AWSJ Conference To Feature Nobel Laureate


The woman who brought together Christian and Muslim women in a nonviolent movement that played a pivotal role in ending Liberia's Civil War in 2003 was awarded a Nobel Peace Prize for her leadership and vision.

Her drive to spark collaboration among women of different faiths and inspire them to rally until their voices were heard made the 2011 Nobel laureate, Leymah Gbowee, the perfect keynote speaker for the 16th annual Ambrose Women for Social Justice Conference, "War and Peace: Gender and Justice."

The Sept. 24 conference is free and open to the public. Registration begins at 9 a.m., and participants can take part in workshops at 9:25 a.m. and 10:40 a.m.; opportunities for activism and celebration begin at 3:30 p.m.; and performances from 5:30-7:30 p.m.

Participants also can join a roundtable discussion at 12:15 p.m. An optional $12 lunch will be served. Go to to register for the conference, sign up for lunch, and see the full workshop schedule. Seating may be limited.

Gbowee will present the keynote address at 2 p.m. in the Rogalski Center Ballroom. She won the Nobel prize for leading the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace.

"She is the perfect speaker for the Ambrose Women for Social Justice Conference because her work in peace-making specifically brought together women from diverse backgrounds during a time when a civil war was tearing the country apart based on tribal or ethnic lines," said Professor of Theology, Lisa Powell PhD.

She said Gbowee's experience in getting people of different backgrounds and faiths to work on a common cause is extremely relevant today.

"We keep hearing, and feeling, how divided our country is on partisan lines, but there are so many things we need to work together to change. In light of the recent mass shootings, I can't help but think about the need to end gun violence, and wonder if we could be inspired by Gbowee to bring together people from different backgrounds and contexts to work for change," Powell said.

"At St. Ambrose, we have a deep history in teaching nonviolent resistance," said Katy Strzepek, PhD, Professor and Director of the Women and Gender Studies program. "We are extremely excited to bring someone to campus who absolutely embodies nonviolent activism."

"Sometimes we forget we are a nation at war, as we are still fighting in the Middle East, and we are fighting wars in our own community tied to poverty, racism, police brutality and more. We believe her stories and ideas on reconciliation are important to our own community."

Katy Strzepek, PhD

In addition to Gbowee's work as a peace activist, she is a trained social worker and women's rights advocate.

Gbowee is executive director of the Women, Peace and Security Program at Columbia University's Earth Institute and established the Gbowee Peace Foundation Africa to provide leadership and educational opportunities to women and youth.

She has played pivotal roles in several organizations, as a founding member and/or director, including the Liberia Reconciliation Initiative, Women Peace and Security Network Africa, and Women in Peacebuilding Network/West Africa Network for Peacebuilding.

Gbowee serves as a Sustainable Development Goals Advocate for the United Nations and member of the World Refugee Council.

In 2016, she received the Lifetime Africa Achievement Prize for Peace by the Millennium Excellence Foundation. In 2017, the UN Secretary-General selected Gbowee to serve as a member of his high-level Advisory Board on Mediation. In 2018, she was appointed to the Gender Equality Advisory Council during Canada's G7 Presidency.

Gbowee holds an M.A. in Conflict Transformation and a Doctor of Laws honoris causa and held distinguished fellowships at Barnard College and Union Theological Seminary.

Her role in the Women of Libera Mass Action for Peace is chronicled in her memoir, Mighty Be Our Powers, and in the award-winning documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell

"This is will be rare opportunity for anyone. Gbowee is a world-renowned activist, organizer, and author. She will be dynamic and passionate, and I'm sure we will all leave filled with hope and energized to work for change," Powell said.

"What Gbowee achieved is a powerful example of justice and collaboration, and it illustrates the power of democracy and grassroots organizing," Strzepek said. 

"Sometimes we forget we are a nation at war, as we are still fighting in the Middle East, and we are fighting wars in our own community tied to poverty, racism, police brutality and more. We believe her stories and ideas on reconciliation are important to our own community," she said.

"The hope is always that we move forward with activism, that we use what we learned to bring forth justice," Strzepek added.

The conference is supported by Humanities Iowa, the National Endowment for the Humanities, the Baecke Endowment for the Humanities, the Kokjohn Endowment, the Institute for Person-Centered Care at St. Ambrose University, and the SAU Master of Public Health program, the School of Social Work, and the Women and Gender Studies program.

The views and opinions expressed by this program do not necessarily reflect those of Humanities Iowa or the National Endowment for the Humanities.

The AWSJ Conference is first of a series of events, performances, discussions and presentations that reflect the St. Ambrose University College of Arts and Sciences 2019-20 Academic Theme, War and Peace. The theme aims to develop greater moral clarity on the topic; change human consciousness on a local, national, and international level; and to reach a common goal of nonviolence.

Leymeh Gbowee photo

2019 AWSJ Conference

Nobel Laureate Leymeh Gbowee provided the keynote address for the 16th annual Ambrose Women for Social Justice Conference.


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