Alumna joins delegation in West Africa, campaigns to end rape and gender violence
SHREVEPORT, LA — Nancy Word '70 along with Lynne Twist, author of Soul and Money, completed a trip to Liberia with the Nobel Women's Initiative delegation in January. The delegation sought to amplify the voices of women facing violence, sexual violence in particular, in Liberia, Sudan, and the Democratic Republic of the Congo.
Nancy Word (on right) in Liberia
"We were accompanied by four Nobel Peace Prize Laureates, key women activists, several women philanthropists, a documentary filmmaking team from Austin, and members of the international press," said Word. "In these first few days we were inspired, confronted, heartbroken, uplifted, and blown away by the Liberian people's capacity for joy."
Liberia, torn apart by three brutal wars, is transitioning to a state of peace yet poverty runs deep throughout the country. Former combatants, including child soldiers, and victims are beginning the long process of rehabilitation. However, rape and sexual violence against women continues to tear apart the fabric of life, according to Word.
Word's delegation spent most of its first day in a small, rural community called The community of 20,000 is desperately poor. Inhabitants break huge rocks into small rocks for a living and share one meager water pump. The children, mostly girls, are often sent out early in the morning, sometimes as early as 4:00 a.m., with buckets to fetch water. This twice-a-day task lasts several hours and is very dangerous—many of the girls are sexually accosted or raped.
The delegation also met with six Liberian women activists who are at the forefront of the fight to end sexual violence in their country. One of the journalists was outspoken about Female Genital Mutilation (FGM) and she was forced into hiding after publishing a story on the ritual and its harmful effects. There is currently a move to pass a law that would ban this practice.
"We all should hope that this passes very soon," said Word. "It is a contentious issue as this has been the practice of their ethnic groups for many years."
One of the many highlights of the trip for Word was meeting the women of Totota and Weala. These women orchestrated the peace process to end the brutal wars that ripped the country apart for years. They met with generals and warlords and had convinced their groups to turn in their weapons together. Now, the women are tackling the pandemic of rape and sexual violence in Liberia.
"We were shaken to our core and at the same time we were in the presence of nearly unbelievable strength, determination, and spirit," said Word and Twist in a joint statement. "It was such a privilege to be with the Nobel Women Peace Prize Laureates as they listened to person after person after person with incredible depth, heart, and commitment. They are simply amazing, and we learned so much from them and from each other as well."