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Leymah Gbowee’s advice for women in Egypt and beyond

Last week, PBS’s Need To Know aired a great interview with Leymah Gbowee, a leader of the nonviolent women’s movement – chronicled in the powerful documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell – that drove Liberian dictator Charles Taylor from power in 2003, in which she discusses how their victory has empowered women in Liberia and the volatile situation in the Ivory Coast.

While seven women protesting in the Ivory Coast were shot dead at the beginning of March, Gbowee believes they will be able to stop President Laurent Gbagbo, but stresses that it may take time:

People tend to think that what was accomplished in Liberia was an overnight thing by the women… No. We did three years of mobilization. We did three years of sensitization. We did three years of bringing people to understand the agenda for peace. Ivory Coast has been having this problem up and down for a while now. And people are still — especially women’s groups, they’re still divided, based on political lines.

Gbowee, who now runs the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-Africa) in Ghana, also offers some extremely important advice to the women of Egypt, who were active participants in the nonviolent uprising that ousted Mubarak earlier this year. As she watched that revolution unfold, she said:

I was excited but I was also very cautious. One of the things that usually happens, women come out… and form part of the protests. Unfortunately, we focus so much on the protest that we forget to develop our political agenda. So by the time the protest is over and the negotiation around politics and leadership and all of these different things start happening, we don’t have it. We don’t have anything to contribute. And then we’re scrambling and we’re fighting and at the end if we get anything, we get the dregs of it.

She then argues that the women of the “Arab Spring” need to stay engaged, keep protesting and demand what’s theirs.

If the women of Egypt and the women of Tunisia think that it’s going to come on a silver platter by virtue of the fact that there are videos that show them protesting alongside men, they’ll miss it. They’ve missed the point. They’ve missed everything. It’s now time for them to start their own revolution.