Speakout: Five women, many avenues to peace

September 15, 2005
Swanee Hunt

Rocky Mountain News
Earlier this month, Crisis Group issued a dismal report: "July 2006 was the grimmest month for conflict prevention around the world in three years. In 36 months, [we have] not recorded such severe deteriorations in so many conflict situations as in the past month, and several have significant regional and global implications."
In Sudan, for example, since the signing of the Darfur Peace Agreement in May, there has been a dramatic increase in violence, sexual abuse and displacement. Women are brutally attacked and maimed when they search for firewood.
A tenuous cease-fire has been reached in the war between Israel and Hezbollah in Lebanon, but Israel's military offensive against Hamas in Gaza has escalated, threatening further instability in the region. Sectarian violence, combined with a robust insurgency, has skyrocketed in Iraq, claiming hundreds of civilian lives every day. And off the coast of India, the cease-fire in Sri Lanka has failed: fighting between the Tamil Tiger rebels and government forces has displaced nearly 170,000 people since April.
The evidence is clear: Our approach to preventing conflict, stopping war, and stabilizing regions devastated by violence isn't working. It's more urgent than ever that we implement fresh, workable solutions to seemingly intractable struggles.
Five women have been internationally recognized for forging a new path toward peace. We will honor these exceptional leaders Sunday during Stories of Courage, a celebration of the 10th anniversary of the PeaceJam Foundation.
The timing of this event could not be more appropriate. Women play a vital but usually unrecognized role in resolving conflict. Certainly, spirited and visionary men have made substantial contributions to peacemaking; likewise, belligerent women have led countries into unnecessary violence. But social science research has demonstrated that women tend to have a more cooperative and less aggressive style.
Stories of Courage will be the first time five women Nobel Peace Prize winners will be on one stage. This unprecedented event provides an opportunity to take note of the distinct approaches women bring to the security sphere. Sustainable peace, and therefore international security, depends on such innovation. The laureates will share compelling stories of challenge and triumph, putting in plain words how their quest for peace has changed their lives, communities and countries.
Rigoberta Menchu Tum fought Guatemalan government oppression and became widely known as a leading advocate for native people's rights. Following the brutal murders of her mother, father and brother by government soldiers, Tum marched with farm workers demanding better working conditions and educated the indigenous population in resistance to massive military oppression. Her voice commands such influence that she lives with death threats from those who want her silenced. Women like Tum, with authority bestowed on them by their community, must be at the peace table.
Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Betty Williams created a grass-roots movement to end violence in Northern Ireland. Bringing together Catholics and Protestants in their campaign to put an end to social repression and terrorism, they organized the largest peace demonstration in the history of Northern Ireland and convened community groups, politicians and church leaders from around the world to advance a dialogue between the two deeply divided communities. Women like Maguire and Williams, who join hands in the cause of peace, must be at the peace table.
Shirin Ebadi, the first Muslim woman awarded the prize, is one of Iran's leading human rights defenders. In the courts and in civil society, she is changing Iran's discriminatory laws against women and fighting to free political prisoners. In 2000, after exposing a link between vigilante groups and highly placed government officials, she was imprisoned. Women like Ebadi, who give a voice to the voiceless, must be at the peace table.
Jody Williams brought the problem of land mines to the attention of the world, using the Internet and a fax machine instead of a bureaucracy. She shaped global opinion and launched a movement to eradicate an indiscriminate weapon that strikes randomly - often children playing or farmers tilling their fields. Williams convinced more than a thousand nongovernment organizations from 60-plus countries to support the campaign. In 1997, after just six years, 122 countries signed an international treaty banning land mines. Women like Williams, who uncover hidden ways to prevent conflict, must be at the peace table.
On Sunday, these five women will call thousands more to action. Ticket sales will benefit PeaceJam, which is creating a new generation of peacemakers by bringing 3,000 young PeaceJam leaders from around the world to Denver. Hear the inspiring stories, heed the wisdom and join the movement that will transform the next generation of peace leaders - and yourself. For more information, visit www.peacejam.org.

Swanee Hunt is director of the Women and Public Policy Program (WAPPP) at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government. She is former U.S. Ambassador to Austria.


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