Ellen Johnson Sirleaf (1938 -)
Africa’s first female democratically elected head of stateEllen Johnson Sirleaf was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent efforts to promote peace and her struggle for women’s rights. She is the first female democratically elected head of state in Africa. Johnson Sirleaf came to power in 2005, creating peace and economic progress in the country. She strengthened women’s rights, expanded freedom of speech and became an example for other African leaders. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf had studied in the US, where she took a Master’s degree in Public Administration. She returned to her home country and served as Minister of Finance, but the government was overthrown in a military coup in 1980. Forced into exile, she worked for the UN Development Program for Africa and the Development Fund for Women. Johnson Sirleaf lost the presidential election in 1997 to the corrupt Charles Taylor, but after he was forced to flee the country, she won the presidential election in 2005.
Leymah Gbowee (1972 -)
Mobilized women across religious dividing linesLeymah Gbowee was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her non-violent efforts to promote peace and her struggle for women’s rights. In 1990 civil war broke out in Liberia. Leymah Gbowee underwent training in trauma therapy in order to take care of traumatised child soldiers. In 2002, she organised the grass roots movement, Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, which held meetings at which Christian and Muslim women jointly presented a non-violent message of peace. These demonstrations were instrumental in pressuring President Charles Taylor to sign a peace agreement in 2003. Leymah Gbowee then spearheaded efforts to mobilise Liberian women to vote for Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in the 2005 presidential elections. This support was a crucial factor in Sirleaf’s election victory. In 2008, Gbowee played a key role in the award-winning documentary film “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” on women’s unique struggle during the Liberian civil war.
Tawakkol Karman (1979 -)