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"You have to believe in something"

Sharp statements about religion, powerful calls for international commmitments and resounding applause, marked the crowded seminar with the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize laureates in Stockholm 12 December.

A delayed flight from Oslo made the start of the seminar run a bit late, but when the Peace Prize laureates made their entrence they were greated with enthusiastic applause. Liberia’s president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was the first to take the stage and she started by honouring the women of Liberia.
- They are remarkable! They stood up for peace and made something happen, when the process seemed to have reached a deadlock.

When Ellen Johnson Sirleaf was elected president in Liberia 2003, after the peace treaty had been written, she was the first woman in an African country to reach that position. Her statement about Liberian women referred to the now famous peace campaign, started by the women’s movement in Liberia, to try to stop the brutal civil war that had gone on for more than a decade.

Found the women in churches and mosques
The second laureate, Leymah Gbowee, was one of the leading forces behind the Liberian women´s peace campaign. On the question from the moderator of the importance of religion in the fight for peace, she answered:
- It’s not possible to get engaged in a non-violent struggle without believing in something. And it was in the churches and the mosques that we mobilized the women. We targeted the mosques on Fridays, the markets on Saturdays and the churches on Sundays.

Leymah Gbowee pointed out that the women movement’s peace campaign in Liberia often is called ”a fantastic example of the practical use of resolution 1325” (the UN Security Council’s resolution on women, peace and security).
- But have we recieved anything from the resources being allocated to working with resolution 1325? No! Noone has contributed with financial support to us, or offered to share their knowledge of strategic planning. To reach sustainable change we have to think and act long-term. That goes not only for Liberia, but for everything, globally. Look at what’s happening in Libya now. Khadaffi is gone, but the country is full of young, militarized men and of women without power. We have to act for the future!

Lena Ag, Secretary General for the Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, asked Leymah Gbowee if there are any special women issues when it comes to peace work.

- Women’s vulnerability in war knows no limit. The same types of violence against women are taking place in the Democratic Republic of Congo, Afghanistan and Yemen. At the same time women know what their societies need. We know our young. A peace process without women will never be sustainable.

Not scared of threats
Tawakkol Karman, blogger and journalist from Yemen, was the last of the laureates to enter the stage. She is one of the main forces behind the ongoing fight for freedom in Yemen. Since March she lives in a tent at the so called Liberty square in the Yemen capitol Sanaa. Tawakkol Karman was disappointed that so many of the questions for her in the seminar were focused on religion.
- I don’t want to talk about religion, have to defend my religion. This is a struggle for democracy and it has nothing to do with religion. Dictators use religion for their own purposes, but religion is a private matter.

She spoke engagingly about the fight for democracy in Yemen, and time and again she emphasized that she’s not afraid, that the threats being made to her won’t stop her.
- People have told us that we’re mad for fighting the dictatorship. You have to be mad to revolt! We won’t rest until we have a new constitution in Yemen.

“No issue more important than women´s rights”
Sweden’s minister of foreign affairs, Carl Bildt, was called on to wrap up the seminar, and surprised many of the listeners with his, before this selldom spoken, words on the importance of women’s participation to reach peace and stability.
- Look at DRC and the Balkans, how women have been victimized in these wars. And look at Northern Ireland, this long lasting conflict where women’s participation contributed in reaching peace. To work for peace is to build societies, build the hearts and minds of people. You can’t develop a society if 50 per cent of the population is excluded. There is no issue more important for the future than women’s rights.

The seminar was organized by The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in cooperation with UI, Sida, IDEA and Folke Bernadotte Academy.

Anna Lithander

 

 

 

 

 

 

Updated in: 2013-04-23