|Original Artwork: Olaf Hajek Poster Design: PrettyCo|
I had originally intended to post this review earlier this week, but when I went to find a photo of Leymah Gbowee, I learned that today, February 1, is her birthday, so I decided to postpone it for a few days, and make this a combined movie review and shout-out.
I remember hearing a little about the women's efforts in Liberia several years ago, and then again when Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president of Liberia, and the first female head of state of any African country.
I have to admit that I wasn't that involved in the goings on of Liberia, and didn't pay very close attention to what had been happening there prior to the women's actions, or much after. I heard about the atrocities, and when the stories about "blood diamonds" were going around, I wasn't surprised to hear that Liberia was involved with that.
But, other than that, the only thing I knew about Liberia is that it was the country formed by former slaves.
So, when I was at the library last week returning books, and saw this DVD, I checked it out and watched it that night. And rewatched it the next day. And then watched the extra features, which includes an in-depth interview from the Bill Moyer's Journal.
It was a difficult documentary to watch. The war in Liberia was a terrible event, and largely ignored by most people outside of Liberia. It was filled with horrors -- rape, brutal killings and mutilations, starvation, loss, poverty, disease. The civil war had been raging for over a decade by the time Leymah Gbowee formed the Christian Womens' Initiative, which eventually joined forces with Muslim women, and became the group known as the Liberian Mass Action for Peace.
As she explains in the documentary, after working with different programs calling for peace and rehabilitation of youth soldiers, she realized it was going to have to be the women who would bring the country out of the darkness of war, and she started holding meetings with different women's groups. There is footage of her giving a moving speech at a church, where she expresses the exhaustion of the women of Liberia:
We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children. Because we believe, as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, "Mama, what was your role during the crisis?"
But it is the images of the women protesting that are the most moving. They made it a point to wear white, and to be as visible as possible every single day of the war. Their gathering was prohibited, but they met anyway. And they made sure to pick a location that the tyrannical warlord-turned-president, Charles Taylor, traveled daily.
|Liberian women demonstrate at the American Embassy in Monrovia at the |
height of the civil war in July 2003. Photo Credit: Pewee Flomoku
They eventually had enough of a presence in the media that gave them the power to convince Charles Taylor to attend peace talks in Ghana. But, in order to make sure he and the other warlords would actually sign a deal, many of the women also went to Ghana, at great personal expense and danger, to protest the meetings. At one point, they surrounded the meetings and refused to allow the warlords to leave, and even threatened to strip naked to shame them men. According to Gbowee:
Eventually, a peace deal was reached, and the war finally ended. Charles Taylor resigned and was forced to take refuge in Nigeria. The efforts of the women's groups went into getting Ellen Johnson Sirleaf elected, and toward the healing of the nation. Which would be no easy task.
A whole generation of young men had no idea who they were without a gun in their hands. Several generations of women were widowed, had been raped, seen their daughters and mothers raped, and their children kill and be killed. Neighbors had turned against neighbors; young people had lost hope, and old people, everything they had painstakingly earned. To a person, we were traumatized.
Gbowee did not come through the war and peace efforts unscathed. Her post-peace work took its toll on her long-term relationship. She turned to drinking to help deal with the stresses of being separated from her family and working so hard. It wasn't until she saw the fear of her own children at the thought of losing their mother that she stopped drinking.
She now works with different philanthropic organizations and gives public lectures about her experiences.
I highly recommend watching this documentary and the accompanying interviews, as well as pretty much any other videos you can find online. She is an elegant, strong, brave woman, and, in my opinion, the embodiment of a self-rescuing princess.