Women Waging Peace

January 17, 2013
By Chuck Leddy, Harvard Gazette

United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 says that “civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict,” and emphasizes “the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts.”

On Tuesday at a packed John F. Kennedy Jr. Forum at the Institute of Politics, six female leaders discussed how they’re waging peace and promoting inclusiveness in their war-ravaged nations. Moderator Swanee Hunt, the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy and former U.S. ambassador to Austria, facilitated a compelling discussion of how peace is a core women’s issue and why women need roles in resolving national conflicts.

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Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s minister of gender and development, began by explaining how her African nation had suffered years of war and a series of failed peace agreements. Something finally changed, she said, when women got involved.

After “the women of Liberia got to the [negotiating] table,” she said, “we’ve had 10 years of peace.”

Duncan-Cassell said that woman had always possessed power in Liberia, but didn’t exercise it until they became fed up with endless war. She drew good-natured laughter when she said that Liberian women got a seat at the table by refusing to cook, clean, or otherwise serve men in silence.

The Libyan peace and education activist Wafa Bugaighis described how that North African country’s women also had suffered quietly under the dictatorial regime of President Moammar Gadhafi. It was Libyan women who finally broke that Orwellian silence and catalyzed the Libyan revolution, she said. The women of Bugaighis’ hometown, Benghazi, courageously confronted the Gadhafi police state by taking to the streets and chanting “Rise up, Benghazi!” These remarkable women, she said, “were the mothers of martyrs,” their sons having been executed by Gadhafi’s government for criticizing his dictatorship.

“Everyone in the country had the same feeling” of quiet disgust for Gadhafi, said Bugaighis, but the chanting women of Benghazi destroyed that silence.

When women were sidelined after the revolution, Bugaighis and other activists rose up again, creating a coalition “to advocate for more participation of women in decision-making.” The effort succeeded. “We won 33 seats in the national congress,” she said. Despite intermittent violence, “peace will succeed in Libya because women are behind it,” Bugaighis suggested. read more

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moderator Swanee Hunt (from far left), Sabrina Saqeb (not seen), Wafa Bugaighis, Rajaa Altalli, Ja Nan Lahtaw, and Sofi Ospina.

Pictured (L to R) moderator Swanee Hunt, the Eleanor Roosevelt Lecturer in Public Policy and former U.S. ambassador to Austria; Sabrina Saqeb (not seen), an advocate for the inclusion of women in Afghan politics and society; Julia Duncan-Cassell (standing), Liberia’s minister of gender and development; Wafa Bugaighis, Libyan peace and education activist; Rajaa Altalli, Syrian human rights activist; Ja Nan Lahtaw, Myanmar peace activist; and Sofi Ospina, Colombia peace activist

Photo Credit: Katherine Taylor

Julia Duncan-Cassell, Liberia’s minister of gender and development, began by explaining how her African nation had suffered years of war and a series of failed peace agreements. Something finally changed, she said, when women got involved.