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In 2005, the Liberian people elected their first female president made possible in part by the new voter registration of more than 7,400 women and women’s newly found places of leadership through the courageous networks formed in peacebuilding (Bekoe & Parajon 2007). This paper will present a case study of courageous women in Liberia.
Peacebuilding can be understood in terms of identity. This gives women a particular advantage in playing a role in the peacemaking process since, as Afshar (2003) notes, “When women themselves take charge of their own identity, they often celebrate motherhood as a harbinger of peace, an experience that could bridge the gap between women across wide religious and national divides.” Women use their common identity as family nurturers to bring stability to their communities as Hunt and Posa (2001) found “they can predict the acceptance of peace initiatives, as well as broker agreements in their own neighborhoods.” Women are forced to be creative in their approach and work in nontraditional ways when faced with the reality of being denied access to formal peacebuilding and leadership positions. Furthermore, Geuskens (2010) found, “Whether working within their own faith communities or engaging in multi-faith dialogue, women of faith are often among the first to engage in peacebuilding efforts.”
In 2003, Christian and Muslim women in Liberia worked together for peace to bring an end to the Second Liberian Civil War. Bekoe & Parajon (2007) from the U.S. Institute of Peace write, “Their efforts reveal how well-coordinated grassroots movements can establish more inclusive peacebuilding practices.” Liberian women were in a unique position to act with courage as objective intermediaries in confronting the rebel leaders and bringing a quicker end to the disarmament process. One of the woman leaders and 2011 Nobel Peace Prize recipients, Gbowee (2011), shared her experience on the need for women in bringing about peace in Liberia, “I think the positioning of women, based on their understanding of the context, the situation, and the individuals makes them the most likely people to solve problems here.” The grassroots movement led to the creation of the Liberian Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), a network joining the Christian Women’s Peace Initiative and the Liberian Muslim Women’s Organization.
The courage of the Liberian women to model leadership of peace and form a network gave them a place at the formal peace negotiation table. The Liberian Peace Agreement specifically addressed the need for women in bringing peace by stating, “members of the Governance Reform Commission 'shall include women' and that members of the National Transitional Legislative Assembly shall come inter alia from women's organizations” (Chinkin & Charlesworth 2006). Geuskens (2010) records, “Anyone involved in the Liberian peace process made sure to always consult the women activists, as their activism had rendered them a lot of credibility among the population and the warring factions.” Since women’s courageous peacebuilding efforts in Liberia in 2003, women have experienced a new level of political involvement and status.
Women’s involvement in peacebuilding traditionally occurs indirectly and informally at the grassroots level. However, as research has shown, women can have “the most powerful voices for moderation in times of conflict” (Hunt & Posa 2001). This phenomenon during times of conflict is described by Chinkin and Charlesworth (2006) when “women become interested in the goal of social transformation rather than restored dependence and subordination.” Such is the case for women in Liberia between 1999-2003. In 2005, the Liberian people elected their first female president made possible in part by the new voter registration of more than 7,400 women and women’s newly found places of leadership through the courageous networks formed in peacebuilding (Bekoe & Parajon 2007). It is a time for women to step into leadership with courage creating a pathway to direct and formal leadership that did not exist prior. This case study demonstrates how collective courage arising from networks aligned to accomplish a shared goal can create social change.