By Christina Hershey
Baltimore Watchdog Staff Writer
Nobel Peace Laureate Leymah Gbowee urged a group of Towson University students and faculty members to get involved in their communities as the first step towards “turning this upside-down world right-size up.”
In a speech at Towson on Saturday, Gbowee raised alarm bells about the growing gun violence and terror attacks around the world. She said she was also concerned with the rising number of insurgence groups in places like Libya.
Gbowee, a peace activist from Liberia, said humanity must think about peace from the perspective of people rather than the lack of military action.
“When people tend to talk about peace and security, it’s hitched on militarism,” she said. “Once we end wars, we have peace, once we end wars, we have security.”
Gbowee said that until society begins to re-imagine peace and security not just from a militaristic perspective but from a perspective of human security, where basic human needs are being met, the world will continue to see gun violence and terrorism.
“If you are living in a place where you are treated like a second-class citizen and your needs are not being met and someone says to you, ‘Here’s a gun, use it, and your whole world will change,’ instantly, you would say, ‘yes,’” she said.
She implored students to rise to the occasion, to have a stake in “turning this upside-down world right side up.”
Gbowee encouraged the audience to start in local communities and work toward something bigger. She said people should start with their passion and work from there.
In response to a question from the audience, Gbowee told a story about a woman in Zimbabwe who was sexually assaulted and defended herself by castrating her assailant. The man survived and the young woman who was raped was arrested for attempted murder.
“There was not a single charge for rape,” she said.
Gbowee said someone made public the phone number of the judge who heard the case. Gbowee said she and other feminists in Zimbabwe blasted the judge’s phone with text messages demanding justice for their sister. After changing his number several times, the judge stepped down from the case, and no one else would take the case.
The feminist sisters of Zimbabwe mobilized their resources and numerous female lawyers from Nigeria and Ghana flew in and were ready to defend the woman who was sexually assaulted in court, Gbowee said. The woman was eventually set free.
Gbowee said activism comes from passion and consistency.
“Until we start to speak the uncompromising truth about the state of our world, the state of our communities, we will continue to grumble that our world is upside down,” she said.
Students in the audience who were interviewed said they were moved by the speech.
“There’s so much going on in the country that I want to fix but I don’t know where to start, so her speaking about grassroots movements and starting small was so encouraging,” said Jenna Cipolloni, a film major at Towson.
Nicholas Koski, a third-year philosophy major at Towson, said that he really enjoyed Gbowee’s personal stories as an activist.
“I share her idea that if you keep waiting for other people to do something, nothing is going to happen,” said Julissa Fernandez, a psychology student at Towson. “We can make a change, sometimes it takes as little as saying ‘hi’ to the person next to you.”