Peace Prize winner Gbowee says faith helped in peace campaign

October 19, 2011

New York

One of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winners, Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian activist who helped bring her country out of a brutal civil war, said on Oct. 7 that the best way to achieve global peace is to start in local communities.

“It is time for us to do justice in our communities ... one day the world’s problems will meet you at your doorstep,” she said at the Interchurch Center in New York. Coincidentally, she had been scheduled to appear there at an event organized by the National Council of Churches (NCC) when the prize was announced.

Gbowee, citing the examples of peace and justice campaigners such as the Rev. Martin Luther King Jr. and Archbishop Desmond Tutu, said she does not believe it is possible to practice non-violent action without some connection to a higher power. “My faith has really helped me,” said Gbowee, a member of the Lutheran Church in Liberia.

The Nobel committee announced on Oct. 7 that Gbowee, Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemen’s Tawakkul Karman, who leads opposition to dictatorial President Ali Abdullah Saleh, would share the prize. Faith groups around the world hailed the recognition of activists for justice and women’s rights.

Gbowee, who organized a group of Christian and Muslim women to challenge Liberia’s warlords, was honored for mobilizing women across ethnic and religious dividing lines to bring an end to the long war and to ensure women’s participation in elections. She trained as a trauma counselor during the war and worked with former child soldiers. The Liberian civil war ended in 2003, and Johnson Sirleaf was elected.

Speaking of Johnson Sirleaf, Gbowee said every time “she sees me coming, she’s weary” because “I always say, ‘Madame President, you need to do this, this, this.’” But, Gbowee added, “We have a good professional relationship, like mother and daughter.”

Gbowee, who was slated to return to Liberia following the reception, was in the U.S. to promote her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changes a Nation At War.

Her story will also be featured in a documentary, “Women, War and Peace,” premiering Oct. 11 on Public Broadcasting Service (PBS) stations nationwide.

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