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Create spaces for young women around the world to thrive

Meet Ms. Leymah Gbowee, Liberian Peace Activist & Noble Peace Prize Winner

When I was young, my country Liberia was like a fairyland, but the wars came and turned my world upside down. Today, Liberia experiences some of the worst human rights issues ranging from poor education, lack of quality health care, gender inequality, child abuse, sexual assault, and corruption. These issues plague our communities and disadvantage many girls who feel they have to sell their bodies in exchange for pennies.

When I won the Nobel Peace Prize, I could not help but think about ways to eradicate injustices in my communities and create avenues to provide every human being with their basic needs. Though I could not solve all of the world's problems, I knew that women's and girls' abuse is the crux of every human rights issue. Creating a safe and equal world means ensuring all individuals' dignity, especially women, girls, and children.

So, I dedicated my Nobel Peace Prize to cultivating spaces where young girls, at least, the ones who I will encounter, would no longer have to sleep with any older person to pay their tuition fees. And for the last 8 years, supporting girls' education and mentoring the next generation of young women to be peacebuilders through Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa (GPFA) has been my life's joy.

In the last eight years, I have encountered countless young women who have come into GPFA programs with the desire to finish high school, then onto university and onto graduate schools to complete their masters. Most of these young women have astonishing hopes to stay in school, but unfortunately, their families cannot afford to put them through school. Then there are young women from Muslim backgrounds who are solely disadvantaged because they are relegated to early marriages, and refusal means financial neglect from their families. Then there are sweet little girls who, since birth, were left vulnerable to abuse, destroying their dreams, and crushing their hopes for a better future. Then there are boys whose sexuality makes them sexual deviants in their communities, exposing them to hate crimes. These enduring situations and conditions halt our global quest to make the world a better place. This has propelled me to work 48 hours within 24 hours, raising funds, primarily to send girls to school. In my experiences, what I have seen is that if given the right opportunity and space to these young women, they turn from ducklings into beautiful swans.

I have since swore to go about my life creating spaces for young women to thrive and my hope is that everyone who reads this letter will search deep within to find issues that keep you wide awake at night. And I implore you to not sit with hands folded, use your voice to bring light to those issues.

My name is Leymah Gbowee, and my voice matters because it amplifies all the voices of girls in oppressed spaces who do not have the platforms to speak on issues that threaten their human rights.

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