On March 3, hundreds of women gathered to protest peacefully in Ivory Coast to end the political stalemate and the worsening security situation. Unarmed, chanting peacefully. What were they thinking?
I guess they thought since women in Liberia protested peacefully and contributed to the end of their war, which was bloodier than theirs, they were in a better position to demand peace to preserve their beautiful country. But it ended in bloodshed, with more than six sisters paying the ultimate price.
On March 11, the United Nations Security Council said it was about to impose sanctions against incumbent Ivory Coast president Laurent Gbagbo, his wife and top aides. Gbagbo has refused to cede power although the African Union recognises that Alassane Ouattara won the Nov. 28 election and is the country's legally elected president.
As I watched the video of the women's protest on CNN, I recognised how similar their dress, songs, and chants for peace were to ours when we protested in Liberia years ago. They were dressed in modest costumes - head-ties, some white T-shirts, palm branches and no jewellery.
Muslim and Christian women hand in hand, marching together for peace. I said to myself, as I watched those women, this could have been me, Sugars, Asatu, Vaiba and Etty … Except that these were our neighbours - women of Ivory Coast.
These were the same women we danced with less than two years ago, when we lobbied Ivory Coast's first lady, Simone Gbagbo, for peaceful elections and a peaceful settlement to all elections-related conflict. She promised us that she and the women of Ivory Coast would ensure that peace prevailed.
Even as I write this piece, I can't help but wonder how Simone Gbagbo is feeling as she watches her husband Laurent gun down her own sisters, mothers, and grandmothers? I recalled her proudly showing off her granddaughter to a group of us she hosted during our campaign for a peaceful election in Ivory Coast.
How can she sleep, eat and play with her grandchildren when her husband is responsible for other children losing their mothers, grandmothers, and aunties?
I am at a loss as to how to engage Ivory Coast now. My heart weighs me down as I see the price for peace get higher, more fatal and more complicated in West Africa, especially for women who are determined to champion the struggle for a just and lasting peace.
Six of our peace activist sisters have been gunned down in Ivory Coast, apparently in an effort to destroy women's resolve for peace. But Laurent Gbagbo and his killers failed to realise just one thing - the women of Ivory Coast are not alone.
They belong to a wider, more determined army of women peace activists in West Africa and across the world. He and his heartless killers will not escape justice for the lives of those women and the thousands they continue to gun down in an effort to cling to power. Women of West Africa are determined to rise to the occasion.
I call on all sisters to break the silence on Ivory Coast. The time is now to rid yet another West African country of a tyrant and a psychopathic leadership.
This 100th anniversary year of International Women's Day should go down in history as the clarion call to all sisters. We must mourn for the sisters we lost, but our mourning should not be the sorrow of the victims and the vanquished. It must be tears of courage, tears of indignation.
This roadblock on our journey for lasting peace, democratic freedom and civility must be removed collectively. And it must end in our triumph.
The Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN Africa), together with other regional and Nigerian women's rights groups, will organise a march of 1,000 women on March 23 at the opening of the heads of state summit in Abuja to pressure leaders to speak collectively and with strength on the Ivorian situation.
By Leymah R. Gbowee, executive director, Women Peace and Security Network Africa, Accra, Ghana
Leymah Roberta Gbowee is a founding member and former coordinator of the Women in Peacebuilding Programme/West African Network for Peacebuilding (WIPNET/WANEP). Gbowee organised collaborative peace-building initiatives for a network of women peace builders from nine of Liberia's 15 counties, and also served as the commissioner-designate for the Liberia Truth and Reconciliation Commission. In 2007, she won the Blue Ribbon Peace Award, bestowed by the Women's Leadership Board at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government and in 2009, Gbowee and the women of Liberia were awarded the Profiles in Courage Award by the Kennedy Library Foundation. Gbowee is the central character of the award-winning documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell”.