Silent Rebels: Women in Liberia Access Justice

When there is a problem to solve, the women of Liberia know what to do: they put on their t-shirts that say “WIPNET,” (Women in Peacebuilding Network—under the umbrella of West Africa Network for Women in Peacebuilding Liberia, an AJWS grantee of nine years) and they gather. “They call us silent rebels,” says Cecilia T. M. Danuweli of the network. “As soon as [people in the streets] see the women in the t-shirts, they know there is a problem.”

Routinely, thousands of women gather early in the morning outside of President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf’s executive mansion. “The security says, ‘Did you have an appointment with the president?’ We say, ‘We elected her to power, so we don’t have to make an appointment to come to see her.’ We congregate, and [when the President arrives], she is like, ‘My people, please, what do you want.’”

In a recent organizing effort, WIPNET wanted justice for five women who had been raped and killed in central Liberia. The local government and the police hadn’t responded, so the women of WIPNET went directly to the president. And it worked. Johnson Sirleaf made sure that the perpetrators were arrested and taken to court. They were then sentenced to seven years in prison.

Cecilia’s incredible story of the power of women mobilizing and accessing justice in Liberia is one of many that several AJWS grantees shared with one another at the 56th Commission on the Status of Women, held last week in New York. In addition to CSW being a space for members of civil society to inform UN Women’s policies, it is a welcome opportunity for women from different countries to meet each other and learn from each other. The focus this year was on rural and indigenous women, and Cecilia and her colleagues shared recommendations for the UN and the international community, such as strengthening networks to support the political participation of women.

The history of women in Liberia peacefully protesting and seeking peace could be a source of inspiration for women in other conflict-affected countries, such as Southern Senegal, where women from one of AJWS’s grantees in Casamance recently held up banners saying, “Un Autre Senegal Est Possible (Another world is possible.)” A world in which women everywhere have the opportunity to stand up for peace, and make their voices heard, is one worth imagining.

Listen to Cecilia T. M. Danuweli of WIPNET discuss how women organize for change in Liberia: