BHM: Historical figure - Leymah Gbowee

October 18, 2019

Written by Evie.

All views are Evie’s.


Leymah Gbowee was born on 1st Feb 1972 in Monrovia, capital of Liberia. The first Liberian civil war broke out when she was just seventeen years old, and from then on, she describes herself as becoming accustomed to constant fear. She fled from her home to a refugee camp in Ghana. She later trained as a trauma counselor, working with individuals who had fought as child soldiers during the war. A second civil war began in 1999 and brought brutality and abuse to the citizens of Liberia. She mobilised a coalition of Christian and Muslim women, which became the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.

Gbowee explains how she motivated these women; by coming together and using their anger at the atrocities for good. She describes how the women were united because they all carried some form of pain from their experiences of the war. When they had shared their stories with one another, such as Gbowee’s experience of the refugee camp, this created a bond between them which kick-started the movement.

Thousands of these women held various non-violent forms of protests. When President Charles Taylor promised to attend peace talks to end the civil war, he expected an appearance from the Women of Liberia Mass Action For Peace. He instructed his soldiers that should any women approach and wish to see him, he would only see them if there were more than twenty-five women. Gbowee approached the soldiers and informed them that there were many more than twenty-five women, and contacted them. Thousands of women came to protest, wearing white t-shirts to symbolise peace. Charles Taylor said that he would see ten of these women in his office, but Gbowee insisted that he should come outside and speak to all of the women assembled since it was all of their concerns. Eventually, Gbowee’s continuous pressure led Taylor into exile and led the way for the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, the first elected female head of state in Africa.

Gbowee won a Nobel Peace Prize for her campaign and continued to travel internationally to campaign for peace, and for women's rights in post-war states. She travelled to Tripoli, where she heard horror stories of the experiences women had and was invited to a women's’ convention, where her speech encouraged Libya to become the first Arab state to make rape a war crime.

Gbowee founded a Peace foundation, which provides educational opportunities to girls and young women in West Africa.

Gbowee is a particularly important figure because of her strength in using peaceful methods to combat war and suffering, despite all the horror that she has faced. She shows that women can be united, regardless of religion, and has tirelessly continued to campaign against injustice after her Nobel Peace Prize. Her bravery and sheer determination are incredibly inspiring.

Her story is particularly important, as unfortunately the inspirational lives of black women from African nations can be overlooked by conventional Western history. It is crucial that her legacy lives on and is appreciated, as hopefully, the lives of other inspiring leaders from BAME backgrounds are. She is a fitting example for Black History month 2019’s focus on ‘Women of Achievement’.