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African women look within for change

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Angelique Kidjo in concert
  • Gbowee: International groups, governments "have failed the women of this world"
  • Gbowee led Liberian women to confront then-President Taylor to reach peace deal
  • Kidjo: Women have real power but must learn to use it
  • U.N. secretary-general announces members of Guinea probe commission
  • Guinea
  • Coups
  • Africa
  • Protests and Demonstrations
  • Liberia

(CNN) -- Grammy-winning singer Angelique Kidjo joined human rights activists to demand courts martial for troops who publicly gang raped women in the streets of the West African country of Guinea last month.

It's part of a strong message against rape that Kidjo, a UNICEF goodwill ambassador, and activist Leymah Gbowee are spreading to the women of Africa, the governments of Africa and the rest of the world.

"I refuse any man to stand here and justify rape to me, because every girl, every woman that is raped is their mother, their grandmother that they are raping, their sister and their daughter," Beninese singer Kidjo told CNN's Christiane Amanpour on Friday.

"And we cannot sit back -- I can't just accept it, and I'm never going to accept it in my life's breath."

Governments, international and regional groups "have failed the women of this world," said Gbowee, founder and executive director of Women Peace and Security Network Africa.

"They've come up with all of these exotic resolutions, but they lack accountability mechanism, and they're almost like toothless bulldogs," she said. " ... You have what happened in Guinea-Conakry few days ago. No one is compelling that military government to court martial all of those who raped women publicly in the streets."

Guinean soldiers cracked down on pro-democracy protesters a month ago, leaving more than 150 people dead. The United States, the European Union, and the African Union have all imposed sanctions against Guinea's military junta.

On Friday, U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon announced the three members who would comprise the international commission to investigate the alleged crackdown and rapes.

Separately, in The Hague the International Criminal Court, which tries people accused of genocide, crimes against humanity and war crimes, has said it would look into the deaths and rapes and determine whether they fall under its jurisdiction.

The Guinean government under Capt. Moussa Dadis Camara, who seized power in a bloodless coup in December, said last month that most of the people who died were crushed in the rally.

Gbowee, a Liberian, was the focus of the documentary "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," which shows how women confronted then-Liberian President Charles Taylor with a demand for peace to end a bloody 14-year civil war.

Led by Gbowee, Liberian women locked arms and refused to let Taylor's representatives out of negotiations in Ghana until they had reached a peace agreement. Ultimately, Taylor resigned from office after a U.N. tribunal charged him with war crimes. He went into hiding for a time but is now on trial.

The efforts of the Liberian women ultimately led to the election of Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf as Africa's first female head of state.

"I think definitely this can be repeated," Gbowee said of Johnson-Sirleaf's election. "And one of the things that I'm grateful [to] the documentary for is that it emboldens women in every part.

" ... This documentary is like a landmark or something that tells other women, 'People did it before we came, we've done it, and they can also do it,'" she said. "So it's not a fluke. It can happen. People just need to rise up and rise above the politics that so deeply divide us as women."

Women have power but must learn to use it, said Kidjo, who provided music for the documentary.

"The thing is, we women of Africa, we have the power," she said. "We women of the world, we have the power, but we don't know the power we have."

"... I've been thinking about Israel and Palestine for so many years," she said. "Who's paying the highest price for this? The mothers, crying for their sons dying."

Kidjo said she believed that a strong coalition of women could be a deciding factor.

"We say to both sides, 'Enough is enough. We are tired of war, as you said. We are tired of our children not being safe. Without peace, our children can't go to school, we can't have health care.'" she said. "I mean, we women, we have the power. We've got to be absolutely in power."

And that begins with communities, Gbowee said.

"What we need to do and what we've done -- what we did in Liberia was going back into the communities and really just reassuring these women that it's OK to step out with that power," she said.