What a wonderful surprise this morning! It's not every day that I wake up to the news that someone I have interviewed on Interfaith Voices won the Nobel Peace Prize. But it happened today. NPR announced that Leymah Gbowee of Liberia was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for 2011.
I am thrilled for her and for the other winners as well: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen. And I am especially excited that all three are women, honored "for their nonviolent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work."
I have had the privilege of interviewing Leymah, and the honor of presenting her with a Living Legends Award at a local church near Washington, D.C. In person, she is one powerful woman!
Leymah used nonviolent methods to become the key activist in the overthrow of Charles Taylor, the former dictator of Liberia. She organized Christian and Muslim women (not easy, she told me) in massive public prayer "demonstrations" to oust the dictator, end the bloody civil war and bring peace. Her work paved the way for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf to be elected Liberian president.
What struck me most strongly was her story outside the final peace talks in Ghana. Not much was happening, and so the women of Liberia came to Ghana to demonstrate and pray. When a military officer came to arrest Leymah, she asked why.
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"In the name of justice …" he said.
She replied, "How dare you misuse the word 'justice'! I will not hear of it!" And then she began stripping … publicly.
Now that may sound strange to us, but in Leymah's culture, that act is intended to "shame" an adversary. The officer backed off, and the peace talks finally produced results!
Her story is told in a documentary by Abigail Disney (grand-niece of "the" Walt Disney). It's called, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."