This episode follows the history of Liberia, from the arrival of freed US slaves through the civil war and beyond. Then the Journal profiles Leymah Gbowee, a woman who would later win the Novel Peace Prize, and who led her fellow countrywomen to fight for and win peace in war-torn Liberia, and Abigail Disney, who produced the documentary of their struggle and triumph in the award-winning film Pray the Devil Back to Hell (watch the film). Next, where do women stand in terms of political power? And, find out more about Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
BILL MOYERS: Welcome to the Journal. You are about to meet a remarkable woman. She inspired and led other women to unite against a dictator and to restore the rule of law to their country. Her name is Leymah Gbowee. She was born and raised in the African nation of Liberia. And she is someone you will not soon forget.
Leymah Gbowee went to Boston recently to accept the prestigious Profile in Courage Award from the John F. Kennedy Library, given to the women of Liberia who risked their lives to bring peace to their country. For nearly twenty years, the prize has honored people of conscience and courage in public life.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: If you're hungry, keep walking. If you are thirsty, keep walking. If you want a taste of freedom, keep walking. For us, women of Liberia, this award is a call that we will keep walking until peace, justice and the rights of women is not a dream, but is a thing of the present. Thank you very much.
BILL MOYERS: Leymah Gbowee's story is captured in a documentary being shown now around the world, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."
LEYMAH GBOWEE: There's nothing that should make people do what they did to the children of Liberia.
BILL MOYERS: It begins seven years ago, in 2002. Liberia was gripped by civil war mostly between the government of the corrupt and ruthless Charles Taylor, and warlords battling to overthrow him. More than 200 thousand people had been killed. One out of three were homeless.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: You go to bed saying, "God, please, what do we do? The women of Liberia want peace now."
BILL MOYERS: Leymah Gbowee and her countrywomen - housewives, fishmongers, farmers - were so desperate they decided to try and put a stop to the fighting. Armed with only a simple white t-shirt, they took to the streets knowing they could well be beaten and killed. They became "the market women," cajoling the fighting men and employing a tactic so old it was once used by the women of ancient Greece: No peace, no sex.
Ultimately, Charles Taylor was toppled from power and banished from Liberia. The country then elected a new president, the first woman head of state in Africa, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
At the Kennedy Library, Leymah Gbowee thanked the filmmakers for capturing the market women's amazing story.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: My girlfriend and sister Abigail Disney, my girlfriend and sister Gini Reticker, the producer and director of the award-winning documentary, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell."
BILL MOYERS: Leymah Gbowee and Abigail Disney came by our studios in New York for a conversation with my friend and colleague, Lynn Sherr. Lynn is the long-time broadcast journalist who most recently has covered events in Liberia as a special correspondent for Worldfocus, the daily news program shown on many public television stations. And now we join Lynn Sherr, Leymah Gbowee and Abigail Disney in our studio.
LYNN SHERR: Thanks, Bill. This is an eye-opening account of a pivotal moment in history that somehow managed to evade most Americans' radar screens.
The producer of "Pray the Devil Back to Hell" is Abigail Disney. She is the founder and president of the Daphne Foundation, an organization that helps fund groups working with low-income neighborhoods in New York City. This is her first film.
Leymah Gbowee is now executive director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa, WIPSEN, based in Accra, Ghana. She is also the mother of five, very soon six, children.
Welcome to both of you, it's such an honor to have you here.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Thank you.
LYNN SHERR: Leymah, this was not a conventional war in any sense of the word that we might think of. You talk about what happened to women and children in particular. Children were conscripted.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yes.
LYNN SHERR: Kidnapped, forced to be fighters, forced to do unspeakable things to family members. Women were raped regularly. Rape was a weapon of war. You've referred to it as hell on earth.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Oh, yeah. Oh, yeah. And there is no other description because when you read about hell, there is nothing explicit about the word "hell" that says joy. And that was the life we lived, no joy. You wake up in the morning and you're just wondering what is going to be different today? Am I going to be shot as I walk the streets? Or is my younger brother going to be conscripted? Or am I going to be raped? You know, every day you wake up and there was one terrible thing after the other. Seeing people being taken off the line and being killed, and early morning someone comes to you and says, "Remember your classmate you graduated with three months ago? This morning the entire family was slaughtered." Those were the kind of things we grew up with. There is no description, there is no way that you can call this life. Death, at one point, was better than life.
LEYMAH GBOWEE (FILM): It was always like, you go to bed and pray that you have something different the next day. You know, that the shooting will stop, that the killing will stop, that the hunger will stop, saying, "God, please."
I had a dream. And it was like a crazy dream, that someone was actually telling me to get the women of the church together to pray for peace.
LEYMAH GBOWEE AT WIPNET PRESENTATION TO BISHOPS: This is completely a terrible life to live. We are tired. We are tired!
LEYMAH GBOWEE (FILM): But then, as I said the dream, it was like more ideas kept coming.
LEYMAH GBOWEE AT WIPNET PRESENTATION TO BISHOPS: We feel it's now time to rise up and speak. But we don't want to do this alone. We want to invite the other Christian churches to come and let's put our voices together.
LEYMAH GBOWEE (FILM): And we started the Christian Women's Peace Initiative.
LEYMAH GBOWEE SOT AT WIPNET PRESENTATION TO BISHOPS: You are asking, "Who are these women?" I will say they are ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts, sisters. For us, this is just the beginning.
LYNN SHERR: You say in the film, "I had a dream, a crazy dream." What turned you from being essentially a victim, someone trying to get through all this, to wanting to take some action?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: When I had that dream, I felt so oddly placed. Because I always say I was the wrong person for God to be speaking to about bringing the women of the churches together because I wasn't, like a 100-percent Holy Ghost-filled Christian, doing all of the right things. I was doing everything wrongly. And I felt if God had to speak to someone, it had to be someone perfect.
LYNN SHERR: Wait a minute. You're saying to me that you had to be convinced that you were the one to do something?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Exactly. I had to be because I was terrified. When I had that dream, I went to tell my friend that we need to get these women together. And then she said, "Yeah." But I said, "We need to call the women of the churches and find a leader." So when we called them, they were, like, "You are the leader." And I'm like, "No! God just told me to tell you all because you are the ones living the right life."
And the older women were, like, "Haven't you read about a prostitute in the Bible that God used? Haven't you read about a sinner, a woman that Jesus encountered?" And then they went on and on. And I was, like, "You don't understand. It can't be me." I was a single parent. And in my church, I could not excel to any position of authority because I wasn't married. And you constantly hear things being badgered into your head that women who are not married and have children are the worst sinners. And you're fornicating and you're committing adultery and all of the different things. So I was, like, I don't want to be a part of this thing. But after they convinced me, we started this journey together. Then I realized that every problem we encounter on this journey, I'm going to rise above it and lead these women because they trusted me with their lives and their future.
LYNN SHERR: Abby, how did you and Gini Reticker, who was the director that you partnered with, how did the two of you first hear about the story?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, I had gone to Liberia, just as a philanthropist just to see if I could be helpful for funding. And then I sort of heard the story. I mean, I would talk to this one and that one and people would mention it in passing. And it was the strangest thing because I could-- everybody gave me a little sliver of a story. And I knew something very important had occurred, but it was hard to put all the slivers together and figure out exactly what this story was. So I collected them, sort of asked and asked. And on my very last night there, I said to this one guy who was from the EU and his last night there, and he'd had a couple of Scotches. And he said, "Sure, those women were amazing, you know? And we wouldn't be sitting here in peace if it hadn't been for them." So I thought, wow. If this story was true-- and I was still skeptical-- it would make an extraordinary documentary.
LYNN SHERR: What did you see in Leymah and in the market women? I mean, these are just ordinary women, right?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah. Well, that's what I saw in them. First of all, I had been doing a lot of work in New York with grass-roots women's organizations. And so I had a sense that all around us, magically invisible, are these incredible people who do amazing things all the time. And you just have to know where to look for them.
So I think I was prepared to see the power and the ability to lead in these women because my eyes had been made ready for it by the work that I'd done for years in New York City. So I recognized the special language that was being spoken there.
LYNN SHERR: Was there a turning point in your life when you understood that it was the women who could make the difference?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yeah. From 17 up until 20-something, I went around with this big chip on my shoulder that I was a victim of war, until I started working as a kids' worker with a group of women from Sierra Leone and Liberia, and these women have different forms of disability. They had stories that no one could understand. But every time I went to meet with that group of women, they were always like, "When the war is over, I'm going to do this. When the war ends."
I had gotten to a point where I was saying, I'm not going to college. I'm not doing anything. I'm not going to invest any positive thing in my life because one bullet can take it all away. But then you hear these women. There was this one woman who had this very horrible story, but she still had that smile on her face and said, "When I get back to the community, I'm going to put the children together and I'm going to teach them how to dance." And I went to them like, "Why are you people so optimistic about life?" And then they said, "Because we believe, as mothers, we are the ones who will change everything." I went back home and said to myself, aren't you a hypocrite? Yes, you went through some hell in this war but not as much as those women. You need to stop acting like a victim and get up and do something, not just for you but for those women.
LYNN SHERR: What made you think that the market women were the ones that could make the difference?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: You know, when we started interacting with these women, one of the things I realized was the untapped power that they had. These were the people who knew when the fighters were going to attack. These were the people who just knew, by sitting at their market tables, strange movements. And they would go to people they trust and say, "Pack your things and leave, because danger is imminent." These are the people who could talk to the fighters.
And then, again, on the negative front, these were the women who were moving weapons from one community to the other in their bundles and in their-- So they knew when the war was coming. They knew how it was going to be. And they knew the fighters. And they could stop whatever was happening in the different communities.
So- and no one, not the UN, not all of the consulates and the analysts and none of them ever figured that this group of people had what it took. And then it was also the whole factor of numbers.
LYNN SHERR: There are a lot of them.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yeah.
LYNN SHERR: And one of the extraordinary things you did was that you got, for the first time, Christian and Muslim women together.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yeah.
LYNN SHERR: How did you pull that off?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, we have a lot in our favor because by the time we started the Christian Women Peace Initiative, Asatu, who's a Muslim in the film, Asatu is now the Deputy Inspector-General of Police in Liberia. She went to Christian school, so she was never afraid to be in gatherings. But when she saw this, she was, like, "I'm going to do this. Are you going to walk with me?" And I said, "I will walk with you." When we started, every Friday after prayers going to these women, talking to them, they had a serious impediment in that Muslim women had never really been involved overtly in activism. Because some of the imams had managed to misconstrue through the Koran in a way that, "Your place is at home. You can't." But we have this one imam who understood. And so we just, every time we saw someone who was, like, in favor or just give us a signal that they could be in favor of, we exploited that relationship.
LYNN SHERR: And you got these women together.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yeah.
LYNN SHERR: Which is amazing. You had many sit-ins at the marketplace. And then you got to the point where you had a meeting with Charles Taylor, which must have been terrifying. And I want to talk about that. But, first, let's see that face-to-face meeting with the then Liberian President, Charles Taylor.
LEYMAH GBOWEE (FILM): Taylor could no longer ignore us. Finally he decided to meet with us.
ETTY WEAH: Some of the women, they were really afraid to go to the mansion and to see Taylor.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: People were just edgy and edgy and edgy and people were feeling faint. And then we realized that it was fear of the unknown. Going to meet Taylor that day was the moment that I've lived for.
VAIBA FLOMO: When Leymah got on state to lead the statement, we were like holding hands and praying as if to say, "Jesus, give her the strength." I said, "We rebuke any evil force that would make her weak."
MALE VOICE: Ms. Leymah Gbowee, coordinator of the Women's Peace Building Network.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: We ask the honorable Pro Tem of the Senate, being a woman and being in line with our cause, to kindly present this statement to His Excellency Dr. Charles Taylor with this message: that the women of Liberia, including the IDPs, we are tired of war. We are tired of running. We are tired of begging for bulgur wheat. We are tired of our children being raped. We are now taking this stand, to secure the future of our children because we believe as custodians of society, tomorrow our children will ask us, "Mama, what was your role during the crisis?" Kindly convey this to the President of Liberia. Thank you.
LYNN SHERR: You know what strikes me about that so much, that you keep saying "kindly." "Will you kindly present this to Mr. Taylor," to the President. This was a man who had ruined the country, killed people, murdered people, kidnapped children. Kindly?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Well, at one point, watching the clip, when I said, "Present this to His Excellency," there was a pause. And that pause was looking for a word because it was either "the idiot" or "the evil man." But I was trying because there was so much anger at that point, which, strangely, I think the prayers of the women worked because I was really angry just standing there and looking at this man that had caused so much pain to the Liberian people. It was a difficult moment. And there was no way that I would have read that politically correct statement that those women drafted so well without adding the true feeling, the feeling that we're tired being raped. We're tired begging for food.
And then at some point I realized that, standing there, this is the moment that would determine whether we will be free or our children will continue their struggle after we're dead and gone. So it was a terrifying moment for me that morning because I didn't know how many women would turn up. And when we got the numbers that we got, it really made me bold.
LYNN SHERR: And the women sitting on the floor, there was a reason for them sitting on the floor, right?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Oh, yeah. Even us, when we got up to where he was sitting, they offer us seats. And we said no. And Sugars earlier on said, got up and spoke to him and said, "If you see us refusing seats, it's not because we want to be disrespectful to you. But we want to let you know that when the bombs and the guns are shooting, we will not run with chairs. We don't run with mattresses. Whatever we see. So we are preparing ourselves for everything that our sisters are going through right now."
LYNN SHERR: How did you get the footage of the women with Charles Taylor? That is such a powerful moment.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: That is an incredible moment. And we had really been struggling to find footage. We went to every source we could find. And we would get hours and hours of footage of people shooting each other and horrible things. We had just hours of it, to the point where we couldn't watch it anymore. And we just could not find anything of these women protesting.
LYNN SHERR: Why not?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: We all know why, in our hearts. Because these women did not look or sound or seem like they mattered. For reasons of gender, for reasons of class, education, convention. For a lot of reasons, these women had, very deliberately, not chosen to dress and frame themselves in a certain kind of way.
And so, therefore, they were being dismissed. I mean, we were told by journalistic photographers who were there, "Yes, I saw the women. They just were so pathetic looking, there was no point in shooting them." So all of our footage in the film that is of women-- not of men shooting each other, there was plenty of that that came from the news sources-- but of women constructively protesting for peace, came from private individuals who had their little, tiny Betamax camera with them. And we'd get some footage from that. But on our, I think our second to last night during principal photography in Monrovia, someone said to me, "You know, maybe you should call this guy."
I didn't know anything about him. I didn't know who he was. I just knew he was somebody who had done some footage. And so he came to our hotel, and it turns out that he had been the official videographer for the presidential palace since before the original coup, all the way through President Sirleaf's election. He had been basically downsized out of his job in 2006, and he went home with all of his masters. So he had been there for coups and assassinations and mortar fire on the presidential palace and all of these almost like Shakespearean ins and outs in the background of that presidential palace. And he had every inch of it on tape. It was really extraordinary.
LYNN SHERR: Leymah, I have to ask. The first time you saw the footage of this event that had clearly been so important in your life, what was it like to watch yourself doing that?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: I was, like, wow. Did I do that? Did I say that? Because it was almost like we were in another time in another world. 2003 was definitely another time in another world. And it took this film to really, not just bring me back, but all of the women who have seen it, bring us back to where we've been. And if there was ever a thing of, "I don't want to work hard anymore. I just want to retire and take care of my kids," the film has really brought us to the place where we say, "No, we don't want to go back to this world. You know, this world that we found ourselves in."
So it's a good reminder. It was also a good reminder that we have done something for our society. And that's why I feel forever in gratitude to Abby and Gini for doing this film not just because of me but because there's something that our daughters can look back at and say, "We're proud of our mothers."
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Tell about Arthur.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: My kids saw this film for the first time. And when they saw that scene with Taylor, my now thirteen-year-old son said, "Weren't you afraid? How foolish could you have been?" You know, literally saying to me, "You could have been killed. If I had known that you were going to meet him, I would have told you not to go because your life would have been in danger."
LYNN SHERR: Oh!
LEYMAH GBOWEE: So, I mean, this just to show that different understanding of-- yeah. Before you ask my kids, "What does your mommy do?" They will tell you she travels around.
LYNN SHERR: And now they got it.
LYNN SHERR: Charles Taylor. You had that meeting with Charles Taylor. You presented your statement. How did you get from there to the peace talks in Ghana?
LEYMAH GBOWEE (FILM): Taylor, he had said from the beginning that he wasn't going to sit with the rebels at any peace table. But that was the first time he'd made a public commitment after we met with him that he was going to meet with the rebels in Ghana.
MALE REPORTER VOICE: The president, Dr. Charles Ghankay Taylor, is arriving here at--
MALE REPORTER VOICE 2: Peace talks are due to begin today in Ghana between the warring factions in Libera. There's been pressure on both sides to end a war which has destabilized much of West Africa. It'll be the first time the Liberian president, Charles Taylor, has talked with the rebel movements, which are now trying to oust him.
FEMALE PROTESTERS SINGING: One day we'll be there, Liberia is my home.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: The women living in the refugee camp joined our delegation when we got to Ghana.
FEMALE PROTESTERS: We want peace, no more war. We want peace, no more war.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: We are their conscience, sitting out here. We are calling to their conscience to do the right thing. And the right thing now is to give the Liberian women and their children the peace that they so desperately need
LEYMAH GBOWEE: We realized that if we stayed back in Liberia, the whole thing, idea of the struggle will be in vain because we had to be present there at the peace talk, letting them know. Because when we started the protest, the idea was that we needed for the world, for the media, to see that there was another population to this story. There was another side to this story, the women and children that were affected, because all we saw on CNN were footages of fighting and bombing and interviews with Taylor and the rebel leaders. And we wanted them to see that there were victims to all of these glorified media attention that they were giving to these boys with guns.
We were the victims. So we thought if we stayed back and didn't go to Accra, we would have defeated our purpose. So we just started getting donations from little groups and there. And we got-- what? Maybe $6,000. By the time we bought tickets, we had under $1,000 to live on, and we thought we were going to be in Ghana for two weeks. But we were there for three months.
LYNN SHERR: And how did you pay for your hotels? How did you get food?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: I had a house, two-bedroom house in Ghana. So I had ten people already living in that house, plus the seven women that had gone to Accra. So we're seventeen, sleeping in a two-bedroom house all in the hallway and living off of what my kids ate every day and going and coming back. But what we thought was, no matter how bad it got, you always sustain a presence at the peace talks.
LYNN SHERR: And then all the sides have agreed to negotiate an end to the war or wars, finally. You sent a delegation to the talks, right? And organized women to protest. And then you really took matters into your own hands. Let's look at that incredible moment.
LEYMAH GBOWEE (FILM): So I told Sugars, "Today is showdown. Send for more women." I told the women, "Sit at the door, and loop arms, one arm within the other. And the next thing we heard on the overhead speaker was, "Oh my God. Distinguished ladies and gentlemen, the peace hall has been seized by General Leymah and her troops."
GEN. ABDULSALAMI ABUBAKAR, CHIEF MEDIATOR, FMR. NIGERIAN PRESIDENT: They really came and locked us in that nobody will come out until that peace agreement was signed. Even if it means staying in there for days.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: And then the security guards came. "Who is the leader of this group?" I stood up and said, "Here am I." And they said, "You are obstructing justice." And that word, "obstructing justice," was almost like when you took gas and just pour it on an open flame. I just went wild. I said, "Obstructing justice?" They said, "Yes, and we're going to arrest you." I said, "Ok, I'm going to make it very, very easy for you to arrest me." I took off my hair tie.
ETWEDA "SUGARS" COOPER: It's a curse in Africa to see the naked body of your mother.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: And they were looking at me. I said, "I'm going to strip naked."
ETWEDA "SUGARS" COOPER: Especially if she does it deliberately.
GEN. ABDULSALAMI ABUBAKAR: Leymah had started stripping when I came out. She really was saying, "Look, you guys, you do this or this is what we're going to do."
LEYMAH GBOWEE IN GHANA: I will listen to you, but these people, these people have come here, ECOWAS gave them big beds. When they came they were all pale. No eating in the bush. Now they are wearing fine Ghanaian-milled textiles and they are passing around, telling us, "We will kill your people. When we go back we will procreate." They won't come outdoors. Today they will feel the hunger our people are feeling there.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: One of the warlords came to the door and tried to jump over the women. And the women pushed him back and he went back as if he was about to kick their backs.
GEN. ABDULSALAMI ABUBAKAR: Please, I beg you. Please, please, please.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: And General Abubakar said to him, "Hey, I dare you, try it." He said, "Go back in there and sit down." "They can't do this!" "I said go and sit down. If you were a real man, you wouldn't be killing your people. But because you are not a real man, that's why they will treat you like boys. Go back and I dare anyone leave this hall until we've negotiated with these women."
GEN. ABDULSALAMI ABUBAKAR: I am going to have my meetings, and then I'm going to meet you in the evening at six o'clock.
REPORTER: Complaining that negotiators were making little progress, Liberian women staged a sit-in blocking delegates from leaving the conference hall.
LEYMAH GBOWEE IN NEWS REPORT: They've been there, they've been prolonging, in our opinion, this thing in their quest for power and their quest for this whole thing of authority in Liberia. And we're going to keep them in that room without water, without food, so they at least feel what the ordinary people in Liberia are feeling at this particular point in time.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: So we went, accompanied by the Ghanaian ambassador, accompanied by other people and for thirty minutes it was just like tears and tears. Finally he said, "You have to let your women out of there." We said no.
ETWEDA "SUGARS" COOPER: We were not leaving because then you'd have to take all of us and there were almost two hundred of us.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: But ironically the very security that were arresting me a few minutes earlier were the same security that came and said, "You have to send some women to the window because some of the delegates are jumping out of the window." So we told some of the women, "Go and stand there." And then we said, "General, if we remove these women, we give these guys two weeks or we will do it again."
LYNN SHERR: It's just astounding. Where did you come up with the idea of stripping?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: That moment of rage, I mean, it's, when you've been disgraced and you've been walked on, when your pride has been just, there is nothing left, when people think they're taken everything from you, you decide you're giving them some of what they thought they'd taken away. I feel that's the greatest pain any woman can feel.
So at that moment, here am I, barricading a hall where you have a bunch of people who have killed our people for fourteen years. And here are these guys living in a "peaceful" country. And they are arresting me for obstructing justice. There was, for me at that moment, the world had turned into something that I never knew. You know what? You grow up knowing that this is a just world. This is a peaceful world. This is a world where people care about each other. That moment was, like, this is a world where no one cares. And if they don't care, you should not care. You do whatever you can do to get people to know that you're hurting.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: I had the most extraordinary moment during the shooting of the film when we had an opportunity to sit with one of the warlords who'd been present at the peace talks. And I asked him, "How is it possible, in a country where fifty percent of the women have been raped, for one woman threatening to strip naked to cause such mayhem? I don't understand."
And he said, that you have to understand they were our mothers. And the only way your mother would do that is if she were driven to total desperation. And there was something in that moment there that caused every man in that room, no matter what he'd done during the conflict, to ask himself, "What have I done? What have I done to get us here?" And talk about changing the dynamic of the room, you know? That is the last thing on earth that would have happened in the hearts of those men had the women taken the place in the room, had they abandoned the moral discourse, had they let it go and acted the way they were being persuaded to act.
And I really do believe that, you know, the majority of conflicts, you know, in any place, Africa, anywhere, are really made possible by, you know, there's a core group of bad guys, you know? And there's a Charles Taylor in every one of them who really can't be penetrated, who really is a sociopath or a person without a conscience and is almost inexplicable to us.
But a person alone can't make these systems run. He needs to be supported by these expanding concentric circles of supporters, who really are not all of them as impenetrable and who are, for one reason or another, kind of slouching into the moral system. And they live kind of this life of bad faith, you know? I think, in their hearts, they know they're doing the wrong thing, but there's more money in it or there's more power in it or this is just easier-
LYNN SHERR: So how does-
ABIGAIL DISNEY: --or too afraid.
LYNN SHERR: How does something like what the women do, did, in terms of going to their core beliefs as mothers, as women, how does that get to them?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: I think that this is much like, it's like a dog whistle frequency. I think that our mothers' voices have a moral and emotional frequency that penetrates all of the layers and all of the frames that we use to conduct ourselves in these rooms according to these tacit agreements that we have, that we all think are making things more smooth.
LYNN SHERR: So the men were reacting to the most primal thing, which is they were responding to their mothers.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: To me, I think that they were restored to themselves. It was like the magician at the end of the hypnosis session snapping his fingers. They remembered who they were. They remembered what they were doing there. And they were brought back to something. And that is what made moving forward in these peace talks possible.
LYNN SHERR: As far as you can tell, was this something that was planned? Or did this just come out of their decision to do this as women, as mothers, as outsiders from the beginning?
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, Leymah, what do you think? Was that planned?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: A lot of the things we did weren't really, like, planned. But every day, what we did was, after we did one action, we sat down and analyzed how effective it was. So it wasn't just protesting and going to sleep at night. So if we were there till 12 midnight, we would still find one hour to sit to evaluate the work that we did. That was one strategy that we used from the beginning.
So every day the protests got better. All of the sluggish things we started with on the first day, we didn't repeat on the second day and on the third day. So it just got from one stage of being strategic to the other. And then I had read different - and myself and some of the other women had read - different non-violent actions. I read King. I read Gandhi. I had read about the Nigerian women seizing the Shell Oil place in Nigeria, in the Niger Delta, different things. And people brought different ideas every day. And as we did these things, we came back and said, "Let's look at this differently. Let's look at this differently."
ABIGAIL DISNEY: One of my regrets in making this film was that we weren't able to show all of the richness and the thinking and the strategy behind the movement because there was, you know, so much strategy and thinking and planning in it. And, you know, it is really, in effect, a classic example of non-violent resistance in the vein of everything that Gandhi and Martin Luther King ever planned.
And Gandhi famously said, first they ignore you, then they make fun of you. Then they try to hurt you, And then they deal with you. And that is precisely how the movement progressed. All they were asking for was something that was essentially kind of conservative, which was, "Let's just make these systems work. Let's just hold these systems accountable to the promises they made."
They weren't asking to turn the world upside down. They were just asking people to do their jobs. And the pivotal moment when security comes to arrest her, and she threatens to strip naked and they refuse to arrest her, this classic, classic Gandhi non-violence where the power equation is flipped in a moment.
And it's so extraordinary. And we've seen it in so many places. And the more we see it, I think the more often we'll see it, you know? Making it visible, making it available to people will bring it out in places we can't even begin to imagine.
LYNN SHERR: What you did in Ghana worked, and you were largely responsible, your group, for finally ending the fighting. The war was over. There was an election. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first female elected head of state in Africa, is now the President of Liberia.
ELLEN JOHNSON SIRLEAF: I want to here now gratefully acknowledge the powerful voice of women from all walks of life whose votes brought us the victory. They defended me, they worked with me, they prayed for me. It is the women who labored and advocated for peace throughout our region.
LYNN SHERR: The President wrote in her book, and I quote-- before her campaign, she said she would go to various places to campaign. And women would say to her, "Men have failed us." People would say to her, "Men are too violent, too prone to make war. Women are less corrupt, less likely to be focused on getting fancy cars and fancy homes for themselves." Is that true, do you think? Were men more corrupt? Are men more corrupt than women?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: When the President made that statement, it's at the end of this wonderful campaign that women had carried out. And it was the men who recognized that if these women could change this situation around, let's give them the chance to lead this country. So even when we were not interested in the political discourse, communities that we went in, it was the men who were encouraging us, "You need to do something. You need to take a seat in Parliament. You need to get to this point. You need to get to that point."
So when they started - because they recognized within themselves that they had failed not just themselves, but they failed the women and the children of Liberia. So that was a common theme. And in all fairness, yes, the women said it. But it was the men who were even pushing that message out the loudest.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: You know, I think that the really, really important moment here the in film is when General Abubakar says, if you were a real man, you wouldn't be killing your people. You'd go in there and sit down and they'll treat you like boys. I've had, you know, when we've shown it for high schools, very often the high school boys will come and say, "I don't see any good men. Where are the good men in this film?" And I say, actually, there are lots of good men in the film if you really look. They're carrying out the dead, they're carrying their grandmothers in their backs and there are babies in their arms, and they're stepping up and saying, you know, "You're not a real man. That's not what it looks like."
So I think that there's an interesting thing here happening in terms of those good men who are quite invisible to us even though they're right in plain sight. I think that we have to remember that the room where these peace talks are taking place and the room at a larger metaphorical level where power takes place, isn't inclusive of women. But it's also not inclusive of all kinds of men. They're not all in that room either.
So when we talk about wanting to shift the idea of power and saying, you know, we need to find other ways to the bargaining table besides shooting your way there. We need to recognize all the stakeholders. We're talking about opening those peace talks up to all of those people who have been destroyed, really, by a small, tiny interpretation of masculinity, which has taken up an inordinate amount of space throughout history and throughout our political happenings.
LYNN SHERR: The president of the country has expressed her gratitude to you and to - you're smiling, that's a wonderful achievement for you - to you and to the other market women who really helped make this happen. What do you want from her? And what do you want next in Liberia?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: I would like to see, four years, three years from now, after Madam Sirleaf has left office, that those policies and laws that we've been struggling for, that will give women equal, I mean, equal and easy access to some of the issues that we've been fighting for, for many years, are on the books. That at the end of the day, it's there written in black and white.
At the end of the day, we don't have to continually fight. Because I know that after her presidency is gone, that is when we're going to have the war between the men and the women. Because, sadly, a lot of the politicians are cowards. Now that we have peace and quiet, most of them now, most of the men now want to step in and say, "We've given them six years. So they should go back to 150 years more of sitting home and taking care of the children."
Sometimes you walk and people say to you, especially me, if I'm at the airport and some of the security personnel will say, "Well, Ms. Gbowee, you did a good job. And six years from now, we're going to take it back, you know, because we've given you all your chance."
LYNN SHERR: "Given you all," meaning, "you women"?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yes. So I think that's where the true war and the true division is going to be because it's going to be women versus men. So one of the things that I would like to see is in our electoral law, where you have 35 percent affirmative action for women, if not 40 percent.
I would also, one of my wish list - and the president has been working with us on this - is going from one county to the other and really empowering young girls to see politics not as a thing for loose women, because that's the stereotype we have in Liberia, that it's only loose women, women who can't keep their husbands, are the ones who are involved in politics. Or they either kill their husbands in order to get involved in politics.
So we want - we're doing this, and we hope that we can continue to do this until the next three years of her presidency - get more women, get more young girls to see leadership not as a privileged thing but as a thing that she's entitled to - not as a privileged thing for men but as something that she is also entitled to. So those are all little things that we would like to see.
On the other front, I would like to see her kicking more butts on the whole issue of corruption because you hear it there, it's there every day. You don't want - one of the things we always say as African feminists, as women working Liberia, Africa, Ghana, and different parts, Ellen is not just the hopes, expectations, and aspiration for Liberian women, but African women. Depending on what she does these six years will have a great impact on the continent. We've seen it happening in different parts of the world. Women are announcing, we're stepping out there. People are now comparing Liberia to other parts. We just saw the elections in Ghana. The president had the toughest time because he had to appoint equal number of women as men into key positions. So we need, I mean, the hope and the aspiration is just for the entire continent of Africa and other places where people are underprivileged and underrepresented.
LYNN SHERR: And, in fact, when I was there, there were women from other West African countries who referred to the president as the president of us all.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Yeah.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah.
LYNN SHERR: And your Gender Minister, Vabah Gayflor. I mean, first of all, amazing that there is something called a Gender Ministry, we don't have one in this country. She said that women in other African countries want to rotate your president around. They want her to have a little time in each country. It's quite extraordinary. Abby, let's talk a little bit about the impact of the film. You've shown it in lots of places.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Lots of places.
LYNN SHERR: Way outside of Liberia.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah.
LYNN SHERR: Tell me a little bit about the reactions in some of the places that you've shown it, unlikely reactions, I might add.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah. Yeah, well, our first audience was in Srebrenica in Bosnia, which had endured a terrible massacre of 8,000 unarmed Muslim men and children. And on International Women's Day in 2008, we showed the film. And the reaction was extraordinary. You know, I maybe was expecting that the women would say, "Oh, that's about Africa and we here we are in Bosnia. That's got nothing to do with us." I was a little nervous that they would resent me for coming with a film that's, you know, emotionally pretty hard if you've been through combat. Or that they would think I was implying that they should have tried some of these things.
LYNN SHERR: Right.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: So I was really nervous about it. And the reaction was interesting. There was this continuum. And it started with some anger, it started with some women stepping up and saying, "Why did you bring this film to upset us like this?" And then it switched pretty quickly to, "But I saw myself in this character. And I saw this person in that character." And all the sudden, people were picking up on parallels. And they were talking in a very specific level about, "But this would have worked nicely, but that maybe."
And then what happened was, it all came around back to Bosnia. And, you know, there was one woman who stood up and literally just pushed her sleeves up and said, "Okay, so what are we going to do today?" And they sat down and they started writing a list of things that they wanted to change, things that they wanted to go better.
And my experience now of the film is that everywhere we've ever taken it, it tends to proceed along the same lines in, really, remarkably, the same amount of time devoted to each thing. So it's been to Peru. I've showed it to indigenous women from all over North and South America. We showed it in back-to-back screenings in Ramallah and Jerusalem. I took it to Khartoum and showed it to women from all over the conflict there. Georgia, Afghanistan, Iraq.
LYNN SHERR: And in all these cases, what you're saying is that the women in these cultures somehow identify with what Leymah and the market women of Liberia did.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: They absolutely see themselves in the film. And they identify incredibly strongly with Leymah because there's a Leymah almost in every room. And she's usually the one who stands up and does this with her sleeve and turns the conversation to something really constructive. And almost every time, there's a position statement. They write - I mean, I'm never telling people that they should write position statements. We've had ten or 12 or 14 position statements come out of just those two hours after a screening in so many places, I can't tell you.
LYNN SHERR: What does that do to you in your soul, Leymah, to know that other women around the world are identifying with you, that they are taking action, perhaps, based on what you and your women did?
LEYMAH GBOWEE: I think there is this — how do I say it? Obsessive compulsiveness about the work that I do. And you would think that after the film and after people come up to say, "We want to do this," then I'm like, "Okay, I can retire at an early age." But then there is this renewed vigor in me that there's more to be done. Because if you still have people in different communities in the world wanting to all, starting to do these things, it means that there are other things that we need to step up to. And there is a need for me to switch my focus not just from, like, I mean, on like - switch my focus from Liberia, West Africa to other parts of the world.
Someone wrote me the other day and say, "You have a huge following in Sri Lanka." And I smiled and said, "This is a huge responsibility, but this is something that I think I was put on this world, on this earth, to do, step up there." And the film has shown me that I need to be that encouragement not going into any conflict area to say to my sisters, "I've come to teach you," but to say to them that "I've come to walk the walk with you."
And the first thing that I'm going to do after this baby is to join a protest in Zimbabwe. I am going to be in the front of the line with my sisters. If we get arrested, fine. But just to say, "I feel your pain. I've been down this road. And I'll walk this walk with you." So if I'm able to go from Palestine to Sri Lanka to Afghanistan, to Iraq, and to be in every protest line, I feel that that is a fulfillment of me life, you know? If someone says, "How does it feel to be a star, a movie star?" I get upset because this is not a movie. It's not stardom. It's a quest for survival. And this is something that is happening in every community in the world.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: I have to say that one of the things I'm most proud of and didn't know to expect when I started the film was, I met this woman and I was so impressed with her and thought her skills and her gifts and her talents were just so numerous. I feel like we've unleashed a person who's going to be a gift to the whole world, and who knows how many other people she'll unleash in turn. And that feels like an amazing, amazing thing.
LYNN SHERR: Well, Leymah Gbowee, Abigail Disney, thank you so much for this conversation.
ABIGAIL DISNEY: Thank you.
LEYMAH GBOWEE: Thank you.
WOMEN: Oh, sing it, Liberia is my home. One day we will go home. Sing it. We will go back, go back.
BILL MOYERS: The baby Leymah Gbowee was about to have when she was in our studio has now arrived. It's a healthy little girl named Jaydyn Thelma Abigail.
This transcript was entered on June 26, 2015.