Leymah Gbowee is one of three recipients of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, founder and president of Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which is based in Monrovia, Liberia. As a peace activist, social worker, and women’s rights advocate, Gbowee was the pivotal person who brought an end to Liberia’s fourteen-year civil war in 2003. This historic achievement paved the way for the election of Africa’s first female head of state, Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, and created awareness that women are uniquely qualified and prepared to bring about peace agreements.
As a young mother and native of Monrovia, Gbowee went about building a coalition of peace. She became a founding member and Liberia Coordinator of the Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET) of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP). As a Christian, she reached out to a Muslim partner to build what became the interfaith movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace (which operated under the auspices of WIPNET). Together, thousands of women demonstrated in weeks long public protests against the war by fasting, praying, and picketing at markets and in front of government buildings. Dressed in white and present in great numbers, day after day, the women were difficult to ignore. These public protests eventually forced Liberia’s ruthless then-President Charles Taylor to meet with Gbowee and her group. These formal peace talks in Accra, Ghana were ultimately successful and brought about a peace treaty and a new government, and it was thanks to her extraordinary tactics that made it happen. In 2006, she co-founded the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-A) in Accra and went on to serve as its Executive Director for six years.
In addition to the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, Gbowee received numerous other awards, including the Blue Ribbon for Peace (2007), awarded by the Women’s Leadership Board of the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University, and the John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award (2009). She was featured in the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, which profiled the attempts of several Liberian women to force an end to Liberia’s civil war. In 2011, Gbowee published her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War, with Carol Mithers.
Gbowee holds a M.A. in Conflict Transformation from Eastern Mennonite University in Harrisonburg, VA. She also received a Doctor of Laws (LLD) honoris causa from Rhodes University in South Africa and the University of Alberta in Canada, and a Doctor Honoris Causa in Specialty Management and Conflict Resolution from the Polytechnic University in Mozambique. In 2013, she was named a Distinguished Fellow in Social Justice, a Visiting Transnational Fellow at the Center for Research on Women and Fellow in Residence at the Athena Center for Leadership Studies at Barnard College. Leymah was honored as a flag-bearer for the opening ceremony of the 2012 Olympic Games in London. She has six children.