One of this year's three Nobel Peace Prize winners is an old friend and colleague and a former student of mine at Eastern Mennonite University's Center for Justice and Peacebuilding. In 2003, I was living and working in Accra, Ghana with the West African Network for Peacebuilding and met Leymah Gbowee of Liberia. I was with Leymah just after she led hundreds of refugee women to surround the peace talks between the Liberian government and rebels. Referred to by the chief negotiators as "General Leymah and her troops of refugee women", they wouldn't let the men out of the room until they had committed to a ceasefire.
Back in 2003, I tried to get the attention of the international community to these Liberian women. I didn't have the contacts. Grassroots peacebuilding was totally unconnected to government approaches to security. Nearly ten years later, Leymah's Nobel Peace Prize acknowledges the important role played by Liberian civil society. And now with 3P Human Security, I spend all of my time trying to draw policymaker's attention to the hundreds of other civil society leaders around the world like Leymah.
This weekend, I spoke with Leymah and shared my frustration that in Afghanistan, civil society is still being excluded from the peace process. Leymah nodded in agreement. Despite decades of evidence of the important role of civil society in transitions from war to peace, few policymakers respect civil society or make room for civil society in peace processes. Perhaps the Nobel prize this year will make a small dent into that ignorance.