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In the Pursuit of Peace, Acknowledge, Listen to Women
Published on Thursday, December 20, 2001 in the Miami Herald
In the Pursuit of Peace, Acknowledge, Listen to Women
by Carolyn L. Bennett
I know that life isn't fair. But the peace of the world depends on a whole lot more fairness than we're getting.

I believe the world is in the state it's in because women's power and perspective are underused and underappreciated. Nations most often still cannot find means other than war to resolve conflict and curb violence in large part because men, almost exclusively, have held the reins of power. And they have taken the prizes for their brand of peace. Women's numbers and achievements say that they should share more in this. They should be far more represented in leadership and at tables of peace than is the case now.

This year marks the 100th year of the Nobel Peace Prize, and at least one war and many regional conflicts are raging around the world. Since the start of the Nobel Peace Prize in 1901, women have received solo prizes only four times: in 1905 (Baroness Bertha Sophie Felicita Von Suttner of Prague), 1979 (Mother Teresa of India), 1991 (Aung San Suu Kyi of Burma) and 1992 (Rigoberta Menchu of Guatemala). The other six times that women have won the prize, they shared it with men, with an organization or with another woman -- Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan of Northern Ireland. This means women have won less than a tenth of the peace prizes awarded in Nobel's 100 years.

The numbers alone beg a change. The world population now is just over 6 billion people. Women 65 and older, often the age when male leadership and achievement are rewarded, make up 235 million of the 6 billion, close to 52 million more than men 65 and older. These numbers suggest that women and organizations with their spirit, activism and leadership should be winning the peace prizes -- and taking the lead in the world.

These are some of my picks for leadership and Nobel Peace Prizes:

  •  The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom goes back almost to the start of Nobel. Its goals include truth and reconciliation, political solutions to international conflict, economic and social justice within and among nations, elimination of all forms of discrimination and exploitation, respect for basic human rights and promotion of women to full and equal participation in all aspects of society.

  •  Women's Action for New Directions. It's a 1980s invention with missions that include empowering women to act politically to reduce violence and militarism and to redirect excessive military resources toward unmet human needs.

  •  Though the United Nations and its Secretary-General Kofi Annan won this year's prize, there is another program of the U.N. worth note -- UNIFEM. It works for women's empowerment and gender equity generally, but specifically within the U.N. system to ensure participation of women in all levels of development planning and practice. When the peace party went to Germany on behalf of Afghanistan, there were no women in leadership positions, for example.

    Such organizations should ensure that women get the peace prize, run and get elected the leaders of nations and, beginning now, that they take substantive and permanent places at tables for peace in the Middle East, Afghanistan, Bosnia, East Timor and elsewhere where conflicts rage. Women also should have a larger role in U.S. battles between the haves and the have nots -- women being the majority in the latter category.

    Women waiting to assume world peace and leadership jobs are:

  •  Hanan Ashrawi, who directs the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy;

  •  Mary Robinson, the U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights since 1997 and before that the seventh president of Ireland and the first head of state to visit Somalia in its famine in 1992 and Rwanda after the genocide there;

  •  Mary Brownell, president of the Liberian Women's Initiative who helped bring about Liberia's disarmament and its first lasting cease fire;

  •  Rosa Parks, who prepared herself and then carried out peaceful resistance against a racist regime in the U.S. South, paving the way for Nobel Laureate Martin Luther King, Jr.;

  •  U.S. Rep. Elizabeth Furse, who founded the Black Sash, a women's anti-apartheid group, and the Oregon Peace Institute and who has worked tirelessly for human rights, peace, environmental responsibility, American Indian treaty rights and for changing U.S. spending priorities;

  •  Lani Guinier and Angela Davis for deep thinking and distinguished teaching and for tirelessly speaking truth to power.

    Americans must stop celebrating dead people and worshiping self-created, silly heroes and celebrities when peace and moral and humanistic leadership are so sorely needed. On this 100th anniversary of the Nobel Peace Prize, in this season of lights lighting up the winter darkness, we must think seriously about the value of women's spirit in bringing peace to a troubled world.

    Dr. Carolyn L. Bennett is a public affairs columnist and professor of journalism at Rowan University based in Pitman, N.J.

    Copyright 2001 Miami Herald


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