Harvard Honors Alumna

Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee, MA ’07, recently received two major awards for her peace work in Africa. In October 2007, she received the annual Blue Ribbon for Peace Award from Harvard University’s John F. Kennedy School of Government. In January 2008, Gbowee was named “Leader for the 21st Century,” an annual award conferred by Women’s eNews based in New York City. “Leymah Gbowee was selected for her work of organizing women in Africa to work toward peace and ending regional conflicts, including the civil war in her native country of Liberia,” says Jennifer Thurston, associate editor of Women’s eNews.

Gbowee is the executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network – Africa, which she helped found in May 2006. Based in Ghana, the network seeks to ensure that women’s concerns are integral to peace and security initiatives in African nations.

Five years ago in Liberia, Gbowee decided to rouse women out of their despair over 14 years of warfare in which family members were “maimed, raped, abused, misused and killed.” Gbowee led Liberian women to refuse to be further manipulated by politicians and warlords and to declare “our children will never again be drugged up and used as sex slaves and killing machines.”

Gbowee organized hundreds of women to carry out 26 non-violent (but dangerous to themselves) protest actions between April and October 2003. Gbowee and her networks also mobilized women across Liberia in the fall of 2005 to help elect Harvard-trained Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as the first female president of an African nation. Liberia is now at peace, slowly rehabilitating itself.