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Nobel-Winning Gbowee Tells American Women to Get Angry

Leymah Gbowee
Leymah Gbowee, a 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureate. Photographer: Alex Wong/Getty Images

March 10 (Bloomberg) -- Nobel Prize winner Leymah Gbowee, who once used a sex strike to help force peace talks in Liberia, said American women must “get up” if they want to shape the nation’s fiscal and social priorities.

“As long as we continue to engage from a position of weakness, they will never respect us,” Gbowee said of men, speaking yesterday at the third annual Women in the World conference. “It is time for women to stop being politely angry. It’s time for us to get up.”

Gbowee, 40, helped end a 14-year war in Liberia in part through tactics such as encouraging women to withhold sex until men agreed to negotiate peace. She shared the 2011 Nobel Prize with Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf and Yemen’s Tawakkul Karman for their “non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work,” the Norwegian Nobel Committee said in October.

Newsweek Editor-in-Chief Tina Brown, who conceived the women’s conference hosted by Newsweek and the Daily Beast in New York to inspire creative solutions to world problems, quipped that the U.S. could have used a dose of Gbowee’s tactics, which included sit-ins, in last year’s debate over raising the nation’s debt ceiling. The political stalemate helped prompt the first downgrade of the nation’s credit rating.

Where Are the Women?

Gbowee said those events left her “wondering where are the angry American women?” She wonders the same about women’s voices defending access to contraception.

“I was watching the men talk about your reproductive issues and saying ‘Why are these women not angry?’” asked the mother of six, who leads the Ghana-based Women Peace and Security Network Africa.

Gbowee arrived in Monrovia at 17 and trained as a trauma counselor for child soldiers from Liberian President Charles Taylor’s army. She’s featured in “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary about how Liberian women took on warlords in the civil war, and authored the book “Mighty Be Our Powers: How Sisterhood, Prayer, and Sex Changed a Nation at War.”

Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton, actress Angelina Jolie and Facebook Inc. Chief Operating Officer Sheryl Sandberg are also attending the women’s conference.

To contact the reporter on this story: Mary Childs in New York at mchilds5@bloomberg.net

To contact the editor responsible for this story: Sharon L. Lynch at sllynch@bloomberg.net

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