Three women for peace
For the New Year, let me share the thoughts of three women who share the Nobel Prize for Peace: Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, president of Liberia; Tawakkol Karman, “inspirational activist for peace and women’s rights” of Yemen; and Leymah Gbowee of the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace Campaign. They were awarded “for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights to full participation in peace-building work.”
As they received the award, they declared acceptance with “women everywhere in the world who have struggled for peace, justice, and equality.”
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf in her Nobel Lecture on December 10, 2011 reminded the whole world of the situation of women.
“Through the mutilation of our bodies and the destruction of our ambitions, women and girls have disproportionately paid the price of domestic and international conflict. We have paid in the currencies of blood, of tears, and of dignity.
“However, the need to defend the rights of women is not limited to the battlefield, and the threats to those rights do not emanate only from armed violence. Girls’ education seen far too often as an unnecessary indulgence rather than the key investment it is, is still underfunded and understaffed. Too often girls are discouraged from pursuing an academic training, no matter how promising they may be.
“In too many parts of the world, crimes against women are still underreported, and the laws protecting women under-enforced.
But Ellen also sees reason for “optimism and hope.”
“Around the world, slowly international law and an awareness of human rights are illuminating dark corners, in schools, in courts, in the marketplace.
“Across the globe, women, and also men, from all walks of life are finding the courage to say loudly and firmly, in a thousand languages, ‘No more.’ They reject mindless violence and defend the fundamental values of democracy, of open society, of freedom, and of peace.”
Leymah Gbowee for her Nobel Lecture described what prompted the formation of her group and described their struggle.
“Women had become the ‘toy of war’ for overdrugged young militias. Sexual abuse and exploitation spared no woman; we were raped and abused regardless of our age, religions, or social status. A common scene daily was a mother watching her young one forcibly recruited or her daughter being taken away as the wife of another drug-emboldened fighter.
“We used our pains, broken bodies and scarred emotions to confront the injustices and terror of our nation. We were aware that the end of the war will only come through non-violence, as we had all seen that the use of violence was taking our country deeper into the abyss of pain, death and destruction.
“We worked daily confronting warlords, meeting with dictators and refusing to be silenced in the face of AK 47 and RPGs. We walked when we had no transportation, fasted when water was unaffordable, we held hands in the face of danger, we spoke truth to power when everyone else was being diplomatic, we stood under the rain and sun with our children to tell the world stories of the other side of the conflict. Our educational backgrounds, travel experiences, faiths and social classes did not matter. We had a common agenda: Peace for Liberia Now.
“We succeeded when no one thought we would, we were the conscience of the ones who had lost their consciences in their quest for power and political positions. We represented the soul of the nation. No one would have prepared my sisters and I for today—that our struggle would go down in the history of this world. Rather when confronting warlords we did so because we felt it was our moral duty to stand as mothers and gird our waist, to fight the demons of war in order to protect the lives of our children, their land and their future.”
Tawakkol Karman, Oslo, of Yemen in her Nobel lecture declared:
“Peace does not mean just to stop wars, but also to stop oppression and injustice. In our Arab region, there are brutal wars between governments and peoples. Human conscience cannot be at peace while it sees these young Arab people, who are in the age of blossoming, being harvested by the machine of death which is unleashed against them by tyrants.
“Millions of Yemen’s women and men, children, young and old took to the streets in eighteen provinces, demanding their right to freedom, justice and dignity, using non-violent but effective means to achieve their demands. We were able to efficiently and effectively maintain a peaceful revolution in spite of the fact that the great nation has more than seventy million firearms of various types. Here lies the philosophy of the revolution, which persuaded millions of people to leave their weapons and join the peaceful march against the state’s machine of murder and violence, just with flowers and bare breasts, and filled with dreams, love and peace.”
In our country, there is still a great deal to struggle with, against, and for before we attain authentic peace. Let us join these women as they transform their communities and our world; let us build a truly NEW world for our children. Let the words and lives of Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, Tawakkol Karman inspire us.
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