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Focus on Liberia: April 19th and 20th
CEW is joining with several other U-M units to focus on Liberia and women's leadership in that country. Through a combination of speakers and film we explore recent developments in Liberia that led to increased involvement of women in the political discourse and to the election of Africa's first woman president.
Liberia, the oldest republic in Africa, was established in 1822 by the American Colonization Society (ACS) as a colony for both free-born African- Americans and freed slaves. Rather than integrate freed slaves into U. S. society, the ACS established Liberia, which from its beginning had a complicated social structure. Americo-Liberians (those who'd settled in Liberia from the US) long maintained political and social dominance despite the fact that they made up less than 5% of the population. Liberia's sixteen native tribes, who have always comprised the vast majority of the country's inhabitants, have historically been at the bottom of the caste system.
Liberia became an independent state in 1847. With financial support and interference from the U.S. and other nations, the Americo-Liberians maintained their rule for over 100 years. Then, in 1980, Samuel Doe, a member of an indigenous tribe, led a coup against the settlers' rule. What has followed is many years of bloody turmoil and infighting amongst the various tribal factions, culminating in Charles Taylor seizing control of Liberia in 1997. Taylor's corrupt leadership and human rights violations against Liberian citizens led to his ouster in 2003. The current, 24th president of Liberia is Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first elected female president of an African country. According to an article in the New York Times (Daniel Bergner, Oct 24, 2010), Johnson Sirleaf is regarded as “a figure of profound hope for Africa by many in the West and as a savior by some Liberians…partly because she is a woman.” Faced with nearly insurmountable poverty, corruption and lack of infrastructure, the President has faith in the future of Liberia and in the power of Liberian women. “She doesn't hesitate,” explains Bergner, “in declaring that women make better leaders. Women lead more than a quarter of her ministries….' Women are more committed,' Johnson Sirleaf says. 'Women work harder… They are more honest; they have less reason to be corrupt . '”
Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a powerful documentary directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail Disney, tells the story of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, a movement that played a key role in bringing an end to civil war in Liberia and electing President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf.
The film features Leymah Gbowee, a Liberian social worker who inspired both Christian and Muslim women to join together to demand peace for their country. Dressed in white, thousands of Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace members staged non-violent protests. Their relentless efforts eventually forced Liberia's then-President Charles Taylor to attend peace talks and drove warring groups to reach a peace agreement.
Pray the Devil Back to Hell premiered in 2008 and won the Tribeca Film Festival Award for Best Documentary. It has since won over 15 other awards for documentary filmmaking. Its message about the political power of women to bring about change is both inspirational and essential in all corners of today's world.
Abigail Disney, Ph.D., says she produced Pray the Devil Back to Hell out of fear that this story “of enormous courage and integrity and perseverance and fortitude would dissolve into the mist as so many other women's accomplishments had.”
Disney describes herself as “just a regular old mother of four.” But her credentials extend beyond that role. She's also the founder and president of the Daphne Foundation, which supports grassroots programs in low-income communities in New York City. Grants from the Daphne Foundation have poured millions of dollars into such causes as women's rights, AIDS advocacy, and children's health. Disney, a grandniece of Walt Disney, has long been involved in various social and political causes, many of them devoted to women's issues: The New York Women's Foundation, the White House Project, and the Global Fund for Women.
“I have spent many years thinking about, talking up and generally advocating for women's political leadership at all levels of the political spectrum,” says Disney. “I haven't done this out of any cosmic sense of women's superiority, but rather because I believe that the world has been managed by only half of its inhabitants for too long. Down to the tips of my toes I know that the addition of women's voices to the bargaining tables, congressional chambers, courts, boardrooms and head offices of the world would enrich and strengthen the integrity of the decision-making processes in those places and therefore make the world a better, cleaner, safer and more just place.”
(Some of this information first appeared in an article at: http://www.huffingtonpost. Com/abigail-e-disney)
As part of Focus on Liberia, CEW welcomes Vivian Lowery Derryck to our campus on Wednesday, April 20. Derryck created the Bridges Institute in Washington DC in 2009. The mission of this nonprofit organization is to strengthen democracy, promote senior leadership development and foster economic growth in Africa by increasing connections between Africa and its global partners, particularly through trade and social development.
Before becoming president and CEO of the Bridges Institute, Derryck participated as an Inaugural Fellow in Harvard University's Advanced Leadership Initiative. Her 35-year career in international development, especially in Africa, includes being the Assistant Administrator for Africa at the US Agency for International Development (where she managed an annual $1 billion in US foreign aid), president of the African-American Institute, senior vice president at the Academy for Educational Development (an annual $500 million US-based NGO), and Senior Advisor of the Africa Leadership Forum.
We invite you to join us for Vivian Lowery Derryck's presentation and the reception that follows. Given her long time commitment to education and advocacy as well as to gender equity, political participation, conflict resolution and economic development, she will offer a perfect complement to the Tuesday evening, April 19 Pray the Devil Back to Hell program.