Pray the Devil Back to Hell
Life is exceptionally good right now. I'm sitting in a cafe named after my hometown, with good coffee and a good muffin, and I have never felt more proud to be a woman working for peace. This movement makes for excellent company. I'm still glowing from a screening of the documentary film Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about a group of gutsy, fed up women took peace into their own hands in Liberia, brought the major parties to the table, and made them negotiate, with the simple statement “we want peace, no more war.” I feel so proud to be a woman right now.
Some highlights include:
- This was the first time ever that Christian and Muslim women worked together in Liberia.
- They had a sex strike to get their husbands invested in peace.
- They brought President Charles Taylor and LURD (the opposition rebel group) to peace talks in Accra, Ghana. They went along and continued to monitor the process.
- When full-scale war broke out in Monrovia (the capital of Liberia) during the peace talks (as the women tell it, the warlords at the talks were living in luxury while jockeying for power and position and calling in orders from back rooms)
- After a particularly bloody episode where militants entered the US embassy, where many IDPs had taken shelter, the women in Accra went to the negotiating chamber, sat in front of the doors, and locked arms. In this way they trapped the delegates inside. Officers came and asked for the leader, and she stood up, announcing herself. They said they would arrest her, and she said she'd take off her clothes and make it easy for them (it is a curse in Africa to see your mother naked). - They left her alone. One delegate was prevented from jumping the barricade, and tried to kick the woman who stopped him, but was prevented by Mr. Abubakar, one of the mediators, who said “go and sit down. If you were a real man you wouldn't be killing your people.” The women gave the delegates two weeks, or they would do it again. They also demanded that they not be insulted anymore as they sat outside with their signs.
- The mood of the talks became serious, and in two weeks an agreement was reached in which UN peacekeepers would be sent and a provisional government would give way to democratic elections. Taylor fled the country. Many warlords got positions in the government. These women didn't like that, and continue to hold the government accountable, in the knowledge that they can reassert their will at any time.
- When the UN directed militants to bring their weapons to be surrendered for compensation, the women knew this wouldn't work, but the UN said they were the experts and wouldn't listen. Violence ensued. As one of the women put it, “the UN didn't know what to do. Luckily for them, the women were there. We told them all what they were doing wrong...fortunately we were able to calm the situation down.”
One quote, especially, sticks with me. “We campaigned until we forgot that we could be raped.”
I am beyond inspired. This is the true meaning of empowerment. Of course, women should be inside the negotiating chamber as well as blockading the doors, but wow – if we could end our wars by wearing white (or whatever color) and constantly and confidently asserting all people's right to peace (and we can), what a world it would be!