Category: University News

Title: Georgetown Honors Liberian Peace Leader Leymah Gbowee With Honorary Degree

On Feb. 13, Georgetown honored Leymah Gbowee, a Nobel Peace Prize Laureate and women’s rights advocate who played a major role in ending the Second Liberian Civil War, with an honorary degree.

Gbowee received a Doctor of Humane Letters on the stage of Gaston Hall and delivered a lecture on what peace means to her after years of global peacebuilding. 

The event was part of the university’s annual Oliver Tambo Lecture, a series that honors Oliver Tambo, a late South African leader and anti-apartheid activist, and provides a forum to explore current issues in Africa. Previous speakers in the lecture series have included Archbishop Desmond Tutu, former South African President Thabo Mbeki and Kofi Annan, former secretary-general of the United Nations.

Gbowee was recognized for her work leading the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a coalition that united Christian and Muslim women in a nonviolent, interfaith movement for peace during Liberia’s second civil war, which began in 1999. The coalition influenced peace negotiations, and Gbowee played an invaluable role in enabling the 2003 peace talks.  

Gbowee’s interreligious engagement and peacebuilding has been highlighted in the 2008 documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, and in her autobiography, Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War. In 2011, she received the Nobel Peace Prize for her work.

“We honor her tireless advocacy on behalf of women in conflict zones, her promotion of sustainable development, and her commitment to interfaith action to advance the common good,” Lahra Smith, associate professor and director of the African Studies Program, said at the event.

Gbowee, a social worker and former trauma counselor, has since established the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa, which provides educational, leadership and community-building opportunities for women and young adults in Liberia and West Africa. She’s the founding executive director of the Institute on Gender, Law, and Transformative Peace at the City University of New York (CUNY) School of Law, the founder of the Liberia Reconciliation Initiative and the co-founder of the Women Peace and Security Network Africa. 

“Through nonviolence, coalition building, interfaith engagement and a deep commitment to common good, you were able to foster a transformation, a movement, for a more just, inclusive and peaceful future,” said Georgetown President John J. DeGioia. “You are an inspiration for our world of just what can be possible. It is an honor for all of us to share this moment with you.”

In her lecture, Gbowee described key moments in her life that taught her about peace: growing up in a Lutheran church and learning about the struggles of the South African people; volunteering for a Lutheran church’s reconciliation program and working with child soldiers; working with women activists in Liberia and South Sudan; consulting on community engagement in Chicago. Each experience taught her something about peace that she has carried with her. 

“Throughout my journey, I have come to the conclusion that peace is not just the absence of war, but the presence of conditions that give dignity to all,” she said. “Peace is sacrificing your comfort and your life in some instances. Peace is investing in the future to ensure conditions that dignity all exists. Peace, distinguished ladies and gentlemen, is recognizing and honoring our collective humanity.”

Learn more about what peace means to her.

Peace is not jumping on a train. Peace is not hashtag. Peace is being prepared to journey even if you are the last man or woman standing.

Leymah Gbowee

Peace is justice. Peace requires the provision of our basic human security needs.

Leymah Gbowee

Peace is equality. Access to education. Peace demands sacrificing so everyone irrespective of their perceived value has the chance to be the best that they can be.

Leymah Gbowee