Nobel Women´s Initiative meets with activists and scholars: women as peace builders, 
status and challenges


Washington D.C
January 28, 2009.
Feminist International Radio Endeavour (FIRE)

More than thirty peace and women’s human rights advocates from around the world met January 28-29 at the Airlie Conference Center in Warrenton, Virginia to share assessments and strategies regarding the positioning of women’s rights, along with their perspectives on issues of war and conflict situations in the world. “Solutions and Sound Bytes” was the title of the global event.

Advocates, journalists, communicators, academics, movie producers, activists and a Nobel prize winner gathered under the auspices of the Nobel Women's Initiative (NWI) to develop shared inputs for the Nobel women regarding how to “more effectively amplify the voices of women” and “the centrality of women's rights in peace building around the world,” which is what the NWI initiative stands for.

The NWI is comprised of Shirin Ebadi from Iran , Jody Williams from the USA , Wangari Maathai from Kenya ), Rigoberta Menchu from Guatemala ), and Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire from Northern Ireland . A staff of women coordinated by Liz Bernstein as Executive Director also contributes to connect the initiative with women and their organizations around the globe.

Participants at the NWI meeting represented a variety of organizations, including The Women´s League in Burma, One Million Signatures Campaign by Women in Iran, FEMLINK in Fiji, The Sudan Women’s Empowerment for Peace, Peace Women Project by WILPF New York office in the USA, Just Associates -- Washington D.C. office in USA, The Center for Global Justice at the Berkeley Law School in the USA, The Global Justice Center in the USA, Urgent Action Fund in Africa, The Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice towards The International Criminal Court (ICC), represented by a South African staff, among others. The chair of NWI Jody Williams from the USA represented the Initiative.

Facilitated by Joanna Kerr of Oxfam Canada , the meeting addressed issues related to women, peace and security. “Promoting a shift in public discourse is an objective, but also how we as women are involved in transforming the issues themselves” she said. 

”Exploring these issues together is critical because that is how we work,“ stated Liz Bernstein as she opened the first day’s session that addressed the role of media and messaging of women.

“Interests, habits and rules that we all have are what influence how we make the stories,” said Aly Miller from the Berkeley Law School . She stressed the need to examine  background assumptions, explaining that also important is to approach messaging in three areas: how we collect the stories, how we communicate the story, and what happens to the story - what people do with the stories.

Addressing women as advocates, not only as victims was a central theme. How women and their organizations approach media work and messaging to further the agenda of peace and security globally was also debated. “Simplicity of message does not clash with the complexity of issues,” was one concern regarding media work. In this sense, community radio and international radio and media in the hands of women have made a significant contribution because they are more likely to delve deeply into issues while allowing women advocates, victims and survivors to frame their stories, going far beyond the “10 second sound byte.” This was the message from FIRE and FEMLINK at the meeting, while adding that there should be no dichotomy between the work of women in feminist media, and efforts of women and men in mainstream media, because both play different roles that can complement each other:  One provides the full stories in the voices of women, and the other sometimes turn these into sound bytes.

Brigitte Shur, Director of the Regional Coordination of the Women’s Initiative for Gender Justice (WIGJ), an independent NGO that works to lobby the International Criminal Court to include gender, explained how in the case of a very concrete action in Northern Uganda where the Gender Caucus was addressing the authorities, the women decided not to use the mainstream media so that they could maintain the control of their own message and ensure it would not be distorted to affect negotiations. This was called ¨the strategic use of silence. In contrast, others at the NWI meeting pointed out to Shur that there are situations when media in the hands of women serves a critical role in amplifying the voices of the activist themselves, bypassing the mainstream media agenda with media in which women can also frame the news.  

Also a focus of the NWI meeting was the contributions by women to peace building that too often remain nearly invisible in media. Participants shared some concrete experiences of women in Uganda and Liberia among others, to showcase how women often are able to push the progress of negotiations when they develop enough support and advocacy.

Participants also related examples of successful women's rights activism and advocacy, but highlighting the need to interrogate ourselves about the ways in which we may fail to make critical links between issues; for example poverty and war, violence against women and all other forms of violence, rape as a weapon of war and as a weapon in peace, etc.

How to better portray in media the work advocates do, proposals for renewed strategies to approach media, and assessing some key messages that have worked most powerfully in affecting decision makers and media were also discussed. Media messages were designed to address campaigns in Burma , Sudan and Iran , three countries where the Nobel Women´s Initiative are developing special efforts.

In the case of Burma , Lway Aye Nang talked about the way in which reports to the United Nations need to be accompanied by other types of actions in order to be effective. One example is to document cases that are sent to the International Criminal Court. The Women's League of Burma, comprised of more than a dozen women's rights groups in the country has exposed the Military Junta in their country to criminal prosecution in the United Nations for its abuses against its people, particularly women and girls. These abuses have been the worst in minority ethnic areas where, the league said, soldiers have been conscripting women as sex slaves and committing gang rape, sexual mutilation, and murder, Lway told FIRE.

About Sudan , Zaynab Elsawi highlighted on FIRE that there is an urgent need to address the case of Darfur . “We have a long way toward the achievement of peace even after the peace agreements; if women and international organizations do not keep the pressure, the tendency is for the situation to worsen.” In that country two million people have died in the civil war during the last 15 years, according to global reports.

The women form Iran – Roja and Nayereh talked about the need to support the Million Signatures Campaign by Women in the country launched in 2006 calling on the Parliament to revise current discriminatory laws against women. Issues in the legislation demanded by the campaign include lifting the ban of women’s access to inheritance rights and the right of women to pass their nationality to their children

A special panel including Betty Murungi of Urgent Action Fund in Africa , Charlotte Bunch of the Center for Women´s Global Leadership and Felicity Hill with the Greens assessed United Nations Resolution 1325 about women, peace and security, and 1820 about mechanisms regarding rape as a weapon of war.  They discussed how in armed conflict situations where women and advocates of womens’ inclusion in peace talks have used these resolutions, it has contributed to the recognition of women's rights in war and conflict globally, as well as nationally although little advancement has been achieved in getting women at the negotiating table.

Available data by UNIFEM show that only 1.2% of signatories of peace treaties have been women since the adoption of 1325, in no case has a woman led the negotiations, and the average percent of women in negotiation delegations amounts to 9.6 %

The need for an approach where the intersectionality of militarism, war, violence against women, poverty and financial markets was also highlighted at the meeting.

At the final session of the meeting, participants made a renewed commitment to continue working and supporting the Nobel Women´s Initiative and to include them in their own  efforts in local, national, regional and global actions. Examples of this were provided by Feminist International Radio Endeavour about the way in which the NWI responded with statements upon the requests of  Las Petateras and Just Associates in Mesoamerica in three occasions where in Nicaragua during elections in 2006, in Costa Rica during the Referendum about the free trade agreements in 2007 and in Oaxaca , México in 2007.

Jody Williams pledged the NWI to strengthen the links between different efforts worldwide to advance the perspectives and rights of women in the global agendas.  “There is hardly such a thing as women’s issues because on the one hand, all issues are the concern of women, and on the other, women’s rights are everybody’s issues too.”

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Nobel Women’s Initiative



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