Alumna of the Year 2011: Leymah Gbowee

On Oct. 7, 2011 Leymah was jointly awarded the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for her work mobilizing women to prayerfully protest and end the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003.

But well before that honor, someone clicking onto the Wikipedia entry for Leymah Gbowee on June 28, 2011, would have found these opening sentences:

“Leymah Roberta Gbowee is an African peace activist responsible for organizing a peace movement that brought an end to the Second Liberian Civil War in 2003. This led to the election of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in Liberia, the first African nation with a female president.” Need more be said about why Leymah was chosen as EMU’s Alumna of the Year?

But there is more, as Jan Jenner, director of the Practice & Training Institute of EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding(CJP), recounted in nominating Leymah for this latest honor: During the war in Liberia, Leymah became the director of the Woman in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET). Calling for mass action for peace, women sat in front of the State House and other key places in Liberia’s capital, Monrovia, for weeks, eventually forcing a meeting with then-president Charles Taylor, urging him to stop the war.

Mr. Taylor did agree to attend peace talks in Ghana. Leymah and many other women followed Taylor to Ghana, constituting a group of Liberian women who applied pressure on the warring factions to arrive at peace terms.

Leymah is currently heading the Women, Peace and Security Network Africa, a women’s organization in Ghana that builds relationships across the West African sub-region in support of women’s capacity to prevent, avert and end conflicts.

Leymah’s work is an incredible example of what civilians can do to influence the political and military systems during war. Leymah credits EMU/CJP with giving her the ability to understand and articulate her work, and many more skills for continued peacebuilding across Africa.

Leymah earned a diploma in social work at a Liberian university. In 2007, she completed her MA in conflict transformation at EMU. The mother of six, Leymah has been a leader in the Lutheran
Church of Liberia and, while studying at EMU, was active in Muhlenberg Lutheran Church in Harrisonburg. Leymah’s eldest son, Joshua “Nuku” Mensah, entered EMU as a freshman in the fall of 2010.

Peacebuilding honors

Leymah has received multiple honors, including:

  • The Blue Ribbon for Peace by Harvard’s Kennedy School of Government (2007)
  • Recipient of Women’s eNews award for “Leaders of the 21st Century” (2008)
  • The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award, which she accepted on behalf of her countrywomen (2009)
  • The Gruber Prize for Women’s Rights, honoring an individual who has brought about significant advances in the quest for peace and gender equality in Africa (2009)
  • Named by Newsweek as one of the “150 women who shake the world” in an edition marking the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day (2011)