Liberian Women from Doc win award

April 8, 2009 — Leymah Gbowee and the many women who worked with her in pushing for peace and paving the way for democracy after years of violent conflict in Liberia have been named as one of the recipients of the 2009 John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award.

“We are so proud of Leymah and her countrywomen, whose accomplishments are being recognized with this huge honor,” said Abigail Disney, who produced an award-winning documentary about the women called Pray the Devil Back to Hell. “Theirs is an inspiring story about beating the odds one person at a time, and about how a simple gesture can change the world.”

Caroline Kennedy will present this prestigious award for political courage from the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation at a ceremony at the John F. Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum in Boston on Monday, May 18. Expected to attend the awards ceremony from Liberia are activist Leymah Gbowee, the leader of the Mass Action Women in Peace and Security Network – Africa (WIPSEN-A); Etty Weah, Yatta Moore, Asata Kandakai, Vaiba Flomo, Janet Johnson Bryant, and Assatu Bah Kenneth.

Leymah Gbowee will accept the Profile in Courage Award on behalf of the women of Liberia.  Gbowee’s journey to peacemaking began in the 1990’s, as she watched her native Liberia devolve into a decade-long civil war in which violence, rape, and murder became part of daily life. Gbowee brought together several dozen women to pray for peace. That effort launched a movement of ordinary Christian and Muslim women who rose up together to help put an end to Liberia’s civil war.  Their remarkable struggle for peace eventually paved the way for the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf to the presidency of Liberia – the first democratic election of a woman anywhere in Africa.

“Leymah Gbowee and the women of Liberia assumed personal responsibility for their national destiny, demonstrating the power of citizen activism to change history,” said Caroline Kennedy, President of the John F. Kennedy Library Foundation. “By bringing together women of all religions, ethnic groups and walks of life,  to stand up, sit in, and speak out against violence and in favor of peace, reconciliation and progress, they played a crucial role in restoring democracy to their war-torn country.  The election of the first woman head of state in Africa – President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf – is due in no small part to these courageous women. They have shown the world the power of women’s voices united for peace, inspired citizens around the world, and empowered women to seek political change.”

These once-unsung Liberian women and their historic achievement are the basis of the 2008 documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, a film that intersperses contemporary interviews, archival images, and scenes of present-day Liberia together to recount the experiences and memories of the women who were instrumental in bringing lasting peace to their country. The film, directed by Gini Reticker and produced by Abigail Disney, continues its theatrical run throughout 2009, with a DVD release forthcoming this fall and TV premiere on PBS’s Wide Angle in 2010. For more information, visit

The John F. Kennedy Profile in Courage Award is presented annually to public servants who have made courageous decisions of conscience without regard for the personal or professional consequences. In the past, awards have been given to two other groups: the Peacemakers of Northern Ireland (1998) and the Public Servants of 9/11 (2002). Individual recipients have included John McCain (1999) Kofi Annan (2002) and, recently, Edward M. Kennedy (2009). For more information about the Profile in Courage Award and the Kennedy Presidential Library and Museum, visit