Leymah Gbowee identifies humanity as the subject of peace

 

Leymah Gbowee

Leymah Gbowee

I once heard the photographer Harry Mattison discuss the difficulty, the near impossibility, of photographing peace. For Mattison, an award winning photographer of conflict, this was an epiphany. Peace is difficult, representing peace is near impossible.

The Nobel Prize Committee today awarded the Peace Prize to three women, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, from Liberia and currently based in Ghana; and Tawakul Karman, of Yemen. First, congratulations to all, and thanks to the Nobel Committee for not repeating the mistakes of recent Peace Prize recipients (Barack Obama, the proponent of “just war”, for example). Thanks to the Nobel Committee for increasing the pool of living women Nobel Peace Prize winners by a whopping 50%. Where there were six, now there are nine. Good news, hopefully, for the Nobel Women’s Initiative … and the world. (Since its inception, in 1901, 15 women have won the Peace Prize.)

The New York Times coverage of the announcement, and its implications, suggests the truth of Mattison’s epiphany. The Times devotes 33 paragraphs to the news, a substantial article. Johnson Sirleaf gets eleven paragraphs, large chunks early on and then again at the end. Karman receives five paragraphs, which begin about a third of the way into the piece. Gbowee receives a scant three paragraphs, and they don’t show up until the 24th paragraph. You have to want to read the whole article to find out who Leymah Gbowee is.

Leymah Gbowee is a “militant pacifist”, a “peace activist”, and a real mover and shaker. She is a woman who recognized that women had to organize, across all barriers and across all divisions, that women had to transform themselves and one another if they wanted to change the world. They had to learn to participate in peace negotiations, for example, by refusing the symbolic chairs and other morsels offered them, by confronting the materiel of war and violence with the human force of peace, compassion, and love. When the Big Men of Liberia met in Accra to negotiate “peace”, Gbowee and her sisters in white t-shirts raised a ruckus outside, and just about held the delegates hostage.

From the outset, Leymah Gbowee identified humanity as the site of her struggles and organizing. That means organizing structures, such as the Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace, followed by the Women In Peacebuilding Network, or WIPNET. From there, she has gone on to organize the Women Peace and Security Network Africa, based in Ghana. Gbowee’s vision of women is African, from Cape to Cairo, and from coast to coast.

Peace and justice, child by child, person by person, space by space, and beyond. That’s what Leymah Gbowee has been organizing. That’s what is so difficult, if not impossible, to represent. That’s what The New York Times missed. But you don’t have to. On Tuesday, October 18, in the United States, PBS will broadcast the documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, about the work of Leymah Gbowee. Don’t miss it. It’s inspiring, as is its subject.

 

(This starts a new collaboration with Africa Is a Country. This post originally appeared, under different title, here)

 

(Photo Credit 1: PBS) (Photo Credit 2: AFP / BBC)

Nobel Women’s Initiative: Statement to condemn the assassination of a women’s human rights defender in Ciudad Juarez

As women Nobel Peace Laureates, we are gravely concerned about the murder of human rights defender Marisela Escobedo Ortiz last 16 December 2010, while she protested the continued impunity in the homicide of her daughter Rubi Marisol Frayre Escobedo.

Rubi’s boyfriend murdered the 16-year-old in August 2008. As demonstrated by numerous national and international reports, the authorities acted in the same manner as they have acted in the last 17 years in reaction to the murder of women: they did not investigate nor punish the assassin, even though her mother provided all proof and even presented the confessed assassin.

We are particularly concerned that Marisela Ortiz Escobedo’s murder took place as we reach the one-year anniversary of the Inter-American Human Rights Court’s judgment against the Mexican State for not preventing and duly investigating the violence against women in Ciudad Juarez – the disappearances, sexual violence, and murders of women as well as the aggression against family members and defenders who demand justice for these cases.

As the Inter-American Court points out in its sentence, Mexico has maintained its discriminatory culture and policies against women, which are the primary cause of femicide and subsequent impunity. Between 1993 and 2001, the years analyzed in the Campo Algodonero judgment, there were 214 registered cases of women murdered in Ciudad Juarez. The journalistic register from 1 January to 15 December 2010 shows 297 women murdered in that same city—an alarming increase. Almost all of the cases go unresolved. Mexican authorities have not initiated the effective implementation of the provisions in the Inter-American Court’s judgment, as evidenced by these unfortunate events.

We know that this is not an isolated case, and that the violence against the human rights defenders who bravely fight against femicide in Ciudad Juarez and Chihuahua is a constant issue in Mexico.We are alarmed that the demands for justice and the denouncing of gender discrimination threaten the integrity and life of the victims’ families and human rights defenders in Mexico. We know that Marisela Ortiz Escobedo’s family continues to live in imminent danger.

We call on the government of Mexico to take action, without delay, to ensure justice, effectively comply with the Campo Algodonero judgment, and prevent any attacks on the families of the victims and human rights defenders.

Betty Williams, Ireland (1976)

Mairead Maguire, Ireland (1976)

Rigoberta Menchu Tum, Guatemala (1992)

Jody Williams, USA (1997)

Shirin Ebadi, Iran (2003)

Wangari Maathai, Kenya (2004)

For more information, please contact: Rachel Vincent, Nobel Women’s Initiative 613-569-8400, ext. 113 or 613-276-9030

 

Thanks to Just Associates and the Nobel Women’s Initiative for sharing this, and for their work and labor. This first appeared here: http://www.nobelwomensinitiative.org/images/stories/Mexico/STatement_Jan_17_2011.pdf