An Interview With Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee

Novel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee speaks with Reader's Digest in an exclusive interview.

Interview by Dawn Raffel from Reader's Digest | October 2011

Yet something gave you the courage to step outside your desperate situation. Somehow a door opened for you.
There was one incident when I heard my son say to my mother that he was afraid of his dad. I was angry at myself for allowing my children to see abuse. From that moment, I made a vow that I would protect them, and I would not be trapped. Even now, as we speak about women’s rights, I know that my daughters will benefit even if I don’t. Every time I look around, that promise I made to my kids, “I will protect you,” emboldens me.

I’m fortunate to go into communities and see the reality. I’m fortunate to go back to governments and tell them that reality, and I’m fortunate to go to the international level and say, “Whatever you think you’re doing is not touching this group of people.”

When I go to the United States—I’ve been to quite a few schools in the Bronx and Brooklyn—I know there are issues, things that make people say, “You need to speak up. And speak up real loud.” But first and foremost is my faith. Every time, before I’m going to speak, I say a prayer. I feel like this is a ministry.

And the reason this book is important to me is that I’m hoping that tons of copies can be sent back to Africa for women and girls so they can know what’s doable. And I want to send this book to Minneapolis, where many young Liberian girls went as immigrants. And I want to take it to Congo.

What role do you feel women might have in the Middle East following the Arab Spring?
I’m disappointed with the women in the Middle East. They joined the protests, and when they won the first phase, they retreated. For example, in Egypt, when Mubarak left, they all went back home. On March 8 [International Women’s Day], they went to Tahrir Square to protest, and then [when they were harassed] they backed down.

I think that should have emboldened them to protest even further because the one thing I know about changing the dynamics of any country, especially as it relates to women’s issues: No one can do it for you. An Iranian activist said to me, “You are so right about your analysis of Egypt. When the revolution took place in Iran and we saw how women were treated, we told ourselves, It’s just going to last for two weeks. What we see is a total degeneration of women’s rights in Iran because we failed to take action immediately.”

That’s exactly what’s happening in Egypt, in Tunisia. Women have stepped out of the space too early. I think they needed a continual protest to continue to say, “We’re here, we’re part of this thing.” They should not look to Hillary Clinton or the United States. It is up to them to chart a course for themselves.

Are you ever afraid?
Sometimes. My most frightening moment was on March 23, when we went to protest in Nigeria on behalf of the women of Ivory Coast. I was afraid not for myself but for the women out in the streets, thinking about the latest wave of street-side attacks. My colleagues got passes to go into the conference center where the presidents were meeting [for an international conference on West Africa]. My conscience would never allow me to sit inside while the women outside were in danger, so I joined the protest.

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