Finally, pregnant again, Gbowee developed a new resolve. With the help of family, she took her children, left Mens, and imagined a movement of women demanding peace in Liberia. Then she made it happen. By now, Taylor was president, and a second civil war raged. Traveling from village to village, Gbowee began organizing women.
Against all expectations, she persuaded Christian and Muslim women to unite; under her leadership, thousands of women, dressed all in white to symbolize peace, showed up for protests and sit-ins at government meetings. Gbowee writes: “ ‘In the past we were silent,’ I told the crowd. ‘But after so many of us have been killed, raped, dehumanized, and infected with diseases, and watched our children and families destroyed, war has taught us that the future lies in saying no to violence and yes to peace! We will not relent until peace prevails!’”
The women had reason to fear. “There were stories of prison cells behind the Executive Mansion where girls were raped,” she writes. “But to me, there was no choice.”
The women did not let up, and Taylor did not retaliate. He said he considered the women to be his mothers. It was Gbowee’s group that expedited Taylor’s resignation in 2003 and the end of civil war. They got women to register to vote and triumphed when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Africa’s first female president, was elected in 2005.
Gbowee’s work was just beginning. Featured in the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, she now travels the world as executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, meeting with everyone from presidents of three countries to CEOs to community leaders to people living in tiny villages, advocating for women and girls.
Recently, the 39-year-old mother of six (“I love to spoil them,” she concedes) met with Reader’s Digest while visiting New York. Most striking were her warmth, her candor, and her passion for doing more.
Where do you get your courage?
My faith. I have come to one conclusion: All that I am, all that I aspire to be, all that I was before, is by the grace of God. There are so many women in Africa, and outside Africa, who are more intelligent than I am.