Leymah Gbowee, Liberian Peace Activist, 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate

The Liberian civil war lasted from 1989 to 2003 with only brief interruptions. Charles Taylor, the ruthless warlord who initiated the first fighting and would eventually serve as Liberian president until he was forced into exile in 2003, was at the center of the conflict. The atrocities he committed against his own population included forcing children to be soldiers, drugging them and arming them with Kalashnikovs, and sending them against their own countrymen.

Much of the violence under Taylor was directed at women, including systematic rape as a weapon of war.

Leymah Gbowee stood up to Taylor. She helped organize an inter-religious coalition of Christian and Muslim women called the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement. Dressed in white, these thousands of brave and visionary women staged pray-ins and non-violent protests demanding reconciliation and the resuscitation of high-level peace talks.

As it grew to massive numbers, the impact of the coalition was enormous, helping to push Charles Taylor into exile, and smoothing the path for the election of Africa’s first female head of state, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.

Gbowee emerged as an international leader who changed the history of her country with non-violent action, at the forefront of a new wave of women taking control of their political destiny around the world.