Peace, (Wo)man

There are a couple of ways of defining peace.  The first is the absence of violence, but this is what peace theorists call a “negative peace”.  An alternative definition falls under the category of a “positive peace”, but it is much harder to come by: it calls for the removal of “structural violence”, things like structural inequality that prevent citizens from finding recourse for their problems-~-things like oppression, police brutality, societies mired in suspicion, poverty, and institutionalized inequality all fall under this heading.

Structural violence gets its name for the propensity of societies facing these problems to erupt in violence as people seek recourse.  In modern society, however, there is significant emphasis on peaceful protesting and civil disobedience as a means to subvert policies and practice that lead to inequality and injustice.  In other words, peaceful protesting to build greater, more lasting peace.

Today we recognize three women who have been an integral part of the fight (the notably peaceful fight) to increase women’s participation in governance and the peace-building process: Liberian president Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, activist Leymah Gbowee of Liberia and rights activist Tawakkul Karman of Yemen.  But this recognition isn’t coming from us at The Radical Idea-~-it’s coming from the Nobel Committee in Norway, who just awarded these three women the Nobel Peace Prize for this year.

Tawakkul Karman of Yemen is the first Arab woman EVER to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  She stated that “This award is for all of Yemen,…and all Arab women”, upon expressing her gratitude at having been selected to win the Nobel.

Like Karman, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf stated that she was “accepting this award on behalf of the Liberian people, so the credit goes to them”, acknowledging that the leader of the movement is not the movement itself.  She is Africa’s first elected female head of state.

The last recipient, Lehmah Gbowee, is the co-founder and executive director of the Women Peace and Security Network-Africa.

The Nobel Committee has expressed hope that this will inspire women to continue fighting for their rights, a view echoed by Amnesty International.

The reality of the situation is that a lasting peace can not be achieved when parts of society are disenfranchised, and in the Middle East and Africa in particular, this is too often the case.  As previously noted, a lack of female leaders often sends the message that women can’t succeed in a given field, and this disincentivizes women to test their boundaries and fight for change.  By highlighting the accomplishments of these three amazing women, the Nobel Committee is hoping to spur the kind of change that these regions need.  But unless women in these countries are made aware of this award, and made aware of the accomplishments of these leaders, this goal cannot be achieved.  While arguably most women in, say, Liberia probably know that their president is a woman, this is the kind of movement that needs to be spread beyond Liberia’s borders.

There are of course mechanisms by which this can be done.  Networks such as WiLDAF and SOAWAR in Africa create connections that facilitate the sort of community needed.  But the women who are being honored, and all those who have worked alongside of them, need to take this and use the momentum coming from it.  Arab women are far from free, far from equal: Saudi women still cannot vote in national elections, and still cannot drive to the polls to cast their votes anyway.  Women in Africa are still forced to cater to a male voter base, sacrificing any feminist agenda in order to gain the votes needed to get into and stay in office.  Women need to be able to look at these award winners and realize that their voices matter-~-otherwise, like so many things, this will be a great start that just tapers off in the end.




~ by Randi Saunders on October 7, 2011.

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