What do you become when all comforts are taken away from you? How can you transform yourself to greatness when you live in a society that has replaced love with brutality? Sometimes events force ordinary people to perform extraordinary acts and discover their inner strength. We watched an incredible documentary, award-winning ‘Pray the Devil back to Hell’, about the women of Liberia and their journey for peace. Women from across Liberia, from all walks of life, united to stop the atrocities perpetrated by Charles Taylor’s government and rebel warlords. They were ordinary women who became leaders in society and brought about political change and peace, through their capacity to love and forgive.
Briefly, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karman were two women who brought Christian and Muslim women together in 2003 from Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Ghana to protest for peace and end the 14-year Liberian civil war. They didn’t just protest; they got involved in politics on an international level. Women living in refugee camps found the courage to call upon the international community for support, to demonstrate in public where they risked violence, to travel to Ghana to support peace talks, and to famously barricade uncooperative warlords and government officials into a room until they negotiated a peace treaty. However, their most admirable accomplishment came at the end of the conflict, when they forgave the soldiers who perpetrated violence against them.
Although it is only my fourth day in ‘Women as Change Agents’, my entire perspective of leadership has been redefined. Being a leader doesn’t mean being the sole decision-maker; like Gbowee and Karman, a true leader works alongside followers to realise a shared vision. True leaders serve, and empower others to empower themselves to create change. Globally, we are in desperate need for a new style of leadership. I feel many politicians can learn from the invisible leaders of Liberia. In our modern world, where we face issues such as conflict and escalating environmental issues, we no longer need leaders who are opinionated and loud, and who are ready to utilize violence to defend their beliefs. As Gobwee said in ‘Pray the Devil back to Hell,’ no cause can justify “what the soldiers have done to Liberian women and children”. In this era of radical global restructuring, we need leaders who are listeners, negotiators, and who can navigate the murky waters of personal and political values to reach compromises. As the women of Liberia showed me today, we can create change through love. How many politicians would dismiss this concept as an idealistic and implausible approach? How many politicians have made it their mission to lead through love? The message I took home today is that true, transformational leaders don’t have to hold formal positions of power to inspire and create change.
What can we do after we finish this course, ‘Women as Change Agents’? I believe I’m not the only one who feels that none of us students will live a life solely for personal gain. Today, I felt a call to action.