2011 Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee calls herself “a local girl with a global platform.” Leymah is not only an inspiration to women in Liberia; she is a role model for women around the world. Her leadership was clearly demonstrated last month in Sri Lanka, where she met women’s groups from throughout the country working on peace, security, and development.
Leymah’s trip was organized by the Association of War Affected Women, in collaboration with Columbia University's Institute for the Study of Human Rights and Peace is Loud, a non-profit founded by filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney.
Inspired by Leymah, Sri Lankan women adopted the Sri Lankan Women’s Agenda on Peace, Security, and Development, which Leymah helped launch during her visit to Sri Lanka from July 16 to 18, 2012. The Sri Lankan Women’s Agenda assesses the urgent security, equality, and economic concerns of Sri Lanka’s war-affected women, three years since the end of the Sri Lankan civil war, which was fought between the Sri Lankan goverment and the insurgent Tamil Tigers, and which lasted for 26 years. It also offers policy and program recommendations to the government of Sri Lanka on a gender-sensitive approach to the country’s recovery and rebuilding processes. These include implementation of recommendations on women outlined in Sri Lanka’s Lessons Learnt and Reconciliation Commission (LLRC) and fulfilling its obligations to the Convention on the Elimination of All Forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW) and UN Security Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security.
Her visit was the culmination of several months of consultations with women from all of Sri Lanka’s war-affected districts to gather information on women’s security and safety, women in decision-making, women and development, and rebuilding, recovery and reconciliation.
During her visit, Leymah, along with Disney, participated in a press conference, met with female diplomats, women’s groups, and Colombo-based civil society. She also served as key note speaker for the Conference in Kandy to launch the Agenda, which she presented to the Government of Sri Lanka’s Senior Minister Tissa Vitarana.
Her meetings were both a cause for celebration and exchange. In Kandy, Leymah met with Team 1325, a network of women activists from all 25 provinces working to increase women’s representation in the political process in Sri Lanka. The women saw a screening of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, the award winning documentary on Leymah’s experience leading the women’s peace movement that ended Liberia’s second civil war. The screening was followed by dancing to celebrate the contribution of women to Sri Lanka’s peaceful future.
In each meeting, Leymah urged the women of Sri Lanka to work together across party, ethnic and social lines to transform their Agenda from “another beautiful document” into reality. She declared, “Wars and violence have no boundaries and if women continue to put boundaries between and amongst themselves, they will never achieve peace.”
Indeed, Leymah’s work as a women’s rights activist has no boundaries. The Agenda and Leymah’s approach to political mobilization and post war stabilization in Liberia and West Africa are transferable to other countries that are emerging from violent conflict. As Sri Lankan women stand together to implement this Agenda, she will continue to stand beside them as a source of inspiration for Sri Lanka and the world.
Danielle Goldberg is Program Coordinator of the Program on Peace-building and Rights at Columbia University’s Institute for the Study of Human Rights.