Leymah Gbowee, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize winner asked recently in her lecture at Dublin City University. She was responding to a question from a student about how to decide which issues to focus on when the world is so broken, with 64 nations currently engaged in civil war, and the conflict in South Sudan, Syria and Iraq accounting for 10,000 deaths per year. Leymah offered the advice to focus on what moves you, what bothers you, what can't you stop thinking about, what makes you so angry that you feel called to speak out about it and to change it? She called for young women and men to become actively involved in creating a more peaceful and just world asking how would you like to be remembered? What will your legacy be? As someone who creates peace, love and compassion; or someone who creates fear and violence? She cited Gandhi, Mother Teresa, Martin Luther King and Mandela as individuals who so passionately believed in their cause that they were prepared to put up with ridicule, isolation and even death threats to continue their important work; all issues she has had to deal with personally.
Leymah Gbowee is a remarkable woman who brought Muslim and Christian women together in 2003 to create the Peace Outreach Project, a nonviolent women's movement instrumental in the cessation of the Liberian civil war. Leymah along with six women wrote and signed an open letter to the press to activate women's solidarity. This action took great courage as they were putting their lives at risk by speaking out publicly against the regime. However, these 'bold women' as they were portrayed in the media at the time, became the leaders of a movement which was critical in ending the war. A documentary titled 'Pray the Devil back to Hell' is well worth watching as it tells the story of the movement and how they pressured different factions to the peace talks to reach an agreement.
Leymah says that nowadays as an international peace activist, travelling around the world often meeting dignatories and powerful decision-makers, an important part of her role is to speak 'truth to power' by saying the words few want to hear, but truths that are necessary if we want to build peace. Yes, she said she sometimes feels overwhelmed by the extent of the violence in the world and particularly violence against women and girls, including 'cultural practices that hold girls back such as forced marriages, child brides, and FGM'. However, whenever she begins to lose hope someone always comes along to remind her of all the goodness in the world and of the importance of her work, to inspire more people to create peace in the world.
I left DCU feeling incredibly inspired and energised after hearing her lecture. Her compassion, integrity and deep concern for humanity deeply moved and encouraged me to take greater action in my work and in my life. So, what keeps you awake at night?
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‘Our lives begin to end the day we become silent about things that matter’ - Martin Luther King Jr.