Liberia was founded in the 1820’s and was composed of ex slaves who returned back to Africa from the United States. The return of freed African slaves from the U.S to Liberia was facilitated by the American Colonization Society (ACS) (exploring Africa). The primary goal of the ACS was to locate a place in Africa that was suitable for colonization in which the free slaves would reside in. On July 26, 1847, the Liberians declared their independence from the ASC under the leadership of Joseph Roberts, who became the first president of the Republic of Liberia (exploring Africa). Liberia experienced great turmoil in 1989 resulting in a fourteen year civil war due to a corrupt and overthrown government ending in 2003. During Liberia’s civil war women were abducted, gang raped, and some were even forced to become sex slaves against their will. During and after the civil war women worked hard to gain equal rights. Gender equality was promoted in Liberia in efforts to eliminate all forms of violence and discrimination against women and girls on a political, economic, and social level. This paper will examine women social movements in Liberia. Specifically, this paper will examine women’s response to peace in Liberia.
Women in Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET), and Women’s NGO Secretariat of Liberia (WONGOSOL) are three notable social movements in Liberia that helped to establish equality for women. WIPNET was created in order to demand reconciliation in Liberia due to the corrupt government. WIPNET also helped increase women’s role in politics by registering women to vote which in result women constituted for half of the countries registered voters. MARWOPNET was created in order to raise awareness amongst women’s groups and organizations on various issues fundamental to
reaching a sustainable peace, such as respect for human rights, democracy, gender equality and development (marwopnet.org).
The convergence and political process theories are both applicable to the social movements which include; WIPNET and MARWOPNET. Liberian women used social movements in order to gain peace. The convergence theory consists of a highly unrepresentative body of people which in this case are women who assembled because they share the same predispositions. Predispositions which included the lack of education, the right to hold a position of power, less access to health care, and the right to own property. Women wanted to have the same opportunities that men had open to them so that they would appear equal to men and no longer inferior to them. Women converged together during the WIPNET movement because they all wanted peace. They advocated for reconciliation in order to end the war because women were becoming oppressed. MARWOPNET movement caused the women to converge because the women apart of this movement reached out to other women to show them the predispositions that that they shared. Women came together because they wanted to put an end to discrimination and obtain peace within their society. These social movement also helped bring more awareness about the cause and more women became involved because as mentioned before they were an under represented body of people who wanted change. The political process theory can be applied because there was insurgent consciousness, organizational strength, and political opportunities. Both of the social movements that were created
required organizational strength in order to make an impact of the women in the community. If the movements were not organized then they would not have a substantial effect on persuading people to get involved in the cause. It also would not be believable because if the social movements were unorganized and lacked strength when it was first created then there would be no way they would experience longevity and make an impact in the Liberian society. The creators and members of the social movements knew there would be insurgent consequences for advocating for peace because there were people who did not agree, especially the men. Most men in the Liberian society were seen as the head of the household. They were the ones who made the money while the women stayed home and cooked and cleaned for the kids. To them it was the question of why do want to get involved in politics because at the time women didn’t have a voice and some were not even allowed to vote. Leaders and members who were apart of these social movements knew that it would be hard to obtain the men support being that men had the upper hand and were in a higher position of power. There were also women who did not support the social movements because they were afraid to stand on their own, especially those with husbands who did not seem to agree. Losing the support of those women made it harder for the social movements to emerge because if there were still some women who were content with the privileges that they had now, then the question of why does anything need to change came about. Another consequence that was present in each of these social movements was failure. If these social movements did not succeed the men would always have the upper hand. Women would still appear inferior to mean. If they failed new opportunities would not be open to women. Mostly importantly if these social movements had failed it would be hard for new social
movements to emerge. People would be apprehensive about joining and being an advocate for the newly created movements for the simple fact that if the social movements created before
them failed then how would they know the new social movements created would not do the same thing. Fortunately enough these two social movements prevailed and new political opportunities were open to women. Ellen Sirleaf, one of the founders and leaders of WIPNET became elected into office as the first female president of Liberia. This gave other women the courage to show that they can hold a political position of power as well.
During the civil war Liberian women were forced into combat, raped, and served as slaves which caused for the creation of Women in Peacebuilding Network. WIPNET was founded by Leymah Gbowee and Tawakkol Karmen with help from Ellen Sirleaf in 2002. This movement was composed of Christian and Muslim women who staged pray-ins and nonviolent protests demanding reconciliation and the resuscitation of high-level peace talks in Liberia. (nobelwomen.org). WIPNET also showed that women could be powerful and they do have a voice in their society (insightonconflict.org). “WIPNET members played a central role in increasing women’s participation in politics. They registered voters, particularly female voters, with great success; women constituted for half of the country’s registered voters” (tavaana.org). Because WIPNET drew so much support from the Liberian population, it led to the transition of power and dictatorship from president, Charles Taylor, to eventually the election of Africa’s first female president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. According to GWNP, “through community mobilization and other innovative platforms, WIPNET strives to provide a forum for women at
the grassroots to amplify their voices on issues of peace and human security.” Since WIPNET great success, WIPNET not only promotes mainstreaming gender perspective into peacebuilding and conflict prevention frameworks at community levels but on national and regional level as well across West Africa. (gwnp.org). Ghana, Nigeria, Ivory Coast, and Sierra Leone are some of the countries that WIPNET was able to impact as well. Through WIPNET another social movement titled West Africa Network for Peacebuilding (WANP) was able to emerge, Much like WIPNET, WANP was created to empower local people working on human rights and peacebuilding projects by creating links between community organizations around Liberia and in the other 13 West African countries. (insighttoconflight.org) In a broader sense WANP serves as the link between the West African Countries that brings the women together for peace initiatives
Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET) was founded in 2001 by a group African women who decided to come together to promote their participation in the process of preventing and managing conflicts and restoring peace in Africa. (marwopnet.org) Conflict arose on the Mano River because each of the three countries which included Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea wanted rights to the territory. The Mano River produced a large amount of revenue for each of the three countries due to diamond mining and each of the courtiers wanted a piece of the profit. Control of the wealth and the power the Mano River provide resulted in a civil war amongst the three countries because they all wanted to claim it is their own territory. Due to the civil war over the land many casualties took places and the countries were destroyed. The women of MARWOPNET came together to bring peace to each of the three countries and restore what was left of the civilization. MARWOPNET emerged through the help from Economic Community of West African States (ECOWAS). The purpose of ECOWAS was to is
to foster interstate economic and political cooperation amongst the countries the formed the West African region of Africa. (www.ecowas.int) The sole purpose of creating the MARWOPNET movement was to “Establish a sub-regional project for and by the women of the Mano River countries that would complement nationally-driven activities to consolidate peace, prevent future conflicts and restore the confidence necessary to establish a sustainable peace in the sub-region” (.marwopnet.org). In order for the MARWOPNET movement to be successful, the women received much needed help from other organizations such as African Union, African Economic Community, UN Development Program and the Nigerian government. These organizations helped sponsor MARWOPNET as well as bring awareness to the situation, and encourage more women to be active in obtaining peace for each of the three countries. With the help from MARWOPNET the civil war between Liberia, Sierra Leone, and Guinea came to an end resulting in each of the ministers from the three countries pledged to renew peace-building efforts in the West Africa region. According to Global Security, “Between 1990 and 2002, the US Government provided the Mano River region with more than $950 million in emergency humanitarian assistance due to the effects of the civil war.” Without the help from MARWOPNET advocating for peace and resistance the civil may would have never came to an end.
Both WINPET and MARWOPNET achieved their goal in obtaining peace in Liberia. The women showed strength, courage, and persistence in efforts to end civil wars and uplift their society. Without the help from the women, Liberia would not have made much progress as they have now. These two social movements also opened up new opportunities for women in Liberia.
During the civil wars women were oppressed. They were beaten, tortured, used as sex slaves, and even raped which eventually came to an end due to the women advocating for peace. These two peace movements gave women the voice they needed to be heard because as mentioned before women were looked down upon in the Liberian society. Because of the social movements women have made steps in order to obtain equality in areas of education, politics and the economy.
There are curethere are high enrollment rates of girls in school now. The ratio of girls to every 100 boys in Liberian primary schools rose from 74 in 1999 to 94 in 2007 (un.org).