Launching 2013 on an exciting note, JASS’ Executive Director, Lisa VeneKlasen, will travel to Liberia from January 19 – 24 as part of the Nobel Women’s Initiative’s (NWI) 18-women delegation: Women Forging Peace. Led by Liberian activist and Nobel Peace Prize Laureate, Leymah Gbowee, and sister Laureates Jody Williams, Shirin Ebadi and Mairead Maguire, the delegation will meet with the grassroots women leaders from acorss the country, some of who have been the driving force behind the peace and reconciliation movement following years of brutal civil war.
Building peace and reconciliation is a crucial issue for Liberia. Between 1989 and 2003, the country was plagued by two civil wars, which shattered its social, economic and political fabric. The second Liberian civil war (1999-2003) destroyed the economy and infrastructure leaving millions of people displaced and hundreds of thousands dead. The widespread use of gender based violence as a weapon of war made women targets of sexual violence attacks as they were beaten, forcibly restrained, strip-searched or raped.
Faced with this bleak reality and stalled peace talks, a group of Liberian women headed by Leymah Gbowee mobilized a coalition of thousands of grassroots Christian and Muslim women to create the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement which used creative non violent protests to end the war and bring down the country’s brutal dictator, Charles Taylor, paving the way for the election of the first female president, Ellen Johnson- Sirleaf. Since she took office in 2006, President Ellen Johnson Sir-leaf has focused on gender-oriented reforms, which provide a platform for the inclusion of women in the peace building process.
In spite of these positive developments, the road to recovery and democracy is a long one. Liberia continues to see high levels of poverty and violence against women – particularly sexual violence – is rampant. The delegation, which is hosted by the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa will use their presence in Liberia to highlight the critical role women activists play in the fight for peace, justice and equality. They will meet with various women’s and youth groups, high-level government officials, and the women’s Legislature Caucus. Following their time in Liberia, the delegation will move onto Addis Ababa, Ethiopia to use the opportunity of the African Union (AU) Summit to pressure African leaders to do more to end sexual violence and put a spotlight on the triumphs and challenges faced by women activists in their pursuit of a more peaceful and democratic Liberia. JASS Southern Africa’s Regional Director, Shereen Essof will represent JASS, amplifying the voice and work, unique experiences and creative strategies of women activists from Southern Africa throughout the AU Summit.