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2011-10-25

"Women, War and Peace" PBS Series Examines Role of Nobel Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee in Liberia

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A new series on PBS examines the impact of conflict on women around the world. "Women, War and Peace" looks at war zones from Bosnia to Colombia to Afghanistan and beyond. The most recent episode to air, called "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," focused on the story of Liberian women who took on the warlords and the regime of dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a bloody civil war. The documentary features Leymah Gbowee, one of three recipients of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. We speak to Abigail Disney, the executive producer of "Women, War and Peace," the PBS special series on women’s role in global conflict. The next episode airs tonight, "Peace Unveiled," which examines the position of women in the conflict in Afghanistan. [includes rush transcript]

Transcript

This is a rush transcript. Copy may not be in its final form.

AMY GOODMAN: On Friday, Democracy Now! was visited by Nobel Peace Prize laureate Tawakkul Karman, who shared this year’s award with two other women: the Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, who’s now in a runoff election for president again, and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee. The three women were cited for, quote, "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work." The trio of laureates follow only a dozen other women, among 85 men, to have won the prize over its 110-year history.

Today we’re going to talk about a new series on PBS which examines the impact of conflict on women around the world. It’s called Women, War and Peace and looks at war zones from Bosnia to Colombia to Afghanistan and beyond. The most recent one to air, called Pray the Devil Back to Hell, focused on the story of Liberian women who took on the warlords and the regime of the dictator Charles Taylor in the midst of a bloody civil war. In the documentary, Nobel laureate, now, Leymah Gbowee, talks about the position of women in war.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: The ordinary civilians are the ones who feel the brunt from the hunger. They watch their children die. The women are the ones raped. And then, after conflict, when the wars have—or the end of the wars are being negotiated, they are never considered.

AMY GOODMAN: Pray the Devil Back to Hell, PBS documentary on Liberia that showed last week. Tonight, the next episode will air, called Peace Unveiled, examining the position of women in Afghanistan.

We’re joined now from Colombus, Ohio, by Abigail Disney, the executive producer of Women, War and Peace, the PBS special series on women’s role in global conflict.

Welcome to Democracy Now!, Abigail Disney. Talk about this series.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, it sort of grew out of Pray the Devil Back to Hell. My partner, the director Gini Reticker, and Pamela Hogan, we had a conversation as we were making that film about how hard it was to find footage of the women. And it was so striking how absent they were from any discussion of war in general, not just in the news, but also in the literature, in the popular culture. And so, we decided it was time to make women visible in the landscape of war, because we know that they play a bigger role than we ever gave them credit for during the war, not just as targets, but also as people who hold communities together, and also, you know, in the fight for peace and the fight for reconstruction.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk, Abby Disney—in fact, the film you did in Liberia was your, really, coming of age in film, although you come from the Disney family, of course—Walt Disney, Roy Disney. Talk about why Liberia is what did it for you.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, I went to Liberia. I kind of didn’t want to make film. It seemed like a bad thing to do, as a Disney. You could kind of only fail. But I went to Liberia and heard the story. And the story of what they did, in terms of, you know, forcing Charles Taylor to the peace talks, and then, when the peace talks broke down, they surrounded the building and locked arms and sent a note inside saying they were taking everyone hostage, it was extraordinary.

And I didn’t get there, to Liberia, until three years after all this had happened. But the fact that I had never heard it before, honestly, it just enraged me. You know, I thought, "I read the newspaper. I pay attention to things. Why didn’t I know this happened?" And as a person who has spent some time studying, you know, women’s history and understanding that, you know, there are hundreds of thousands of women that we’ve never heard of who have done amazing things, it occurred to me that I was witnessing the process of a story being erased, as it was happening. I was standing there watching it go over the precipice. And I thought, well, then, maybe it’s possible, in this one case, to pull it back, to prevent it from disappearing from the record. And that was really what brought—when I got home, I connected with my friend Gini Reticker, the director, and, you know, that was what propelled us into making the film.

AMY GOODMAN: I want to play more of an excerpt of Pray the Devil Back to Hell, this astonishing story of the Liberian women who took on the warlords in the midst of this brutal civil war and won a once-unimaginable peace for their shattered country in 2003.

VAIBA FLOMO: We went back to the Bible. We saw what Esther did for her people, that she went in sackcloth and ashes, saying, "I mean it."

LEYMAH GBOWEE: Liberian women, that love to do their hair and put on jewelries and makeup, were not allowed to do any of those things.

VAIBA FLOMO: We wore plain white clothes, with the hair tied. We wore the white, saying to people we were out for peace.

LIBERIAN WOMAN: We are determined, and nobody going to deter us. We’re going to find a strategic point, where Taylor going to encounter us and give us some attention. And this is how we decided to sit at the fish market every day. Thousands of women, including IDPs, internally displaced persons, went. It was the first time in our history in Liberia where Muslim women and Christian women were coming together.

LEYMAH GBOWEE: And we had a big banner that said, "The women of Liberia want peace now."

JANET JOHNSON BRYANT: Charles Taylor said, "Those who think they can come out in the street to embarrass themselves, come out. I’m waiting for you. I say, nobody, N-O-B-O-D-Y, nobody, will get into the street to embarrass my administration."

VAIBA FLOMO: We were not afraid. My mother was like, "They will beat you people. They will kill you." And we said, "Well, if I should get killed, just remember me, that I was fighting for peace."

AMY GOODMAN: An excerpt of Pray the Devil Back to Hell. Abigail Disney is the filmmaker, executive producer of the whole Women, War and Peace series. When did you hear about the two Liberian women Nobel Peace Prize winners this year?

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, I was—I went online that morning and found Leymah’s name and Ellen’s name, and we went a little crazy around my house, because one of Leymah’s kids lives with me, so—and Leymah was on her way back to New York City from San Francisco. So it was a pretty great day. I got to spend the day with Leymah as she lapped up the plaudits.

AMY GOODMAN: Talk about what this will mean for Liberia. It’s also extremely unusual that a sitting president would win the Nobel Peace Prize when she is running again for president, and it’s in the midst of the reelection. Now there will be a runoff.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Well, I know that at least as far as—Leymah is the person I know better. At least as far as Leymah is concerned, it’s really made her want to kind of redouble her efforts to build reconciliation. You know, you never see an investment of money or energy in the hard work of post-conflict rebuilding and reconciliation. You know, the international community shows up with lots of resources during the conflict, and then their eyes glaze over, they get a little bored, and then they move on. And there is so much work to be done in a country after the conflict is over, in rebuilding relationships, making sure that people come back to their villages, that all these traditional systems somehow get reestablished. So, Leymah is starting a 15-county reconciliation tour throughout Liberia to really do the hard work of making sure people at the ground level are talking about rebuilding.

AMY GOODMAN: And very briefly, tonight PBS is airing your series on—your documentary on Afghanistan, the role of women in peacemaking there.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah.

AMY GOODMAN: Ten seconds.

ABIGAIL DISNEY: Yeah. So, yeah, so this is about three women who are trying to be heard as part of the process and trying to make sure that women don’t end up being just another bargaining chip at the peace talks.

AMY GOODMAN: Abigail Disney, I want to thank you for being with us, executive producer of Women, War and Peace, the PBS special series on women’s role in global conflict. Airing tonight, Peace Unveiled, women in Afghanistan.

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