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Photo credit: Michael Angelo for Wonderland


Leymah Gbowee

Founder and Executive Director, Women Peace and Security Network - Africa (WIPSEN-Africa)


Keynote Presentation: Rebuilding a Failed State - One Woman at a Time


Leymah Gbowee was a 17 year-old girl when the war first came to Monrovia. As she says, she turned "from a child into an adult in a matter of hours." As the war dragged on, Leymah had difficulty focusing on anything but her thwarted opportunities to go to college, and out of bitterness she dodged any political or social involvement. But as time wore on she came to see that it would be up to the citizens of Liberia, especially its women, to bring the country back from the insanity of civil war. She trained as a trauma counselor and worked with the ex-child soldiers of Taylor's army. The more she worked with them the more she came to see that they were too were victims.

Leymah joined the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) and quickly rose to leadership thanks to her leadership and organizing skills. She brought all the women of the Christian Churches together into a group called the Christian Women's Initiative and began issuing a series of calls for peace. Soon she formed a coalition with the women in the Muslim organizations in Monrovia and eventually Liberian Mass Action for Peace came into being.


Under Leymah's leadership the group managed to force a meeting with Charles Taylor and extract a promise from him to attend peace talks in Ghana. She then led a delegation of Liberian women to Ghana to continue to apply pressure on the warring factions during the peace process.  The work of the group is the focus of the documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell”.


Leymah has been honored by multiple organizations. She has been awarded the Blue Ribbon for Peace by Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and in May 2009 she accepted the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award on behalf of her countrywomen. In addition, Leymah has won the 2009 Gruber Women's Rights Prize which honors an individual who has brought about significant advances in the quest for peace and gender equality in Africa. In July 2009, the Celebrate Africa 2009 Committee honored Gbowee and WIPNET during their annual celebration in Philadelphia at the African–American Museum.


Leymah is currently building Women, Peace and Security Network Africa, a women's organization in Ghana that will act to build relationships across the West African sub-region in support of women's capacity to prevent, avert and end conflicts.

For more information about Liberia and Leymah Gbowee, see this PBS link.