Asia-Pacific, Gender, Global, Global Geopolitics, Headlines, Human Rights

RIGHTS: Six Australians Among 1,000 "Nobel Peace Women"

Neena Bhandari

SYDNEY, Jun 29 2005 (IPS) - Stella Cornelius is proud not only to be one among 1,000 women from 150 countries collectively nominated for the 2005 Nobel Peace Prize for their efforts in pursuit of peace but also to be part of a ”sisterhood” of women who have worked for peace through the ages.

”The graciousness of an award like this is telling me, ‘Stella, you belong to that magnificent sisterhood of women, not 1,000, but millions, who have through the ages done the work of peace,’" said the well-known worker in peace and conflict resolution, social justice and human rights.

Cornelius was among six Australian women who were honoured Wednesday morning at the New South Wales state parliament when their names became the first to be announced to the world from the unusually long list of nominees.

Faith Ida Lessing Bandler, supporter of the rights of indigenous people and the peace movement, Zohl de Ishtar, champion of indigenous-led community projects, anti-nuclearism, anti-militarism, anti-colonialism, promotion of inalienable sovereign and cultural rights of all peoples, were two others named in the ceremony.

The others are: Alexandra Hazel Gater, for pastoral and spiritual care, human rights and indigenous welfare; Jo Vallentine, for grassroots peace, social justice and national and international lobbying; and Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta, a group of women elders from Coober Pedy in South Australia that looks after culture and country for future generations.

Cornelius’ unique contribution to global peace has been to make conflict resolution training widely available. These skills are now used in workplaces, universities, schools, community organisations and by individuals.

Only 12 women have received the peace award since it was first instituted in 1901, when Jean Henri Dunant of Switzerland, founder of the International Committee of the Red Cross and initiator of the Geneva Convention, and Frédéric Passy of France, founder and President of the first French peace society, shared the award.

The 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 project began in 2003, under the conviction that the commitment of women working for peace should finally be acknowledged and made publicly known. It began as a Swiss initiative, but has become a project supported globally including various United Nations agencies.

There has been scant recognition of the women who work for a secure life free of discrimination, exploitation, violence and war; and for access to nutritious food, clean water, education, medical and health care.

The collective nomination for this year’s award recognises the work of women from all walks of life worldwide, who have devoted themselves to a future free of violence. The criteria for nomination have been women’s sustainability and integrity, long-term engagement, inclusion of all parties, and a wide network.

The women chosen come from diverse fields: political rights, economic policy, peace promotion, health, education, environment, children’s rights, and campaigns against violence, organised crime and trafficking in human beings. And they are working at all levels – local, regional, national and international.

Bandler, who tirelessly worked for the 1967 referendum that resulted in full citizenship rights for Australia’s Aboriginal population says, "In essence, never give up," something she has lived up to for the past seven decades of campaigning for racial equality, women’s rights, peace and elimination of poverty.

She said the abuse and exclusion she experienced as an indigenous schoolgirl in predominantly white Australia left a lasting impression on her.

Gater has also been campaigning to raise awareness of issues such as racism, the "Stolen Generation" and the need for reconciliation between Aboriginals and the white settlers in Australia. She is the first Aboriginal woman to be ordained as an Anglican priest.

"Kungkas are always the peacemaker, looking after the kids, the country and keeping the culture alive," say the women elders of the Kupa Piti Kungka Tjuta group, who survived atomic testing in the South Australian desert half a century ago.

In 1998, the Australian government had proposed a national nuclear waste dump for their homeland in Coober Pedy, but their unique campaign called Irati Wanti (The Poison, leave it!) stopped the multi-million dollar project last year.

The 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize project intends to make visible women’s efforts to counter injustice, discrimination, oppression and violence.

As Zohl de Ishtar said, "I stand here with great pride as a lesbian. This shared award is about resilience and empowerment of women."

The 1,000 nominations underscores the wealth of strategies, procedures for conflict resolution and methods of negotiation that women all over the world develop in order to deal with the various socio-political issues and problems in their respective regions.

Vallentine, who made history in 1984 when she was elected to the Australian Senate as the world’s first single-issue peace politician says, "This is recognition of women’s amazing work for peace and justice. Peacemaking is a natural province for women and creating meaningful lives for future generations is fundamental to the way in which women view the world".

A book profiling the 1,000 women, their life stories, work and vision, will be published at the end of this year and an exhibition will travel the world. As the organisers say, "It will be a clearly structured source of reference for NGOs, relief organisations, peace networks, women’s networks and official institutions."

The women’s work and strategies also offer a significant impetus for future conflict research and peace policy. Researchers from various universities on all continents are studying and analysing these efforts and will share the results with governments, civil societies and international organisations in order to develop new peace strategies.

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