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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.

by Rebecca Barlow, NWI rapporteur, PhD Candidate at the Centre for Muslim Minorities and Islam Policy Studies in Melbourne

It will be difficult to convey in words the depth and breadth of what has happened over the past three days here in Galway. Each day we have been witness to countless women activists’ stories of repression, despair, resistance, hope, forgiveness, and compassion. These accounts have been shared with extreme tenacity of spirit and tremendous wit. Furthermore, they were consistently presented within a framework of practical commitment to transforming ideas for change and reform into living realities.

There are two aspects of the conference that stand out in my mind at this point. One is the incredible Iranian delegation led by Shirin Ebadi. These women – journalists, lawyers, activists – demonstrate such assertiveness, dynamism, intelligence and good humour so as to categorically negate stereotypes that may exist around them, particularly in popular Western press. The Iranian women came to the conference from a country in which serious political and social repression defines their everyday realities, and yet not only did they consistently participate, but rather led the way in many of the discussions of equality, human rights, justice, and peace. I would implore anyone reading this blog to look at the Iranian women’s movement’s website on their latest campaign for equality, ‘One Million Signatures Demanding Changes to Discriminatory Laws.’

The second aspect of the conference I would highlight is the democratic nature of the entire event. This conference was a micro-model of the democratic process in its highest form. Rarely did an event take place, or particular topic be broached, without the consent of all participants at the conference. And rarely was a voice not heard – even if this meant that we had to go over time or shorten the time we had for recess. The debates and discussions that ensued as a result were rich, lively, balanced, and never left without a logical conclusion. For me, this simply reinforced the fact that women must be further integrated into local, national, regional, and international decision-making structures and levels of governance. I do not approach my work from a feminist framework per se, but rather from a human rights and social justice basis. Having said this, I feel that there is no way the conference would have been as qualitatively good had it not been facilitated and moderated by women only.

The Nobel Women’s Initiative is not yet one year old, and yet it has already begun to provide a strong revenue for change and resistance to the dominant, patriarchal structures in which every one of us lives. I look forward to keeping in touch with the conference participants, and in continuing our commitment to advancing women’s human rights together.

by Amelia Korangy, NWI rapporteur, FAIR fund

After the immense dialogue that took place today, I feel a bit foolish. Usually, I take solace and recognize my own self-efficacy that has come as consequence of my dedication to the non-profit world. As a well educated, 21 year old woman growing up just outside of Washington DC my everyday life is not perfect, it is not pristine, but I am grateful to admit that I do enjoy myself and my time. More than ever before, today I realized that I am beyond fortunate. I have an obligation to listen. There is so much to hear, and while it is difficult, I am glad to hear it.

At home, I bask in my family and my friends who are all healthy, vibrant human beings. I spend much of my time listenning to music, dancing, or in the glorious world of philanthropy and social change fundraising. I enjoy food, wine, and fashion. I long for the sunshine, fresh flowers, the ocean, Maryland crabs, and good films. I usually enjoy those without rationing, without much restraint, and usually with an angelic conscience.

I took a great deal of time today thinking of these things that make me happy in a world of such despair. I listened and compared my happiness to what my young women counterparts living in Burma, Palestine, or Iraq can only dream of experiencing. I felt rather foolish.

I learned from women who are the leaders of organizations and movements, women who have decades of life experience revolving around erasing violence around the world. For so many women around the globe – old and young – happiness is marginal. Instead, their lives are about survival. If my life is not about survival, it must be about contribution.

I added very little to the discussion today, as I felt it was better to instead utilize my very best civil listening skills. I heard something quite profound: humanity is trivialized by violence. It is not the economics, or the politics, or the power that will motivate change. It is our own humanity. By ignoring such, by failing to listen, a person always trivializes himself or herself, lives illegitimately, and fails. I believe very strongly that people cannot live their lives in the shadow of someone else’s strife, but I also believe that empathy for the suffering that people – real people all over the world – battle every single day is central to success. Continue Reading »

by Roja Bandari, NWI rapporteur, PhD student in electrical engineering

Getting up wasn’t so easy this morning and my jetlag has been so hard to shake off. I got a cab to get to the conference this morning and had another good conversation with my driver. The Irish are really nice people! It is in the culture of taxi drivers in this region to entertain you with the most friendly conversations the whole way they drive. The B&B that Rebecca and I are staying at is also very cute and feels like home. I will definitely have to come back here with my husband as tourists!

Today was another amazing day at the conference. Women from Northern Ireland have achieved monumental success in ending a terrible conflict and have great insight and experience which must be utilized in dealing with similar situations especially the Palestine-Israel conflict. At the workshop titled “Challenging Fundamentalisms” we had a great conversation at our table with Iranian, Palestinian, Croatian, Syrian and Irish activists. I learned about Croatian women challenging Christian fundamentalisms in their country and also realized that collaboration among women from countries in the region who share some similar obstacles in women’s rights such as Egypt, Iran, Afghanistan, Palestine, Pakistan, Kosovo, Iraq and Syria is a great opportunity that shouldn’t be missed.

The stories of Robi Damelin and Nadwa Sarandah from the Parents Circle-Bereaved Families Forum, who had all lost someone dear to them but were taking steps toward peace, made me cry but also showed me how we should never simplify the issue and take out the human factor.

In the end of the day, we watched a video on the Iranian women’s campaign for equality (the One Million Signatures Campaign). There were explanations given by Dr. Tohidi and Dr. Ebadi and questions asked about the forms of international support that are suitable. As supporters of this campaign in the US, a group of university students and I had been struggling for the past few months to contact someone from the NPR (national public radio) and ask them to include a report about the campaign but it is very difficult to find any contacts. I brought up this issue in the session and to my delight, Jody Williams immediately suggested that she would contact them so me and her can have an interview about the campaign. That was one of the highlights of this conference for me.

by Jameen Kaur, NWI rapporteur, Amnesty International Ireland

Today we danced. We moved our bodies to the banana song sang by Nani from Indonesia. However my heart feels sore as I write. The peace process causes me pain. The peace process requires a deep inner strength, which sadly governments do not initiate. I saw the real face of conflict today and the emptiness it leaves behind. We heard stories from Northern Ireland, the pain and suffering of conflict to the peace it has now set. People move on, but they do not, cannot forget. That is peace and reconciliation. But the journey as recounted by our speakers is not easy. ‘Peace is hard work, we suffer, emotions suffer, families suffer… yet we do it for our children, our grand children..’ said Anne Carr, Ireland. Families, communities accused each other of betrayal as hate made room for peace and reconciliation.

Though, not all our delegates shared this view. A Palestinian delegate spoke ‘Peace is a dirty business. In order to co-exist, first one must exist. Palestinians have been used in the peace process. Just another point on the Israel’s agenda? How can we be included, without being abused? Tough, hard hitting questions, for which as we all realise only time holds true answers.

However, the brutal experience of countries like Ireland and South Africa gave hope. Change is possible, but its hard work. Long work. Dialogues cannot be set in stone, there has to be manoeuvring at each step, for each side. Women must be at the negotiation table. That is vital for long term peace. There can be no long term peace without the women.

I witnessed courage in its purest form today. I heard two stories, which I will forever carry with me. One by an Israeli Jewish mother who lost her son: David to a sniper. The other a Palestinian, on the loss of her Harvard educated sister. Both whom have started a bereaved family support group. Which speaks to the ‘enemy’. Through projects in their most practical form, they change minds and hearts, by giving strength to the belief that there is another option. We also watched a moving documentary ‘Encounter Point’ which brought hope but also tears. We learnt that true compassion is about knowing your own darkness well enough to sit with others. It is a relationship of equals.

All the stories and the real experience of woman on the ground , whether in their homes or as they walk away from a burnt village resoundingly stress that it is not that women are voiceless, that they do not cry and shout at the violence that is being inflicted on them, but more tragically that the world is ear less. It is our biggest task and challenge to create ears for the ear less. It begins by owning our own story. And then deciding how we will use it, so it is not exploited by politicians and individuals for power and control.

It is good to see that friendships among the delegates are forming. Names are being remembered quicker. Night time activities bring a celebratory atmosphere and the trophy for party animals has great competition. The Laureates too bring a uniting factor, each one bringing her own unique personality and charm. As Shirin Ebadi stated : ‘Allow the tree of friendship to go into full bloom.’

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.

by Rebecca Barlow, NWI rapporteur, PhD Candidate at the Centre for Muslim Minorities and Islam Policy Studies in Melbourne

Yesterday I wrote about those moments during the NWI conference when the entire room has been left in momentary silence, but it is the afternoon session of day two of the conference that has left me most affected.

This afternoon’s panel focused on Israel and the Occupied Territories. The anguish expressed in the words of the two women who spoke to us (one Israeli and one Palestinian) was tangible, and weighted by the knowledge that these women represented the tragic realities of thousands upon thousands of other men, women, and children on the ground. But these women were not here to simply tell us about their pasts. They were here to talk about the future, and strategies for change. One theme resounded in this respect: there is no military-oriented solution to the problem of Israel-Palestine.

As part of my position as PhD candidate at Monash University in Australia, I tutor second and third year students in Middle Eastern politics. Of course, the Israel-Palestine conflict features predominantly in the course. If I can impart just some of the reality of experiences expressed to me by the women that I have listened to and engaged with today back to my students in Melbourne, it has the potential to make a profound difference to the way we study and engage with the subject matter. What I have realised here today is that while we study conflict and the history of conflict, we must maintain a commitment to study and focus predominantly on peace and strategies for peace. Otherwise, what really is the point?

To speak frankly, it is somewhat difficult to write about such complex, politically sensitive, and sometimes deeply personal issues in a blog. To be even more frank, at this point in the evening of day two I share the sentiments of my Croatian friend who I sat next to during this afternoon’s session and who turned to me at the end of the women’s stories and said: “Okay, now I need alcohol.”