She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “We are not waiting for you to take up arms for our cause, but at least to hear on the BBC or receive letters of encouragement saying, we recognize ourselves in you”.
Sorry, I can not find any photo of Mary Brownell, Liberia (see also my comment ‘Brave women without photos‘).
She works for the Liberian Women’s Initiative LWI (named on the Human Rightds Databank),
for the Women in Peacebuilding Network WIPNET (named on WANEP.org),
and for the Mano River Women’s Peace Network MARWOPNET.
Mary Brownell, chairperson of LWI and founding member of MARWOPNET was born in Maryland, Liberia, holds a degree from the University of Liberia and studied school administration and supervision in San Francisco. When war broke out in Liberia she transformed women’s engagement from humanitarian aid to active peace building and also managed to involve civil society in a process that was pivotal to success.
She took risks to become an activist and to raise her voice in a country where not only the interference of women is disapproved of, but also where there is no respect for human life.
From 1994 on, Ms. Brownell was involved in efforts to mobilize women and create a women’s movement for peace. She started this difficult task with a small group, but she began to see the need for creating a national women’s movement. Because of the prevailing situation, access to all corners of the country was very limited and the majority of the women of the group lived in Monrovia. Nevertheless the Liberian Women’s Initiative(LWI was born.
The movement began to grow until representatives from many counties joined. As in other peace movements, women from different socio-cultural backgrounds came together to create a neutral force between the warring factions.
While founding the LWI, Ms Brownell had a lot of ideas to advance the peace women fought for. This was outlined in a plan in which LWI asked that women had the right to participate in the peace process, mobilize troops and campaign until disarmament was achieved.
LWI also emphasized free and transparent elections while concentrating n education and the reunification of the country. Convinced that women had to do more than assist just the moment there was too much violence and thus campaign for the end of the war, Ms Brownell had the ambitious idea of forming a women’s pressure movement in 1994.
Her goal was to denounce atrocities, especially those committed against women, children and the youth. After consulting Dr. Evelyne Kandaki and getting her support, she invited women to a meeting.
Following many hours of discussion, they all became inspired by the same vision. Not wanting to limit things to this first meeting, Ms. Brownell convened a mass meeting in February 1994 which was composed of women from all areas of society. From this, women preseted their point of view in a memorandum addressed to the Liberian government, the West African economic community, the international community through the United Nations and the Organization of African Unity.
This was in effect the start of a political pressure group of women.
The first objective of LWI was to take part in the peace talks. LWI supported women not as the first and only victims of hostilities in Liberia, but as the first promoters of peace who were at that time in a good position to influence the process.
Using all the strategies that could be conceived, LWI mobilized its troops and pressured the leaders to involve women in all political processes. Ms. Brownell organized protest marches and peaceful marches in the streets of Monrovia. Its delegates crossed all African countries. Press conferences were held. In addition, they sent letters to the commanders in chief, asking them to stop the killing.
In 1994, LWI chose a delegation of six members to force their way into a conference held in Accra, Ghana, despite a refusal to invite them under the pretext that they were not directly linked to the parties to the conflict. Nevertheless, their strategic presence at the conference and their interaction with the participants prepared the way for the future participation of women.
Although the movement was never officially invited, Ms. Brownell and her friends always proved to be influential consultants. Their advice was listened to during the process, thanks to their determination and the constant presence of their voice.
The points they particularly wanted known were disarmament, free and transparent elections, education and the reunification of the country.
All were all applied in 1997 under the government directed by a woman.
They remain today crucial points of the peace process. In effect, the creation of LWI marked the point of entry for woman in Liberian politics. For the first time, Liberian women were able to play an active role and to make themselves heard at a national level.
Having remained outside the process and concerned only with the social aspect of the war, women now had a platform for their political opinion through LWI. This also gave them the opportunity to express their unique vision for the country, to put pressure on those taking decisions and to lobby at all levels.
When Liberian women faced discrimination again, LWI and the women’s movements were encouraged to become more active for the participation of women. While supporting LWI and MARWOPNE, Ms. Brownell started the long process of peace-building which eventually brought about a sustained peace to Liberia, Sierra Leone and Guinea.
Ms Brownell and the other women activists saw the first glimmer of hope hen Ruth S. Perry, another member of LWI, became head of state in 1997. The serious first attempt to disarm the warring factions and hold democratic elections had begun. And, despite the fact that peace did hold, the period in 1997 nevertheless gave an early signal that some openings were possible.
Thanks to her position as founder and president of LWI, Ms. Brownell participated in all the peace conferences in Liberia and became also the means with which women participated in the long process. She contacted those groups who pursued the same goals – the inter-religious mediation council, the commission and chief council for Catholic Justice and Peace, and met regularly with them to discuss with political party members. Ms. Brownell always presented the position taken in the name of women. She visited many countries, held press conferences and shared her experiences with the other African women.
To find the support she hoped for, Ms. Brownell spoke up. “We are not waiting for you to take up arms for our cause, but at least to hear on the BBC or receive letters of encouragement saying, we recognize ourselves in you”. In their response, African women created a group that visited several African countries in crisis in order to support their sisters.
Ms. Brownell also used the press and electronic media to inform the UN, the CEDEAO, the EU, the USA and the international community about the destruction, violations and killings which took place in Liberia.
Despite the fact that Liberia tried democratic elections in 1997, the conflict was not quite over for the simple reason that many rebels kept their weapons and their hostile attitude.
Later, Liberia became once more the scene of armed conflict directed against the elected government of Charles Taylor. The country went back to the law of weapons and women resumed their peaces efforts. This became the basis from which LWI, recognized as a link for peace, and Ms. Brownell began again to work, with visits to different towns and meeting with people about reconciliation.
As the conflict resumed extensively, she sought a more active role for women. This time she worked through MARWOPNET (Network of Women of the River Mano for Peace), of which she was a founder member. MARWOPNET is a joint initiative of women in the region of the River Mano for peace.
The network combines the forces of the different networks operating in the region. Ms. Brownell and other members of MARWOPNET were convinced that women could validly contribute to the needs of peace in the region, to security, and to the importance of the fact that the absence of conflict was a long-term condition for the fufillment of human rights for all.
The influx of refugees to Guinea originating from Liberia and Sierra Leone became a worry, and the involvement of MARWOPNET prevented the explosion of hostilities. Ms. Brownell and others increased their activities. Acting as a conduit between the three countries, they succeeded in bringing three leaders to the negotiating table in 2003 and the final agreement was signed.
Thanks to this action, MARWOPNET prevented the deterioration of human rights (a phenomenon which happens often during war) and encouraged the application of resolution 1325 of the security council. As a reward for its huge contribution, MARWOPNET was given a prestigious human rights award in 2003.
Ms. Brownell, thanks to her involvement in the women’s movements, widely contributed to the establishment of a durable peace in the three countries. When her sisters were faced with difficulties, she used the opportunity to create awareness of conflicts in and outside Africa. She was able to attract the attention of the international community, which became interested in the River Mano region. More importantly, she was able to create solidarity among African women of different countries.
Her participation and her support for MARWOPNET has given legitimacy to the network and consequently has encouraged Liberians to join their ranks. (1000PeaceWomen).
Read: Liberia, UPF Peace Ambassadors Celebrate With Mary Brownell.