Liberia: Mary Brownell

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.

— Mary Brownell

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.

Mary Brownell, convinced that women had the right to participate in the peace process, mobilized women, soon founding Liberian Women’s Initiative (LWI) to create a neutral force between the warring factions of Liberia. Using all the strategies that could be conceived, LWI pressured leaders to involve women in all political processes. In effect, the creation of LWI marked the point of entry for woman in Liberian politics. 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 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. Mary Brownell and her friends always proved to be influential consultants and their advice was listened to during the process thanks to their determination and constant presence of their voice. The points they strived for – disarmament, free and transparent elections, education and the reunification of the country – were all applied in 1997 under the government directed by a woman. They remain crucial points of the peace process until today. As the conflict resumed, Mary worked through Marwopnet, a joint initiative of women of the region of the River Mano for peace. The influx of refugees to Guinea originating from Liberia and Sierra Leone had became worrying, and the involvement of Marwopnet prevented the explosion of hostilities. Mary Brownell and others acted as a conduit between the three countries and succeeded in bringing three leaders to the negotiating table in 2003 where the final agreement was signed. Thanks to this action, Marwopnet prevented the deterioration of human rights and encouraged the application of Resolution 1325 of the UN Security Council.

Liberian Women’s Initiative (LWI) Women in Peacebuilding Network (Wipnet) Mano River Women’s Peace Network (Marwopnet)