Women in White


Liz Waid and Ryan Geertsma tell about women who joined together to work for peace in war-torn Liberia. An award-winning film tells the story of these women.

Transcript


Voice 1

Welcome to Spotlight. I'm Liz Waid.

Voice 2

And I'm Ryan Geertsma. Spotlight uses a special English method of broadcasting. It is easier for people to understand, no matter where in the world they live.

Voice 1

This song is from a new, award winning film called "Pray the Devil Back to Hell." This documentary tells the true story of how a group of women in Liberia, Africa changed history. These women worked together to help end fourteen years of civil war. And, they did so through non-violent methods.

Voice 2

Liberia is a country on the West coast of Africa. It was established in 1847 by former slaves. The country enjoyed peace until 1980, when the military overthrew the government. This event began a troubled time in Liberia's history. Between 1989 and 2003, Liberia experienced two long civil wars.

Voice 1

During the first civil war in Liberia, many things like electricity, water and telephone systems were destroyed. People lived in poor conditions and many lost their homes. But the most terrible part of the war was the violence people experienced almost every day.

Voice 2

Liberia's second civil war began in 1999. At this time, Charles Taylor was president. He had been elected by the people in 1996. However, soon after the election, he became a dictator. The citizens of Liberia were angry. So a group named Liberians United for Reconciliation and Democracy, or LURD, rose up against Taylor's government. The two groups fought for many years. But neither LURD nor Taylor's army acted with honor. Both sides murdered innocent citizens, forced women to have sex and trained children to fight.

Voice 1

Leymah Gbowee is one of the main people in the film "Pray the Devil back to Hell." She was seventeen when the first civil war began. During that war, she tried to forget about the fighting. She did not want to be involved in social matters. But she saw suffering and violence all around her. So, during the second war, Leymah worked with ex-child soldiers from Taylor's army. She provided them psychological help by talking with and listening to them. Many of these ex-soldiers had done terrible things. However, she began to recognize that even they were victims of the years of war and violence.

Voice 2

One night, Leymah dreamed about gathering a group of women together to pray for peace. The next day, she decided to do just that. She began by gathering groups of Christian women that supported peace. They met together and prayed at a local fish market in Monrovia, Liberia. The group prayed for three things - for the fighting to stop, for peace talks to begin, and for international forces to aid the process.

Voice 1

There were also many Muslim women that supported peace in Liberia. Leymah recognized that the peace movement would only work if Muslims and Christians worked together. So, Leymah's Christian group joined with a Muslim women's peace group. Together they formed Liberian Mass Action for Peace. The women continued to gather, pray, hold peaceful signs, and speak out for peace. Many of the women also refused to have sex with their husbands until they stopped fighting.

Voice 2

Soon many more women had joined the group. They could not fit in the market. So, they met at a local airfield where airplanes used to land. Every time the women gathered, they all dressed the same. They wore a traditional African wrap called a lappa, white shirts and white head coverings. They wore no make-up on their faces and no jewellery or other signs of wealth.

Voice 1

The women dressed this way to show their unity. People could not tell if the women were rich or poor, educated or uneducated, Muslim or Christian. The women looked like any Liberian mother, sister, daughter or wife. The people started to call the group "the women in white." Their faith and desire for peace became known all over the country. And many Liberians supported them. After the war, Leymah spoke about the gatherings. She said,

Voice 3

"Our faith became the light of our movement...  Lying flat on our stomachs with our backs to the sun, not eating and praying. It was a position that a lot of people did not understand... We wore clothes of mourning for six months while seeking God's face and carrying out different peace actions... We became the hope in a hopeless situation."

Voice 2

Many women left their jobs and families for days at a time to gather. It was difficult. However, they knew that if the war continued, they would have no jobs or families left to care for.

Voice 1

Mass Action for Peace also planned peace marches. They used radio, television and newspapers to spread their message. They even met with leaders of Taylor's and LURD's armies to ask them to attend peace talks.

Voice 2

Finally, their plan began to work. In 2003, members of both Taylor's and LURD's armies met in Accra, Ghana for peace talks. However, the talks did not begin well and the war continued.

Voice 1

Mass Action for Peace decided to send a group of women to the peace talks in Ghana. They were not able to take part in the talks, but they wanted to be present. They believed that their gathering would help the leaders remember that the people of Liberia wanted peace.

Voice 2

The group stood outside the building where the peace talks were being held. For many days they gathered in the rain and sun. When it seemed like no progress would come from the talks, the women decided to join arms. They surrounded the building and said they would not let anyone out until the leaders agreed to stop fighting.

Voice 1

This action made the leaders angry. They sent a messenger to change the women's minds. But the women would not move. In fact, Leymah decided it was time to do something extreme. She threatened to take off her clothes if the leaders did not order their armies to stop fighting.

Voice 2

This action may seem strange. However, in Liberian culture, when a woman takes off her clothes in public, it means two things. First, it is a sign of great sadness, pain and loss. Secondly, this act brings great shame and trouble to those around.

Voice 1

It was Leymah's extreme act that finally caused the leaders to order their soldiers to stop fighting. This did not end the war completely. The rest of the peace process took time and was not easy. But the two armies made a peace agreement and the war finally ended.

Voice 2

The "women in white" played an important role in bringing peace to Liberia. However, their story was never told by the international press. Very few people outside Liberia knew their story before the film "Pray the Devil Back to Hell". In fact, the film's producer said,

Voice 4

"I decided that just this once it may be possible to lift these women up into the light and force the world to give them the respect that they deserved."

Voice 1

The writer of this program was Robin Basselin. The producer was Ryan Geertsma. The voices you heard were from the United States and the United Kingdom. All quotes were adapted and voiced by Spotlight. Computer users can visit our website at http://www.Radio.English.net. This program is called "Women in White."

Comments


humble71's avatar
humble71
said on March 12, 2010

It is interesting to hear about faith events in Africa.  I think about the human being is difficult to understand and why do these people prefer to fight for many years. is it possible the mind is working bad ? or men don’t have sixth sense like women..and they took the risk to pray in an unsafe environment. It’s a good lesson for everyone around the world to protest against governments that abuse of the power.
Thanks ..I knew something about Liberia..

Avatar Spotlight
vanha
said on September 20, 2011

Thanks ! I love peace and hate war .The most wonderful woman….!!!!!!!!!!!

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alegría
said on September 20, 2011

When the women get together for a specific objective, they do not get rest until the achievement of the goal, as we heard in this amazing peace programme.
Thanks Spotlight for share Liberia’s peace story.

Robin Basselin's avatar
Robin Basselin
said on October 07, 2011

Congratulations to Leymah Gbowee!  Today, she was one of three women awarded the Nobel Peace Prize.  The three women were awarded the prize for “...their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”