A Recent Interview with WPS Executive Director Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee addresses the Columbia Business School Social Enterprise Conference on October 7, 2011 at Columbia University in New York after it was announced that she was jointly awarded the Nobel Peace Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Yemen’s Arab Spring activist Tawakkul Karman. AFP PHOTO / TIMOTHY A.CLARY (Photo credit should read TIMOTHY A. CLARY/AFP/Getty Images)

“Women are often perceived as victims of war, rather than agents of change, and are left out of the peacemaking process. But you’ve also said that the field of peace and security includes both “the U.N. negotiators in suits” and women who do grass-roots work in their own communities. Can you explain that idea?

People tend to think that security is primarily about guns and the military. But what we’ve seen in communities across the world is that security is about basic human concerns, like food, shelter, clothing and health care. As we were developing the Women, Peace and Security program at Columbia, we brought together a group that included people from academia, people from the U.N. and the World Bank, and activists from different communities.

We didn’t bring the activists from the U.S. as subjects, we brought them as equal participants around the table. But there was a bit of hesitance among them. One told me she didn’t see where she fit in the peace and security issue because her work was around children. When I asked her more about her work, it turned out to be a school and association that cares for children who have witnessed violence, who are homeless or in need. I told her that it sounded like the same problems that would face a community in Liberia that had gone through war.”

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