Documentary Film Delivers 2011 Nobel Prize to Iron Ladies of Peace

Along with two other Iron Ladies. Liberian President and Harvard trained economist Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, along with Liberian peace activist Leyma Gbowee and Yemeni dissident Tawakkul Karman have deservedly split the 2011 Nobel Prize. This is a powerful statement not only for peace, but also for the necessary political role that women must play in creating it. As long as the world is run by crusty, rich white guys and their non-white analogues, politics will continue to ignore the necessity of peace at the expense of profit, the crime of poverty, and the importance of insuring the long term health of women and children.

Most salient in this particular prize is the role of documentary film in its making. We should not short change the powerful actions of the recipients themselves but, in my view, the publicity generated by a few dedicated and brave filmmakers helped hand this prize to these three very deserving recipients.

For those who missed it, a few months ago, I wrote a review of an excellent documentary on Ellen Jonhson, the “Iron Ladies of Liberia“, from the fantastic Women Makes Movies film collective and directors Daniel Junge and Siatta Scott Johnson.

Liberia suffered under a series of conflicts between warring factions for more than 20 years, culminating in Charles Taylor’s brutal dictatorship. The war was eventually brought to aclose by that Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which consisted of nothing more than groups of women praying in front of government and military buildings. Eventually, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf became the first African female head of state, and was able to bring stability to what was once one of the most ineffective governments on the planet. Siatta Scott Johnson and Daniel Junge follow Sirleaf through her daily dealings with shaky politics, rioting former military members demanding pensions, and the eventual burning of the Presidential Palace. Amazingly and without hesitation, Sirleaf confronts armed men with histories of guiltless killing and violence with nothing more than words and a firm, but open ear. It’s amazing to watch.

Leyma Gbowee was featured in “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary from Gini Reticker. on the brave actions of a few Liberian peace activists to end the brutal civil conflict.

Pray the Devil Back to Hell chronicles the remarkable story of the courageous Liberian women who came together to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country.

Thousands of women — ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters, both Christian and Muslim — came together to pray for peace and then staged a silent protest outside of the Presidential Palace. Armed only with white T-shirts and the courage of their convictions, they demanded a resolution to the country’s civil war. Their actions were a critical element in bringing about a agreement during the stalled peace talks.

A story of sacrifice, unity and transcendence, Pray the Devil Back to Hell honors the strength and perseverance of the women of Liberia. Inspiring, uplifting, and most of all motivating, it is a compelling testimony of how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations.

Finally, though no one has yet to make a documentary on Yemeni journalist and democracy activist Tawakkul Karman, she, in essence, produces her own. As the head of “Women Journalists Without Chains” she promotes a free press for Yemen:

WJWC is a non-governmental organization in Yemen that seeks to advocate for rights and freedoms, especially freedom of expression. It also aims at improving media efficiency and providing skills for journalists, and particularly women and youth.

Founded in 2005 the NGO brought out the first of many annual reports on Freedom of the Press in Yemen in which it documented more than 50 cases of attacks and unfair court sentences against newspapers and writers.

Despite threats of violence from the sitting Yemeni government and rightist groups, advocates for a female voice for political change in Yemen. She staged peaceful sit-ins in front of the Yemeni cabinet building to protest the government’s refusal to allow her groups a free newspaper and radio station. For her act of bravery, she endured threats, abductions and beatings.

Hats off to this years recipients. Let the new era of free media continue to allow them to flourish.

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About Pete Larson

Assistant Professor of Epidemiology at the Nagasaki University Institute for Tropical Medicine

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