In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech on Dec. 10, 2011, Leymah Gbowee called on women around the world “to unite in sisterhood to turn our tears into triumph, our despair into determination and our fear into fortitude.”
Gbowee, the leader of a women’s movement that helped end 14 years of warfare in Liberia in 2003, earned a master’s degree in conflict transformation from the Center for Justice and Peacebuilding at Eastern Mennonite University (EMU) in 2007.
“In many societies where women used to be the silent victims and objects of men’s powers, women are throwing down the walls of repressive traditions with the invincible power of non-violence,” Gbowee told listeners at the Nobel Peace award ceremony in Oslo, Norway, including EMU president Loren Swartzendruber in row 27.
“Women are using their broken bodies from hunger, poverty, desperation and destitution to stare down the barrel of the gun. This prize has come at a time when ordinary mothers are no longer begging for peace, but demanding peace, justice, equality and inclusion in political decision-making.”
Swartzendruber said he found Gbowee’s speech to be “inspiring and passionate.” His host in Norway, international peace scholar Peter Wallensteen of Sweden, felt similarly, calling it “powerful.” Gbowee asked for a moment of silence for women who have recently died while working for peace, including Dekha Abdi of Kenya.
Gbowee and Abdi last met when they joined 18 other women peacebuilders from nine countries in June 2011 to discuss whether EMU should host an educational program tailored to women working for justice and peace around the world. As a Kenyan-Muslim woman of Somali ethnic origin, Abdi was known for her peace skills and interventions throughout East Africa. She was a former student and instructor at EMU’s Summer Peacebuilding Institute under its Center for Justice and Peacebuilding (CJP).
“In collaboration with CJP graduates and partners, we have determined that women peacebuilders will indeed benefit from a program focused on the distinctive needs, skills and strengths of women,” said CJP executive director Lynn Roth. “We will be launching this program in our 2012 Summer Peacebuilding Institute.”
Also attending the ceremony from EMU was Joshua Mensah, a sophomore, who is Gbowee’s first-born child.