Women, War and Peace: Three Women Win the Nobel Prize for Peace
The three female activists and political leaders received the Nobel Peace Prize this month in Oslo, Norway.
The winners were Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, 73, the first woman in the history of Africa to be elected head of state and the woman responsible for ushering peace into the country after a brutal 14-year civil war; Leymah Gbowee, 39, founder of the Ghana-based Women, Peace and Security Network Africa, known for organizing a “sex strike” in Liberia in 2002 until hostilities ended and for leading a women’s protest women in 2003; and Tawakkol Karman, a 32-year-old Yemeni journalist known as the “Mother of Revolution” who for months lived out of blue tent in a protest camp in Sana, Yemen, and founded the advocacy group Women Journalist Without Chains.
What is Peace?
In November, Michelle Bachelet, executive director of U.N. Women, stated, “Women build peace by investing in their family and community’s well-being, which, after all, is the foundation of peace and recovery.” This statement hints not only at what peace means but also seeks to answer a question that now holds global significance: how does a world at war integrate women into the peace building process?
International Alert, an independent peacebuilding organization, defines peace as “when people are anticipating and managing conflict without violence and are engaging in inclusive social change processes that improve the quality of their lives. They are doing so without compromising the possibility of continuing to do so in the future, or compromising the possibility of others to do so.”
International Alert further identifies five “interlocking factors that contribute to peace”:
- How people make a living
- Fair and effective laws
Women and Peace
The international community first turned its attention to violations of women’s rights in a way that examined possibilities for women’s leadership in preventing and resolving conflict at the Fourth World Conference on Women was held in Beijing in 1995.
Since then, these types of discussions have increased as the world becomes engaged in near global warfare. These fights—waged over land, resources and religious, ethnic and political disputes—have often left women and girls victims of gender-based violence and other hostilities.
Countries unafflicted with military violence are not necessarily at peace. There are conflicts of class and pluralism, conflicts caused by shifting gender roles and expectations, conflicts regarding racial profiling and immigration. The United States experiences conflicts between small towns and urban values and between cultures and faith traditions.
- Each year 300,000 women are raped in America.
- The poverty rate among women climbed to 4.5 percent in in 2010.
- Reports indicate that nearly one-third of women serving in the U.S. military have been raped, with over two-thirds having been otherwise sexually assaulted.
- The number of children and teens in America killed by guns could fill 120 classrooms of 25 students each.
- 16 in every 1,000 U.S. women have been threatened with a gun.
- In 2010, the FBI’s annual Hate Crimes Statistics Report indicated that 66.6 percent of victims of ethnically motivated crimes were targeted because of anti-Hispanic bias.
- 13.5% of American women 18 and over are in poor or fair health.
In Kosovo, as many as 50,000 Albanian women are estimated to have been raped as a result of conflict, and in Uganda, the Lord’s Resistance Army has abducted some 30,000 children, many of whom are said to have been forced to become child soldiers. Said World YWCA General Secretary Nyardzayi Gumbonzyanda: “Violence affects all aspects of women’s lives, and it compromises dignity, security and well-being of women in every corner of the globe.”
Passed by unanimous vote at the United Nations, the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) linked women’s experiences in conflict to the international peace and security. It also acknowledged the disproportionate impact violence has on women.
Groups such as the Afghan Women Skills Development Centre (AWSDC) have taken shape with little or no help from their nation or beyond. Established in 1999 by a group of Afghan women, AWSDC seeks to reduce the suffering of Afghan women and children through promotion of peace and initiation of rehabilitation and development projects. The group also aims to empower Afghan women and enhance their capacities through education and training in hopes that they will be able to contribute to the process of sustainable development and peace in Afghanistan.
A group of three women in Baghdad founded a similar group called the Baghdad Women Association (BWA) in 2004. The group, which is operated by seven employees and supported by a grass-roots base, has made its mission to support women’s empowerment. To that end, BWA initially worked to teach women to read and write, generate income and gain political representation. It has also broadened its focus to help women are victims of violence, opening a listening center where legal and psychological support is provided.
Similar groups have also been established in countries like Sudan, Pakistan and Guatemala buoyed by the message sent 10 years with the passage of UNCR 1325. In an effort to build peace its country, the Afghan Women’s Network, a cooperative of 84 nongovernmental organization members and 5,000 individual members who are committed to the support of Afghan women, recently created a petition to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton and the U.S. delegation to the Boon Conference on Afghanistan asking for support from the Obama Administration to ensure that the “end of the Afghan war does not leave Afghan women, gays, and religious minorities once more in the power of war criminals and armed religious fanatics.”
Peace would enable women to live with a certainty that public institutions—the police, prison complex and the judiciary—respond to community and grass-roots women’s calls for protection from all forms of violence and abuse and from social disintegration within families and gender inequality.