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DEVELOPMENT: New Peace Prize to Honour Women

Mithre J. Sandrasagra

UNITED NATIONS, Mar 8 2001 (IPS) - Four women and three women’s organisations from war-torn and conflict-ridden nations are first winners of the new Millennium Peace Prize for Women, to be awarded Thursday.

The prize, the first of its kind, is a global award to honour the vital role that women play in peace-building and the indispensable contributions they have made to resolving and preventing conflicts.

While the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded since 1901, only 10 of the approximately 106 winners have been women or women’s organisations.

The Millennium Peace Prize, conferred for the first time on International Women’s Day Thursday, acknowledges women’s leadership in finding innovative alternatives to war, holding communities together and bridging ethnic divides.

The award will highlight the often invisible heroic efforts that women undertake to end conflicts, said Noeleen Heyzer, executive eirector of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) on the occasion of the award’s launch.

The prize is being launched as a joint initiative between UNIFEM and the London-based non-governmental organisation International Alert that works with organisations and individuals to identify the root causes of violence and contribute to the just and peaceful transformation of violent internal conflict.

The first Millennium Peace Prize recipients are Flora Brovina (Kosovo), Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani (Pakistan); Venerananda Nzambazamariya (Rwanda), Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres (Colombia), the Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency (Papua New Guinea), and Woman in Black (based in Belgrade).

“These women symbolise the future of our dream for this millennium – where adversity can be surmounted and peace can be achieved,”emphasised Heyzer. “The prize winners are important role models for millions of women around the world who are engaging in strategies for peace at the local and national level.”

Despite the many challenges they face, women across Asia, Africa, Europe and North and South America are already at the forefront of many peace efforts.

“In some cases, women have succeeded in collecting arms in exchange for hot meals, or they have relentlessly demonstrated and appealed for the violence to stop … Others have formally joined peace negotiations, working to ensure that new constitutions include such legal protections for women and girls as access to education, land and property rights and at least 30 percent representation in public office,” Heyzer emphasised.

However, even as women around the world are finding many new platforms to express their ideas and concerns, women’s priorities in countries suffering from armed violence continue to be marginalised.

This occurs in large part because women’s voices are rarely heard at the peace table, UNIFEM said in a recent publication entitled ‘Women At the Peace Table, Making a Difference’.

“Larger numbers of women must be invited to shape peace negotiations,” stressed Kevin Clements, secretary general of International Alert. “What vision of peace can we expect if only half of the population is included in the process?” he continued.

“While women are affected disproportionately by violent conflict, they are not passive victims, as they are so often portrayed,” explained Clements.

The women who have come to New York to receive the Peace Prize are inspirational leaders and representatives of organisations that demonstrate how to transcend conflict and strengthen our commitment to restoring healthy communities, said Heyzer.

Brovina of Kosovo is the president of the League of Albanian Women of Kosovo, a non-political organisation she founded in 1992 to assist ethnic Albanian women. Brovina was accused of and imprisoned for gathering food, clothing and medical supplies for the Kosovo Liberation Army (KLA).

Jahangir and her sister Jilani helped to found the Women’s Action Forum to help women obtain divorces from abusive husbands. In 1986 they co- founded the Pakistan Human Rights Commission.

Nzambazamariya, who died last year in a Kenya Airways crash off Abidjan, dedicated herself to empowering women politically and economically, and to restructuring and sensitising Rwanda’s imbalanced political, economic and social infrastructures and laws that were biased against women.

The Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres movement ensures that women’s alternative plans for peace and co-existence reach influential circles in conflict- ridden Colombia.

The Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency has been a keystone in the process of peace negotiations and reconstruction in Bougainville, Papua New Guinea since the 1990’s. The island has been home to a rebellion against the Papua New Guinea government.

Finally, Women in Black is a worldwide network sponsoring politics of resistance, which inspires women in different parts of the world to organise action and non-violent protest.

On Wednesday, prizewinners met with U.S. congresswomen at a luncheon on Capitol Hill where the topic of discussion was women and international security.

The prizes will be officially awarded at a gala gourmet dinner Thursday evening at the U.N. delegates Dining Room. CNN anchor Maria Hinajosa and actress Dana Reeve will serve as mistresses of ceremonies, and celebrities Glenn Close and Lee Grant are expected to be among those presenting prizes to the winners.

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