal struggles as a young mother who was a victim of domestic abuse. She loses most of her material and emotional support as the lives of family and friends are taken by the war. She finds a way, where there is no way; to take care of her children, get a college education abroad and return home to Liberia to organize a women’s peace movement to end the reign of a ruthless president and his crazed war lords. The memoir’s subtitle, How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, clearly outlines the strategies used by the Liberian Mass Action for Peace, a coalition of Christian and Muslim women.
Gbowee realizes as her life has been ravaged by the war, so it is true for all the women of Liberia. The women bear the scars and the load of the protracted war. She becomes a grassroots social activist, building coalitions among women’s organizations to finally end the conflict. Intertwined with the narrative about the women’s movement, she tells her life story. She unflinchingly shares her personal shortcomings as a parent, sister and lover while simultaneously sharing the triumphs of her efforts to return peace to her country. I found myself cheering her on when she was knocked down and continuously being amazed at how resilient she was in overcoming the obstacles in her path. The speed at which she and her allies learned from their experiences and were able to apply that learning to effect change was astoundingly impressive.
Ms. Gbowee was the co-recipient of the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011 with her ally Ellen Johnson Sirleaf the current President of Liberia. The former Liberian president Charles Taylor was sentenced in 2012 to spend 50 years, most likely the rest of his life in prison by the international war crimes court The Hague. We can all draw inspiration from Leymah Gbowee when we ponder if anything can be done about what’s wrong in our communities and in the world.
“Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed people can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” – Margaret Mead.