Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex changed a Nation at War

Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex changed a Nation at War

Gabrielle Walsh

Liberia: How Christian and Muslim women prayed the devil back to hell

How Sisterhood, Prayer and Sex changed a Nation at War
by Leymah Gbowee with Carol Withers
(Beast Books, 2011, 260pp, $35.00, ISBN: 9780732294083

DVD directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail Disney, $15.00. (Available from Freedom Publishing)

Leymah Gbowee and two of her colleagues received the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for organising Christian and Muslim women to stop the bloody civil war in Liberia which had raged intermittently from 1988 to 2003.

This book and documentary DVD tell the story of how Leymah Gbowee's prayer and protest movement stopped the war.

Many will know the background to the war in the West African nation of Liberia from the Hollywood movie, Blood Diamond. It tells the story of Sierra Leone and Liberia being torn apart by warlords who used forced labour to mine diamonds to buy weapons and drugs for their many youth and boy soldiers. High on drugs and heavily armed, these young soldiers from all sides of the conflict were raping women and killing and maiming the innocent for almost 15 years.

Unlock the silence

In 2002, Leymah Gbowee, who had been a trauma counsellor working with ex-boy soldiers, was, in a dream, moved to rally the women of her Lutheran church to pray for peace and unlock their silence.

Asatu Bah Kenneth, Assistant Director of the Liberian National Police, came to the church, said she was inspired by Gbowee's calls for prayer for peace. The church cheered Alleluia when Asatu said she would bring her Muslim sisters in to join the pray for peace campaign.

It proved difficult to work with both groups, so a communal workshop was organised with both Christians and Muslims together as women. The women spoke of their experiences in the war and bonds were forged.

All the women agreed that a bullet doesn't pick or choose it can kill both Christians and Muslims.

Their movement inspired around 3,000 women to sit at Monrovia's fish market every day dressed in white to symbolise peace. Liberia's President, Charles Taylor, drove past the demonstration each day on his way to work.

Charles Taylor was embarrassed, but the women refused to be intimidated by him.

Eventually, in April 2003, a group of these women took a statement to the parliament, where Taylor agreed to meet representative of the protest group. A few months later, he agreed to go to peace talks; soon after, the rebels also agreed to hold talks.

In June 2003, peace talks began in nearby Ghana. By August a ceasefire was in place, and a transitional government functioning by October.

The book is largely biographical telling Leymah Gbowee's story of how she built her women's movement, and how they advocated and negotiated with the country's most powerful, even by refusing sex to their menfolk as a tool to bring home the serious demands for peace in Liberia.

In the book, Gbowee refers to Kenyan author and mentor, Hizkias Assefa, an expert in conflict and reconciliation, who says that reconciliation between victim and perpetrator, is the only way to really resolve conflict. Assefa says that this is the main tool in successful conflict resolution, especially civil conflict in the modern world, otherwise, "both remained bound together forever, one waiting for apology or revenge, the other fearing retribution". Assefa claims there are four dimensions in the path to true reconciliation: you must be reconciled with God, with yourself, with the environment and with the person you offended.

Moving around, visiting displaced persons camps, speaking with the marginalised and abused, Gbowee and her followers handed out fliers with the words: "We are tired! We are tired of our children being killed! We are tired of being raped! Women, wake up - you have a voice in the peace process!"

Gbowee and her movement raised the voices of desperate women to be heard against the destructive and powerful elites in Liberia. The key to their success in the grassroots campaign was prayer in both the Christian and Muslim communities, commencing in Monrovia and ultimately motivating women in other countries in Africa and across the world.

Power of prayer

Critical to the success of her movement was prayer. Gbowee said the Christian women invoked Psalm 121 while the Muslim women, organised with the help of Asatu Bah Kenneth, invoked the Qur'an 1:1-7.

Working across religious and political boundaries, this story is a wonderful testament to a movement that was driven by ordinary women. It is a robust example of what can be achieved when understanding replaces rejection and division, and religion is seen as a vehicle for progress rather than disintegration.

This book tells a story that all women must heed. It is a story of standing up and confronting those who are destroying families, men and women, boys or girls, Christians and Muslims.

Leymah Gbowee presents an outstanding example of leadership in the face of insurmountable odds.

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