They would usually adorn in their dominant light blue and dotted navy blue lappas and white t-shirts to match. Most often without food, these women would lie prostrate in open areas regardless of the weather- a torrential rain or scorching sun seeking the face of God as well as raising their voices against violence; sometimes facing flying bullets at the peril of their lives. This is the imprint of the Women In Peacebuilding Network (WIPNET), an organization established in 2001 with the sole intend of building the capacity of women to enhance their roles in peacebuilding and post conflict reconstruction.
The work of WIPNET over the last 17 years has not gone unnoticed across the West African sub-region and the world at large as the organization walks away with the SHEROES Foundation’s “International Advocate for Peace” award on May 17, 2018 in Accra Ghana. SHEROES Foundation is a nonprofit organization working to end gender inequality in all facets of life in Africa. The foundation also focuses on economic and political empowerment as a means to achieving the SDGs aim of gender equality.
At the SHEROES 2018, some members of the WIPNET delegation from Liberia including Madam Annie Nushan, Cecelia Denuweli and Esther Walker were recognized as African Female Heroes who have stood tall against violence and gender inequalities in Liberia and across the region.
Receiving the award on May 17, 2018 in Accra, Madam Cecelia Denuweli recounted how members of WIPNET predominantly rural women stood in the scorching sun and torrential rain for peace with an unwavering determination to ensure that the then warring factions saw the need to end gun violence.
“Some of us lost our husbands in the process of advocating for peace. That was a driving force behind our unbending quest to ask the rebel leaders to stop the war. It was at my office- the Young Women Christian Academy (YWCA) that we used to cook for the women to break their fast. Every time we sat in the rain and sun, then President Charles Taylor would pass and see us there until one fateful day he stopped and talked to us and expressed his willingness to end the war,” Madam Denuweli told her audience.
According to her, the women of WIPNET spent three months at the Accra Peace Accord in Ghana demanding that all players agree to end the war and return Liberia to lasting peace adding “we adopted the ‘Jehovah Witness’ approach in our advocacy by going from door to door most tie at night to push our case. It is an honor to have these women from Cape Mount, Bomi and Bong Counties committing themselves to this effort by praying for peace.” The WIPNET founding official stated her organization’s delight over the decision of the SHEROES Foundation to recognize their work in peacebuilding.
We are sharing our story today because if you haven’t felt the pain your fellowmen feel, you will not know how excruciating it is,” Madam Denuweli mentioned.
For her part, Madam Annie Nushan appreciated the pivotal role Vice President Jewel Howard-Taylor played in ensuring that they were fully represented at the SHEROES award ceremonies.
She said this is the first award the organization has received for the suffering they incurred in their advocacy for peace in Liberia. “Nobody recognized what we did in Liberia. We had a female president but she did not recognize our work. I am not an educated woman. I am a rural woman but I stand for a cause. When the war was ongoing in Liberia, as a mother of ten (10) living children, my husband was a pastor. My husband died in January this year 2018. I am not too well but the Vice President of Liberia asked me to come for this program. That’s why I am here,” Ma Annie indicated.
Madam Nushan said despite the fact many rural women are not educated, they can push a worthy cause and get results once they are determined adding that when she sits and reflects on some of the things they have done, she can wonder how they happened.
Ma Annie narrated how she abandoned her husband and children to join her friends in Accra to advocate for peace in Liberia. “Today, Liberia has peace. Regrettably, the thousands of women across Liberia, some of whom lost their lives, have not been recognized. It is today that the Vice President of Liberia recommended and the women of SHEROES bestowed this award on us. We are not educated but we will support you,” Madam Annie Nushan added.
Liberia’s First female Vice President, a long time advocate for women and girls wellbeing, Chief Dr. Jewel Cianeh Howard-Taylor takes the work of WIPNET close to her heart and has always recommended the recognition of these women’s role in making Liberia a peaceful country again. She sponsored the Liberian delegation trip to the SHEROES 2018 honoring events in Accra, Ghana.
WIPNET has done myriad advocacies across the West African Region but the organization’s role in ensuring that peace returned to Liberia in 2003 after several years of bloodbath leaves an indelible mark on the minds of Liberians and the international community.
The Peace advocacy organization has successfully energized women in Liberia to come together for peace by leading mass, non-violent protests in 2003 against the fighting that swept the country at that time.
The success of WIPNET showed that women could be powerful, credible proponents of peace in Liberia, and helped created awareness across West Africa of the important role women could play in peacebuilding and leadership.
Following the end of the violence, and building upon their success and credibility, WIPNET continued its activities to promote peace and reconciliation in Liberia. WIPNET was instrumental in a massive election education mobilization in the lead-up to the 2005 and again ensuring a peaceful transition of power in 2017. WIPNET continues to train local people in peacebuilding in order to spread the knowledge WIPNET has learned across the country.