How a Group of Liberian Women Came Together to End a Bloody Civil War
Liberian, Christian women played a pivotal role in ending the civil war and bringing peace to their country.
Photo credit: The Female Lead. Leymah Gbowee is a Liberian peace activist and winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.
Christmas eve 1989 was when President of Liberia, Charles Taylor, began his bloody rise to power.
Taylor had a private army called the “anti terrorist unit,” who were equipped with missiles, guns and machinery. He was also shameless in recruiting young boys from 9-15 years old to become warlords (often times feeding them drugs).
Taylor told his fighters to raid villages, to take whatever they found and rape anyone they wanted along the way.
One on occasion, the warlords attacked a home where a woman was living with her husband and their 12 year old daughter. They told her husband to lie down on the ground, while they pulled out a long knife to slowly cut his head off, while at the same time another man raped their daughter in plain sight, while the mom had to sing and dance and clap.
Months after that DESPICABLE day, she was still singing and clapping from trauma… and her daughter was pregnant.
The fighters had a need for more and more power. For them, it was simple: get rich to get power… absolute power. And as we all know, there’s nothing more evil than absolute power.
Some people think the civil war was about the hatred between the different ethnic groups and the need to control natural resources, power and money. But there's nothing that should ever make people do what they did to the women and children of Liberia.
“I Had a Dream”
After living through 14 years of a bloody civil war, social worker, Leymah Gbowee said:
“I had a dream. And it was like a crazy dream that someone was actually telling me to get the women of the church together to pray for peace. During my life to live. The dreaming was like warlords kept coming. We do not want to fight. We do want to, we want to invite the other Christian churches to come and let's put our voices together. And we started the Christian women peace initiative.”
When she invited the women in her church to join her in this movement, there was a woman in the crowd who raised her hand to speak.
“I was moved […]. And then I walk out before the church. And I said, praise the Lord. And then everybody said, Amen. So I said, I have a surprise for this congregation. And I say, I'm the only Muslim in this church. I was moved, and then everybody was just there. Oh, hallelujah, praise the Lord, they were so happy that I was there.” - Asatu Bah Kenneth, Assistant Director of Liberian National Police.
Asatu promised the congregation she would encourage Muslim women to join this movement. That’s how the Christian women - along with some Muslim women - joined forces to bring peace to Liberia.
Each respective group put pressure on their religious leaders, who would in turn put pressure on the country’s leaders.
Then determined to catch Taylor’s attention, the women found a strategic point where they would meet together with posters and signs. The fish market. It’s where Taylor would drive by every day with his entourage.
Thousands of women, including internally displaced person’s (IDP’s), stood there under the blazing sun asking for peace as Taylor ignored him in his fancy car.
Everyone would tell these women “you’re going to get killed!” to which they replied “I was fighting for peace.”
In fact, they were so desperate for peace, they even went on a sex strike.
Doing the Unimaginable
The women decided to present a position statement to the government of Liberia. “We are demanding, not appealing” for peace.
They did not want to be seen as politicians or talk about the practices of the government because they knew they could be prosecuted for it.
Instead, they focused on the word “peace.”
When Taylor agreed to meet with the women, they were nervous, agitated and feeling faint - to be expected! They feared the unknown. They knew that even if Taylor smiled at them, the next minute he could have them executed.
As Leymah Gbowee, leader of the non-violent, Christian, women’s movement called, “Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace,” stepped up to the microphone to speak, the rest of the women were praying “Jesus, give her the strength. We rebuke any evil force that will make her weak.”
Speaking into the microphone, Leymah said:
“We ask the honourable Pro Term of the Senate, being a woman is being in line with our cause, to kindly present this statement to His Excellency, Dr. Charles Taylor, with this message from the women of Liberia - including the IDPs.
We are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this thing to secure the future of our children. Because we believe as custodians of society tomorrow our children will ask ‘Mama, what was your role during the crisis?’ Kindly present this to the President of my bureau.”
In the speech, they urged Taylor to go to the peace talks in Ghana. Seeing that popular support rallied behind the women, Taylor agreed to go.
Next step was to convince the rebels - who were also trying to oust Taylor - to go to the peace talks. After months of women showing up at their meetings, blocking their exits until agreements were reached, the Rebels surrendered. They too would attend the peace talks.
The peace talks included other African leaders who urged Taylor to end the war and human rights abuses he was inflicting on his people. Of course the women remained outside the building putting pressure on the political leaders.
On August 10th, 2003, Taylor appeared on national television announcing that he would resign the following day and hand power to the Vice President.
… That’s when rebels realized they had an ally in the women’s movement and leveraged their support.
But the women understood that creating a transitional government didn’t mean it was all done. They began holding negotiation between ALL sides - the rebels, the regime, the United Nations, and the American embassy so that each side would we prepared to meet and productively negotiate with one another.
“We wanted to show members of the transitional government and the rest of the world that we were carefully watching the implementation of the peace agreement… We have some idea about what works and what doesn't works.”
After two and a half years, it all came to an end. On January 17, 2006, Liberia became the first country in Africa to elect a woman President, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The women officially ended the mass action campaign and left the field.
“What Liberian's knew is that if things ever got bad again, we would be back.”
Bitcoin Needs Women as Allies
Like in the story of Liberia’s civil war, women are the biggest victims of war. But they are also incredible agents of change. Within them lies the power to create and sustain peace.
Leymah was able to attract a large group of women to her movement by changing the words she used, referencing stories from the bible that spoke about women’s leadership and duty to society, speaking to women’s intuition, way of thinking, fears and dreams. She literally spoke to women.
As a result, women went from being perceived as weak and irrelevant to powerful allies of the rebel forces.
I believe that what the bitcoin community lacks is having women as their allies. So much of bitcoin’s marketing campaign, the rhetoric, the messaging is appealing to men because it’s about revolution, about fighting and disrupting the status quo (one that women are just now starting to feel a part of).
While bitcoin is a no-brainer for a lot of men, it’s actually alienating to women who do not relate to war-like vocabulary and rhetoric.
Unfortunately, some men will argue “bitcoin is not exclusionary, it’s democratic” to which I say “then how come we’re lacking women? How come women don’t relate or see themselves in this mission? Even when they can do their own research?” Until they see themselves in it, bitcoin is not for everyone.
If we want bitcoin to thrive, then like the rebels, we must see women as our biggest allies.
We must change bitcoin’s messaging for them, share the hard money lesson's we’ve learned, show them the massive disadvantage they hold within the current financial system and how bitcoin serves them. Listen intently to their questions and concerns and address them.
We must show the kind side of bitcoin - that isn’t always about fighting and disrupting and revolting. The one that is about peace. About serving women and children.
(And please, oh please, stay out of the technical aspects of it. We can’t expect all women to understand and be moved by the technology of it).
Finally, until bitcoin has more women involved, it will continue to be a fight between governments and rebels in a bloody civil war that never ends.