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Archive for the ‘Jane Gabriel’ Category

by Jane Gabriel, openDemocracy’s program director

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The Laureates, having sat amongst us all day, each day and listened to the stories being told and the arguments that came and went, have proposed four areas in which they might move forward. More media strategies. Linkages between disarmament and violence against women. A women’s peace statue. An annual women’s human rights report.

But it’s Shirin Ebadi’s idea of the women’s peace statue that has captured everyone’s minds – who should the statue be for? What should it say? What should it symbolise? What should it look like? It was discussed at length and the suggestions flowed:

Each country should design its own statue.

It should be not to the unknown victim but to the unknown survivor.

It should be of a woman on her own, without a child.

It should reinforce the Women in Black model.

It should be an antiwar symbol as well as a focus on women.

It should be to the unknown heroine.

It should be of two women, not one.

It should be a symbol – something that will change minds and therefore change culture.

Shirin Ebadi listened to the long list of suggestions and explained that her goal in suggesting it was to respect people who survive wars – the injured and the women and children. The sculpture by an Iranian artist who had voluntarily taken up the idea was one possible response. Shirin Ebadi feels that using the word ‘victim’ states that the memorial is for all the suffering that comes from war, but that this idea is something we can go on discussing. I think it’s likely to happen, so if you are interested, keep an eye on the Nobel Women’s Initiative website. It’s an idea that is here to stay…

I’ve heard how in coalition-building and inclusivity, the principles and not the ideology are the key. That dialogue works, but only when there is equality in the dialogue. That in order to transform victimisation the term itself must be used as a tool – a political tool for consciousness raising – and not abused. That we must humanise not demonise each other in order to transform the culture of violence. That peacebuilding is long hard painful work, that women can and do make a difference. Northern Ireland is the proof. The Irish Laureates gave the Iranian women here at the conference their word that if America attacks Iran, Shannon airport will not be used by the American military to refuel and carry out extraordinary renditions, as it is now.

The women Nobel Laureates created a space this week for women from around the world to gather: women who have lived and continue to live through wars at the same time as continuing to demand peace; women who experience violence on all levels and in all places day after day, year after year; women who try to raise their children and build a better life for them; women who simply will not give up, who survive, who not only carry on but search for other women and men with whom to share their peacebuilding knowledge.

The Laureates came not only to listen to them, but to pledge their support for the hard painful work of peacebuilding by women – for the sake of us all.

So, how did this conference end? It ended with women from around the world who will not give in to the violence, singing, drinking and dancing long into the night – Iranian music, Spanish music, Irish music, the Beatles – we sang, danced, clapped and laughed – with Mairead Corrigan Maguire and Shirin Ebadi there all the way.

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by Jane Gabriel, openDemocracy’s program director

“There comes a time when you lose your fear and thing are never quite the same again.”

The fact that we are in Ireland is having a powerful effect on us all – because amidst the terrible stories, the attempts to analyse, explain and come up with new solutions to end conflict and build peace , we have the constant reminder of how peace has been achieved in Northern Ireland. Women from the peace process – Ann Carr and Bronagh Hinds are here along with Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire and others. It’s impossible to not share their joy.

Anne Carr and Bronagh Hinds talked us through the determination and the imagination it took; the painstaking, careful, detailed, dangerous work that the women of Northern Ireland have undertaken since 1976 in the name of peace. When they said that “there comes a time when you lose your fear and thing are never quite the same again”, it captured the spirit of the story they told.

The message was that “peace-building is hard work”- it involves suffering, keeping your feet on the ground while you try to convince all parties that in really understanding violence, there is the understanding that it will never work, that there will never be a winner, that we are all losers. Ann had spent two years visiting prisons, working on her own with 46 men every two weeks –and dialogue, being able to think through what the other side needed, was the key to the eventual change of heart and minds.

The women talked of the goal of inclusivity at all levels and at all times – the only negative comment was from Bronagh about some of the feminists she’d known to whom she’d said “we are living, managing, resolving transitioning from conflict and you want us to try and transform the whole of society too? Give us a break!”.

Hinds had said at some point that while we can’t supplant one conflict on another we can and must “listen carefully for grains of assistance”.

When Mairead Corrigan Maguire spoke to the whole conference she said “your stories resonate with us. We hope that by you knowing that if we can keep hope alive we can make a difference”.

There are all sorts of tensions and struggles going on here at the conference as women from thirty countries with immense experience, suffering, determination and skills refuse to give up the struggle to end violence – and try to empower each other by exchanging views and experiences. “Listening for grains of assistance” is what everyone is doing here. So when Hibaaq Osman from Somalia spoke I realised how this can work. She said “when the Irish were speaking I said yes, yes! – I thought they were speaking about Somalia, my country!”. She explained that in working at the height of the conflict in Somalia the hardest thing was to have the humility, the respect and the openness to understand the culture of her own country, to start by being yourself, to make mistakes, and that only then had she been able to help bring people from all sides to the table, to persuade them that they would be listened to, respected and recognised.

Her message was a mixed one, for although she had recognised the lessons from the Irish peace work, she was adamant that there is no role for donor agencies and the international community in solving other people’s conflicts, that they should “shut up and if they want to support us, and get out of our way” – a comment that sparked heated discussion amongst some participants well into the night.

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by Jane Gabriel, openDemocracy’s program director

I’m struck by the completely relaxed way the five Laureates wander around the hotel with us all – sharing breakfast tables, smoking breaks, chatting with everyone as they go. This is direct, informal contact, anyone can and does talk to anyone. Jodi Williams has said that they want to use their Nobel Prizes to highlight the work of women and to link women. With 80 women activists here from thirty different countries and the chance to talk openly informally and honestly with the Laureates for three days, this is an extraordinary gathering. We’re all going to be in one room, seated at about ten round tables, with the Laureates amongst us. It feels like we may be seeing a new way of exercising power.

The morning was spent listening to the ways women in the Middle East are experiencing violence on a continuum, whether from religious fundamentalism, economic deprivation or in the domestic sphere. In discussing types of violence the topics range from the need to contest the construction of our collective identity as women, and to refuse to make the false dichotomous choice the fundamentalists impose of being either ‘for or against us’, to the fact that all societies have to explain three things – birth, death and the existence of at least two sexes – and therefore the construction of identity means that we have to address gender.

Farida Shareed urged the participants to remember that collective identities are negotiated and contested. When we, as women, ask for changes in how we define ourselves we’re asking for the whole society to change; that is what gender means. She called for us to recognise that “culture is an explosive term. It’s used as a barrier to talk about gender based violence. Just because slavery and apartheid were part of your culture it didn’t mean that you couldn’t talk about it. We must and we can.”

Nadera Shalkoub Kerkorian spoke of the way domestic violence is so often culturalised; she called for the recognition that domestic violence is a political and ethical issue, and not a cultural issue. She told harrowing stories with an awful clarity. She described one woman who took her seven year old son back to see their demolished home. She wound a piece of wire all the way around the boundary of where their home had stood and held it in place with small sticks. Then she made a tiny door and gave the boy a small key. She told him, “now this is your home and no one can come in”. She spoke of the women she works with and asked us to remember that when we look at victimization we are also looking at resistance and agency and resilience and pain; that in order to address domestic violence it is necessary to oppose the dominant political order and to criminalise it – not the individuals.

As she said, “Can the master’s tools be used to pull down the master’s house”?

(more…)

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