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From The Root — MONROVIA, LIBERIA — If you’ve seen the award-winning 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, then this will be a familiar story: How a group of Liberian women — Muslims and Christians, young and not so young, long grown weary from the terrors of war — conspired to wage peace in their country. How they staged sit-ins outside the Presidential Palace, stalked stalled peace talks in Ghana, and withheld sex until their husbands saw the light and pledged to wage peace, too.

Then there is the not-so-familiar story: how these women — in particular, the foot soldiers of the peace movement — struggle to keep the momentum going seven years after the end of the nation’s most recent war, now that treaties have been signed, the dead have been buried and an “Iron Lady” has been elected president. How do you keep going in the aftermath, when jobs are scarce, the country remains bombed out and there are so many rape victims to tend to? How do you keep hope alive? Is there room for feminism in a country that’s struggling mightily to rebuild itself? And how do you engage the young ones, convince them that feminism has a place in their lives?

“The biggest issue now,” says Lindorah Howard-Diawara, national network coordinator of Women in Peacebuilding (WIPNET) of the West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANEP), “is economic empowerment. How do we create wealth? We need something where women can see themselves differently: ‘Well, war may have happened, but I’ve become somebody.’ If a woman has money, she’s not looking for a man to take care of her. She’s able to make sound decisions for herself.”

Today Howard-Diawara, along with Etweda “Sugars” Cooper, the doyenne of the Liberian women’s movement, is visiting the Paynesville chapter of WIPNET. Here, every Thursday morning, the Paynesville women, many of them featured in Pray the Devil Back to Hell, congregate in the Peace Hut, an open-air, thatched-roof affair tucked along the dusty outskirts of Monrovia.

It is here that these market women gather to meditate, pray and talk about how to keep the peace. Their worry: The issues that brought on civil war in the first place — ethnic divisions, rampant corruption, greed — still exist. If they don’t keep their eye on those root causes, if they don’t continue to advocate for peace, a return to civil war remains a distinct possibility. “As women,” Howard-Diawara says, “we are not going to sit and see ourselves go back to that.”

The women of the Paynesville chapter have other visitors besides Howard-Diawara and Cooper: a contingent of journalists from the International Reporting Project, and they are singing their welcome, a call and response that is at once familiar and foreign.

“Tomorrow is a new day,” sings Margaret Malley, the group’s president, a stocky woman whose right arm is cut off at the elbow, the result of a wartime car accident.

“Tomorrow, tomorrow, tomorrow,” the others join in, hands clapping, shaking gourd instruments. The Peace Hut rollicks with rhythm and sound.

Tomorrow may be a new day, but for these women, right now is of pressing concern. The unemployment rate in this West African country is staggeringly high — as much as 85 percent. And yet everyone works, to some extent or another.

(Continue Reading @ The Root…)

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  • African Mami

    It’s heart wrenching to know that Charles Taylor is still alive and well after having being one of the key figures that perpetuated some of the worst crimes and atrocities Liberia will ever know.More power to these women for having and continuing to take initiative in rebuilding their country.

    • kim

      His time will come. It always does.

  • Clnmike

    The key to that nation’s success is jobs, jobs, and more jobs, all of which can be taxed. I don’t care what else they got going on men who don’t have ways of making money will find something to get into at the expense of someone else. Hopefully their president can line up investors for the country soon.

    • African Mami

      @ Clnmike

      Liberia has deeper rooted problems than what has been presented by this particular article. Although, it did present substantial and comprehensive information, it did not even begin to scratch the surface. Whilst the provision of jobs would be a welcome notion, it would not be a ‘key’ factor in Liberia’s success.

      Liberia’s success lies upon very critical and elusive issues in no particular order.
      1.) A political restructuring that will see to that political leaders are held accountable and taken to task in their various capacities. Also, appointed leaders should not be given a chance to overstay their welcome after their term is up, and yes that includes Madam Ellen Sirleaf.

      2.) It is a country rich in natural resources eg. gold, diamond, agricultural produce etc. An effective infrastructure system should be implemented to ensure that Liberia fully maximizes and taps into the exporting of these minerals and produce, which would see to that a.) creation of industries and jobs b.) the establishment of business, investor and international relations as a result. The coastal area of Liberia has beautiful tropical beaches and favorable weather, government should look into boosting its economy with tourism (of course all in due time, this is not a pressing concern as of right now)

      3.) The current business climate in Liberia is not conducive enough to woo in foreign investors fully. There are investors, but not at the numbers we would like to see.

      4.) CORRUPTION….self explanatory

      These are just SOME of the issues that I feel will need to be exhaustively discussed and worked on, before Liberia can fully heal and start to grow.

  • Laila Apples

    I wonder how many women are leaving Liberia altogether?
    It’d be nice to see a documentary on the lives of women who have left liberia and begun a new life elsewhere.