Activists speak at Women PeaceMakers Program

IPJ hosts series of women advocating for human rights.

By Jackson Somes

“They know what it’s like to deal with power, they know what it’s like to deal with repression, they know what its like to deal with people with very different viewpoints,” Dean Luck says. Dean Luck, the dean of the Kroc School of Peace Studies, is talking about this year’s women of the annual Women PeaceMaker’s Program. This program, put on by the Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice, has now been held for 11 years.

Each year, the event features four women who have been active in promoting peace through conflict resolution and civil society participation, whether at a national or international level. “They [the Women PeaceMakers Program] look for women who have outstanding contributions where they live, in their own countries and those are generally contributions to human rights and to peace and justice,” Luck said.

This year the program invited Rutuparna Mohanty of India, Philister Baya Lawiri of South Sudan, Rehana Hashmi of Pakistan and Sabiha Husić of Bosnia-Herzegovina. These women participate in a discussion panel together and then have an individual conversations located at the IPJ Theater.

Mohanty will be speaking on Oct. 1 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. As a lawyer, Mohanty has defended the rights of slum dwellers, fought for sexual harassment cases against powerful politicians and worked to see offenders accused of gang rape jailed. Mohanty has also worked from outside legal domain to assist the women of India. She has also established a shelter called Maa Ghara. This shelter provides aid and rehabilitation for trafficked and sexually exploited women.

Lawiri, speaking Sept. 26, 12:30 to 1:30 p.m., began her interest in human rights campaigns in 1983. During this time she was an internationally displaced person who was inspired to become a human rights monitor after witnessing violations in the refugee camps. As a monitor she worked with women in the camps and taught them how to document and file human rights violations in court. Currently, Lawiri serves as the chairperson for South Sudan’s Civil Service Commission.

Hashmi will be speaking Sept. 24 from 12:30 to 1:30 p.m. She helps women of domestic violence as well as women and girls who had been forced into fundamentalist, arranged marriages. Additionally, Hashmi has created two national women’s rights networks to aid women and promote their rights.

Husić, who has already spoke, is a psychotherapist and Islamist theologian. Husić first started working through the NGO Medica Zenica to provide theory to the traumatized women affected by the Bosnian War. She rose to become the director of Medica. The organization continues to work to aid traumatized women of post-war victims and victims of sexual violence.

The PeaceMaker’s program is more than just providing the PeaceMakers a stage. One of the important aspects of the series is translating the experiences of the PeaceMakers into meaningful policy changes across the world. “What are the lessons from their experience for peace making, prevention of atrocities and advancing human rights in various places,” Dean Luck said. He continued to say that the lessons of the PeaceMakers should be considered for diplomats, peacekeepers and policy makers. “That translation is sometimes a difficult one” said Dean Luck.

The Women Peacemakers Program is working to overcome this difficult transition by providing not just a stage, but an entire documentation crew for each PeaceMaker. Accompanying each PeaceMaker will be a Peace Writer as well as a film team to document their personal stories.

Dean Luck also expressed interest in expanding the PeaceMakers program to include men who have worked to to bring peace and justice to their own areas. “I’d like to see ways of having the program interact more with men who are PeaceMakers,” Dean Luck said. Although recognizing that men frequently create the problems in which these women PeaceMakers have sought and worked for a solution, he noted that men often play a role in searching for a solution as well.

“I think women have a particular perspective that’s enormously valuable,” Dean Luck said, “but I think these women PeaceMakers would be the first to say that they recognize that they’re in environments in which men often call the shots, are very influential, or have to be brought aboard.” He continued to say that he is hopeful to find a way to relate the PeaceMakers program to men who are trying to do similar kinds of work as the PeaceMakers of the past and present.