by Wenwen Zheng, JNL61004, MA International Public and Political Communication, University of Sheffield.
Liberia has suffered two civil wars, each with significant losses. During the first civil war, over half of Liberians became refugees and approximately 200,000 people were killed in combat or atrocities (Hegre, Østby, and Raleigh, 2009). The second Liberian civil war ended with the signing of the Accra Comprehensive Peace Agreement (CPA) by the three main parties in Accra on August 18, 2003.
In this blog post, I will focus on the Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (CPCS) and its projects for peacebuilding in Liberia. CPCS is hosted by the University of St Andrews’ School of International Relations. CPCS is committed to promoting peaceful communication among individuals, groups, and communities. It researches conflicts from a global perspective and examines methods for achieving long-term peace, rather than focusing just on conflict resolution (CPCS, 2021). In the documentary “Peace Hut”, they look back on the iconic 2003 Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace (CPCS, 2021). The documentary is utilised as a vehicle to focus on women’s groups and peacebuilding in the aftermath of war using this kind of factual mass media communication. It also serves as a reminder that the fight for peace and equality is a never-ending battle that necessitates daily effort, vigilance, and mutual support.
In general, documentaries as factual mass media have the potential to help establish pro-peace attitudes, usually persuading viewers to modify their behaviour. Documentaries are seen to play an inspirational role in social processes and have the ability to facilitate emotional learning experiences（Premaratna, 2021).
Firstly, what is depicted in Peace Hut is a post-war refuge for women. In this refuge, each member has equal civil status and requires an active and It necessitates a deliberate and ongoing desire for peace over violence on the part of individuals and groups, as well as a readiness to connect with the past in a future-oriented manner. In the documentary, Victoria Wollie said that “During the war, we have a breakdown of every moral fabric of society, so young people, young women, growing up without rule”. Especially in countries that have experienced war, women’s rights are not guaranteed. But the opening section of the documentary mentions that they have always longed for peace and have prayed for it to come. This makes clear that Peace Hut, as a community of Liberian women, has accepted and tolerated this history of conflict and has been working to help and promote peacebuilding.
Secondly, the “Peace Hut” focuses on a community centre and as Kolu sumol (a member of the Peace Hut) says in the documentary, she went out to learn to make clothes and came back here to continue to help the people in the Peace Hut. Although they are victims of civil war, they can come together to learn, plan and exchange knowledge, resist violence together to achieve economic empowerment, and discuss ways to deal with social problems. In this community where the goal of all is peace, This is not only the goal of their joint efforts, but also the embodiment of mutual redemption. Overall, the documentary provides viewers with an insight into the everyday and interactive aspects of Liberian women’s public life in Peace Hut, as well as the importance of peacebuilding. Even more noteworthy is the fact that more than one social problem and violence caused by the war, and in the aftermath of the conflict, women suffer even more, such as poverty, violence, and rape. Transitional justice means offering conflict resolution and mediation services to contentious community members for the Liberian women who manage the Peace Huts. Domestic violence cases are handled by trained mediators who give trauma counseling and restorative therapy and provide assistance to survivors of sexual and gender-based abuse (SGBV) (Lawson and Flomo, 2020). This demonstrates Peace Hut’s capacity as an organisation to build new communicative, legal, economic and political institutions. For example, as mentioned in the documentary, to meet with the legislature when they are being treated unfairly again and tell them “the bill you are passing is bad for women”. In this way, they are able to make a valuable difference to society.
Finally, it is also a place where women vent their emotions. Although these women hate war and even fight for the rights of women and children through protests, they do not act aggressively or vindictively, but simply express their pain and demands. The women of this community have been active in resisting conflict and violence and fighting for their rights by protesting against injustice. Also as a way of communication, such a documentary is seen as inspiring social processes and can be used to connect research and practice of peacebuilding (Townsend & Niraula, 2016). The women of Peace Hut give advice and appropriate and sustainable help in peacebuilding, trying to gain respect and equality in society in this way.
The documentary focuses on Peace Hut, a women’s organisation, and does not overly depict the tragedies and injustices of the war, but rather shows the women’s desire for peace and their efforts to achieve it through interviews with the participants and their accounts. Documentary film as a factual medium is perceived as providing a “clear-eyed” and “unsentimental” portrayal of the “disastrous repercussions” of foreign policy traditions, in contrast to popular movies (Philpott, 2018, quoted in Premaratna, 2021). Peace Hut does not show the gory images of war or massacres, but rather how the participants in the community are helping each other and working together for peace and peacebuilding. The audience is made aware of the trauma of civil war and conflict and the need to do more to build peace in the aftermath of war. As a visual medium, documentary cinema, therefore, contributes to “constituting the social” (Neumann, 2001, quoted in Premaratna, 2021). and is recognized for its significance in social processes. All the positive attitudes and actions are shown in this documentary, from the opening monologue “We will pray, for my children” to the importance of peace to people, resonate with the audience. Civil society, particularly women’s organisations, is viewed as a critical partner in post-conflict rehabilitation. Including women in peacebuilding and post-conflict reconstruction in an inclusive and pluralistic manner will not only improve the quality of the issues addressed, but it will also serve as an empowerment strategy in and of itself, as it will provide room for non-hegemonic actors to fight for gender equality and move beyond the fixed label (Debusscher and Martin de Almagro, 2016). Even in the UN Sustainable Development Goals, gender equality and peace are issues worth addressing. Women are the focus of this documentary and “Peace Hut” combination of women and peacebuilding issues from a female perspective is the strength of this documentary. It uses language and narrative to show the importance of peace, not only as a means of communication but also as a reminder to the viewer.
Whatever the time, peacebuilding is the most important after a civil war. The documentary can be used as a communicative medium to reach a wide audience in civil society, and as a way for an organsation to communicate with the audience, and the transformative power of communication is best exemplified in post-civil war peacebuilding. But unlike other reports, the documentary is a visual reminder of the brutality of war by giving the viewer a sense of the attitudes of the people involved. The documentary is a realistic look at the victims of the war and their desire for peace and a reminder that civil wars should not be judged by ceasefire agreements. Fortunately, there are now organisations such as CPCS that are working in this way to build peace and raise civil awareness, this is very advantageous for peacebuilding
Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies (2021). Available at:https://cpcs.wp.st-andrews.ac.uk/
Debusscher, P. and Martin de Almagro, M. (2016) ‘Post-conflict women’s movements in turmoil: the challenges of success in Liberia in the 2005-aftermath’, The Journal of modern African studies, 54(2), pp. 293–316.
Hegre, H., Østby, G. and Raleigh, C. (2009) ‘Poverty and Civil War Events: A Disaggregated Study of Liberia’, The Journal of conflict resolution, 53(4), pp. 598–623.
Lawson, E.S. and Flomo, V.K. (2020) ‘Motherwork and gender justice in Peace Huts: a feminist view from Liberia’, Third world quarterly, 41(11), pp. 1863–1880.
Leib, J. and Ruppel, S. (2021) ‘The Dance of Peace and Justice: Local Perceptions of International Peacebuilding in West Africa’, International peacekeeping (London, England), 28(5), pp. 783–812.
Premaratna, N. (2021) ‘Dealing With Sri Lanka’s Demons: Using Documentary Film for Peacebuilding’, Journal of peacebuilding & development, 16(1), pp. 39–54.
Townsend, D, & Niraula, K. (2016). Documentary filmmakers: Bridging practice and scholarship in peacebuilding. International Journal of Conflict Engagement and Resolution, 4(1), 28–40.