On Sunday, January 20th, we completed the second day of our “Nobel Women’s Initiative” delegation to Liberia in West Africa. I am privileged to be here with three women Nobel Peace Prize Laureates: Mairead Maguire from Ireland who won the Peace Prize in 1976, Jody Williams from the USA who won is 1997, and Dr. Shirin Ebadi from Iran who won in 2003.
We are being hosted in Liberia by President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Leymah Gbowee both from Liberia and who both won the Nobel Peace Prize in 2011. We are accompanied by several key women activists, several women philanthropists, a documentary film making team, and members of the International press. The purpose of our delegation is to amplify the voices of women facing violence, especially sexual violence, and injustice in Liberia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC).
Following these days in Liberia, we will be joined by women from the DRC and Sudan and travel to Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to the Organization for African Union to bring these serious issues to the international community, the policy makers, and the media. Liberia has been through three unspeakably brutal wars and the country is now in a huge transitional process to a peaceful democracy under the leadership of Africa’s first female President in history, Nobel Laureate President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. Although there is tremendous progress for the first time in decades, the wounds of war are still fresh and yet to heal. Former combatants, victims, and former child soldiers are just beginning the long road to rehabilitation. Poverty is deep and harsh. Rape and sexual violence against women and girls continues to tear apart the fabric of life.
In these first few days we have been inspired, confronted, heartbroken, uplifted, devastated, and blown away by the strength of the human spirit and the Liberian people’s capacity for joy. We spent most of the first day in Rock Hill, a rural community where 20,000 people are desperately poor, break huge rocks into small rocks for a living, and all share one meager water pump, yet greeted us with cheering and singing and dancing that moved us to tears. We returned to the capital, Monrovia, and had dinner with dignitaries, including the US Ambassador, the Police Chief, the head of security, the special representative to the Secretary General of the UN, the head of UN Women, and many other leaders– while top Liberian Musicians performed incredible music for us and we all danced together into the night.
We attended a deeply moving church service this morning in the very location where 600 men women and children were massacred with guns and machetes in 1990. We then met with Liberian trauma and healing professionals all afternoon who shared the monumental and complex task they face every day in healing their people from years and years of trauma. We met with people from the stymied Truth and Reconciliation Commission. Tonight we met with six incredibly strong and brave Liberian women who are at the forefront of stopping the rape and sexual violence in their country. They each told stories that reached deep into our soul and that we will never forget. We are shaken to our core and at the same time we are in the presence of nearly unbelievable strength, determination, and spirit.
It is such a privilege to be with the Nobel Women Peace Prize Laureates as they listen to person after person after person with incredible depth, heart, and commitment. They are simply amazing and we are learning so much from them and from each other as well.
I am filled with awe and gratitude.