2011 – Leymah Gbowee, Liberian Peace Activist
The Liberian civil war lasted from 1989 to 2003 with only brief interruptions, the result of economic inequality, a struggle to control natural resources, and deep-rooted rivalries among various ethnic groups, including the descendants of the freed American slaves who founded the country in 1847. Child soldiers, armed with lightweight Kalashnikovs, were used against the country’s civilian population. Charles Taylor, the ruthless warlord who initiated the first fighting and would eventually serve as Liberian president until he was forced into exile in 2003, was at the center of the conflict.
Much of the violence was directed at women, including systematic rape as a weapon of war.
Leymah Gbowee helped organize an interreligious coalition of Christian and Muslim women called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. Dressed in white, these thousands of brace and visionary women staged pray-ins and nonviolent protests demanding reconciliation and the resuscitation of high-level peace talks. The impact of the coalition was enormous, helping to push Charles Taylor into exile, and smoothing the path for the election of Africa’s first female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
Gbowee emerged as an international leader who changed history, at the forefront of a new wave of women taking control of their political destiny around the world.