From the rising dust of women’s feet scampering for safety lay dead seven courageous women who had been shot dead on 3rd March 2011 during a peaceful march in Abobo, Abidjan, to protest the violent political situation in Cote d’Ivoire. The country had suffered unrest, killings, displacements and sexual assaults as a result of the refusal of the then President of Cote d’Ivoire, Laurent Gbagbo to accept the results of the 2010 elections declaring the then opposition leader, Alassane Ouattara as the winner in December 2010. (See also Global Voices Online: http://bit.ly/qQXUwo; West African Women Statement: http://bit.ly/qrqoUS; Solidarity Statement to the Women of Cote d’Ivoire: http://bit.ly/qtWOB3)
Leymah Gbowee, Gender and Peace activist had to do something to bring about justice for the women who died. And to help restore peace to Cote d’ Ivoire and in fact the whole West African region which was undergoing elections in different countries from 2010 – 2012. Leymah through her organisation WIPSEN-Africa, joined forces with other civil society organisations and women groups (e.g. WACSOF – West African Civil Society Forum, Alliances for Africa, Market Women’s Association, NCWS – National Council of Women Societies and WAWA – West African Women Association) in West Africa, to organise a peace walk during the summit of the ECOWAS (Economic Community of West African States) Heads of State in Abuja on 23 – 24 March 2011.
The 1000 women march brought women (and a few men) from across West Africa; Benin, Cote d’Ivoire, Ghana, Liberia, Nigeria, Sierra Leone, Togo to Abuja, Nigeria. The march took place on 23 March 2011 to call for an end to killings and restoration of order and peace to Cote d’Ivoire. Through the influence of key stakeholders including the President of Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, representatives of women at the march were granted observer status to enable them present our petition calling for justice and peace during a session at the ECOWAS summit.
The heads of State committed to peacefully intervening in the political crisis in Cote d’Ivoire and to find ways to discourage violence during elections especially as West Africa was going to experience a number of elections in the next two years. (See also: West Africa: Women Protest Ivorian Situation: http://bit.ly/n0fMY2; ECOWAS Summit: West African Women Protest Ivorian Situation: http://bit.ly/qyJ3eN)
Leymah’s passion and activism is contagious. She has been a good example for many of us trying to find our space in the human rights movement. Her tireless efforts to ensure that women have a place on the governance and security agenda of their countries particularly in Liberia and Sierra Leone is commendable.
The 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recognises Leymah Gbowee of Liberia together with President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen as three outstanding women peace activists “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work” (Nobel site: http://bit.ly/obyFqt)
I am very proud that by their achievement, our advocacy for inclusion of women in peace-building and conflict resolution mechanisms and institutions has gained momentum. I am glad that by winning the Nobel Peace Prize the number of women Nobel Prize winners has increased. I am also excited about the opportunities available for progress in their respective regions as a result of global attention to their work and vision.
The decade 2010 – 2020 is the African Union declared “African Women’s Decade (AWD)” which is an opportunity to improve gender equality and women empowerment in Africa; to address important issues affecting women’s rights; and to recognise the contributions of women in the home, community and country (http://bit.ly/o40ZQ3). While we mourn the death of Wangari Maathai (2004 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate) who was buried today in Kenya, we are consoled that two other mothers of Africa, our sisters Leymah and President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf would continue to carry the torch for African Women and motivate us to be the best that we can be against all odds.