This Living Room Dialogue was prompted by “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” the film by Abigail Disney & Gini Reticker documenting the role of women in ending the civil war in Liberia.
In the introductions led by Network staff person, Hayato Nakayama, several people said that they were drawn to this session by the title. They wanted to know how prayer was involved in making peace. One man said he was in Ghana when the negotiations for a Liberian truce were going on but he never heard of the involvement of women. A couple of the other participants came because they are involved in peace and dialogue work and were curious about how the Network for Peace went about it.
Hayato introduced the session to the 14 participants by saying that the Network for Peace through Dialogue chose this as a focus because this video depicts how women used dialogue in the peace building process in Liberia. He explained that we would only play 10 minutes of the film to open the conversation and that we would use a talking stick to insure each had an opportunity to complete their observation before another took the floor.
In the film a woman named Leymah Gbowee was inspired to organize, first the women of her church and then a broad coalition of other women including Muslim women, to speak out against the continuous violence in Liberia under the leadership of Charles Taylor. Through the women’s insistence that the bloodshed must stop and through their determined non-violent resistance, a truce was effected.
The first question that the group addressed was “Do women have special skills for making peace? If so, what are they?” Some of the ideas that arose
-Women, as child bearers have a natural tendency to nurture, care for, and support the growth of their child and by extension others.
– Women are more inclined to use their right brain.
– Women may have developed more skills at negotiation.
– Women have been the primary child rearers, then why isn’t the nurturing passed onto boys equally?
– There are cultural designs on men to be strong and dominant in many cultures world wide
– Women often women powerless. “Men don’t like to listen to women,” said one participant
– Leymah’s courage and tenacity were indeed very special leadership qualities. She took power and found effective collaborators who shared the same passion.
– Anger which is often considered unladylike is a motivation for change. The women say we have had enough! We do not want more war and then keep saying it until they are heard.
Another very provocative question was, “Is war masculine and peace feminine?”
– There were three men present. Granted there were 11 women, however these men are interested in making peace and living in a peaceful manner.
– One participant said that she has a son and he is peaceful and gentle. However, there is a global patriarchal social organization in which men command most of the wealth and power and that is a factor in war-making.
– Some in the group seemed to agree that categorizing people in this way is divisive and does not lead to the cooperation that is necessary for peace.
A final question was “Have you ever crossed boundaries as the Christian women did in engaging with the Muslim women?”
– Too often we are prejudiced toward others. We develop a tribal bonding of “them vs us” which is rooted in fear. We can transcend that. The best way of transcending that is to be engaged with one or several from another group.
– Young people do not seem as polarized as the older generation is. They accept more difference.
In reflecting on the effects of this meeting there were these comments.
– This meeting is breaking down boundaries. There are people from very different backgrounds, beliefs, professions, races. And by talking together we find common concerns and understand one another better.
– Spiritual values were very influential as a motivating force in the lives of several people in the group. It is strengthening to hear that.
– One participant who was interested in crossing boundaries said she learned some important elements for success: Show up; listen to each other; have an attitude of openness to others, and, very important, have good food.