Gbowee Talks About Winning Nobel Peace Prize

This year's Nobel Peace Prize was awarded to three women for their leadership roles in various non-violent struggles for the safety of women and women's rights. Melissa Block speaks with one of those women: Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. Gbowee mobilized women from disparate ethnic and religious groups to participate in fasting, prayer and even sex strikes, in an effort to bring an end to war in their country.

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MELISSA BLOCK, HOST:

And I'm joined now by one of the three Nobel Peace Prize winners: Leymah Gbowee, the 39-year-old peace activist from Liberia. Ms. Gbowee, congratulations. Welcome to the program.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Thank you. Thank you very much.

BLOCK: I want to talk to you about the roots of your movement of women for peace in Liberia. How did it all start?

GBOWEE: Well, it all started with a crazy dream I had in 2002 that someone was actually telling me to gather the women to pray for peace.

BLOCK: You mean an actual dream?

GBOWEE: Real dream. I lived alone. My kids had moved to Ghana because of the war, so I was lying in my room one of these nights on the floor, and I think I actually left the window open because I needed air. We didn't have electricity. As I lied there, I fell asleep, and it was like I was taking a journey where it was cold. It was rainy. And there was this voice that was actually telling me, Leymah, gather the women of the churches to pray for peace. I woke up shivering, and then I realized I'd left the window open, so rain was actually coming in. But the dream, the voice never left me.

BLOCK: I've seen video footage of these women in Liberia marching in white T-shirts. They were known as market women. Who were the market women, and why are they important?

GBOWEE: Well, these were women who were doing small-scale businesses and these were women who could not really do their trade anymore because of the conflict. And these were the women who were really, really going through the hardest of times. A lot of them were internally displaced. So when the whole act of peace building came up, these were the ones who stepped out and said we will join you. And they really joined us in their numbers.

BLOCK: Ms. Gbowee, I heard you say once that you were terrified when you realized you were leading this mass movement of women in Liberia. Where do you think you got your strength?

GBOWEE: Well, when we - I had never really worked with a group of women up until we started something - the Christian Women's Peace Initiative and the Women Peace Building Network because I grew up with five sisters and I know how we fought and listen to the stories of the fights of women as they started organizations. So I always felt, well, I think I will just stay in a corner working with the men. But when God pushed me into that space of working with women, it was a frightening thought. I cried the first time.

And when we started doing the protests as the women would really there will be issues every day. Some nights, I went to bed and asked God: What did I do to deserve such punishment, working with women? Many days, I will tell them I resign, and many days, they will come to tell me there's no way you can resign. As a leader, you should consider yourself as the garbage bin. You take all of the trash.

BLOCK: Why did it feel like a punishment?

GBOWEE: Because some days we planned to do an activity, if it was successful, no one gave me a pat on the back. If it failed, you have almost 50 women abusing me. So you have all of these conflicts.

BLOCK: There was a key moment in April of 2003 when a huge crowd of women went before then-President Charles Taylor, the brutal dictator of Liberia, and you were at the front. You handed out a resolution for peace. And I want to play you some tape. This is you from the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."

(SOUNDBITE OF DOCUMENTARY, "PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL")

GBOWEE: The women of Liberia, including the IDPs, 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.

BLOCK: Tired of war, tired of running, tired of our children being raped. Ms. Gbowee, can you describe that moment, what that felt like for you?

GBOWEE: It was a defining moment. The women had a sterile statement, and I call it sterile because it was all neatly done. They didn't want to offend Taylor, that they had (unintelligible), and they wanted me to read. And there was this firm warning from them: don't do anything that would get us arrested, don't do anything to put us in trouble. After I read that statement, I felt like I won't be doing justice to myself, justice to the many women who had suffered as a result of the war.

If I didn't make a point of saying that these were the things that were going through, these were our everyday experiences, and I felt like I needed to say something beyond that statement to make Taylor understand that we're tired and we're fed up.

BLOCK: That's Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, who shares this year's Nobel Peace Prize. She's in New York on tour for her book "Mighty Be Our Powers." Thank you and congratulations.

GBOWEE: Thank you very much.

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