This evening 5 African women, including the much-celebrated Lupita Nyongo, will command the stage at the Golden Theater on Broadway as they have for the past many weeks. Their final moving performance will transport the audience to the makeshift camps and traumatized villages and towns of Liberia, where civil war spilled into homes and destroyed the lives of thousands of civilians. You will meet a peace activist; young girls used as sex slaves; upper class Liberian women and poor village women; and fierce female guerillas determined to use guns to assert their power. You will sit on the edge of your seat, hardly daring to breathe as you are immersed in a war that took place not so long ago. A war in which women's bodies were brutalized, enslaved, used as vessels of shame, as instruments of salvation, and exploited in every fashion. You will be reminded that Liberia is closely, deeply, unmistakeably linked with the United States and you will be ashamed that you cannot find Monrovia on a map, nor recall when Charles Taylor's violent autocratic rule came to an end. You may not have any idea that it was Liberian women who brought that reign of terror and the civil war between the dictator Taylor and the increasingly murderous LURD rebels to an end. Few of you may have watched the brilliant film by Abby Disney and Gini Reticker Pray the Devil Back to Hell that recounts how both Muslim and Christian Liberian women came together to challenge and defeat the violence in their land by wearing white and protesting by putting their bodies on the line.
But for us in the global women's movement, Eclipsed is something else. It is both Herstory on stage and Herstory in practice. It is the reminder of the power, beauty and sacrifice of women's rights defenders in the midst of war, in the midst of brutality, in the midst of despair. It is a song of praise for the creativity and courage that women find whether they are grassroots activists, founders of non-profits, playwrights, actors, producers or directors. Eclipsed is the first ALL BLACK, ALL WOMEN production on Broadway ever. EVER. It seems fitting that among the actors is Akosua Busia, the sister of a founding member of the African Women's Development Fund, one of the first to support Nobel Peace Prize winner Leymah Gbowee's nascent peacewomen movement along with the Global Fund for Women. These early investments of "risk capital" made it possible for Leymah and her amazing band of peacewagers to keep going, to pay for tickets to Ghana to keep the pressure on LURD and Taylor when the negotiations seemed about to fail; to provide shelter for women and children displaced by the war. This is what women's philanthropy and the women's funding movement are all about. Women's funds like the New York Women's Foundation and the Ms. Foundation for Women and many others try to stretch their limited funds between grassroots activism and support for emerging artists, writers, poets, and filmmakers, providing them with access to retreats, training, and career development opportunities long before they go on to become the accomplished performers you will get to see in Eclipsed. Those resources are scarce and often scattered. Playwrights like Danai Gurira and directors like Liesl Tommy are a rare thing on Broadway - Black African Women running their own show. In a 21st century world we need many many more such leaders of change. Private philanthropy needs to follow the lead of women's funds and make sure we support diverse voices and talent in the arts and in civil society across the globe. Together we could ensure women are not eclipsed by the forces of discrimination and bias but are telling and making Herstory that liberates and illuminates all our lives.