For those of us involved in the 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize initiative, the process itself has been a journey of and for peace. Connecting locally and globally with like-minded people has strengthened our resolve and energised us. For us, this initiative has also been about fighting cynicism and defeatism. It is about fighting the debilitating TINA (There Is No Alternative) syndrome. It is about saying - in Pablo Neruda's words - "They can destroy all the flowers there are, but they cannot stop the spring from coming."
This innovative and very political project began in 2003 with the objective of making visible and acknowledging the peace works of women in different spheres and at different levels. Five Swiss feminists and peace activists - project initiator Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold (member of the Swiss National Council in Bern and of the European Council in Strasbourg), Monika Stocker (City Councillor in Zurich), Rosmarie Zapsl (Member, Swiss Parliament), Eva Mezger (Moderator and Journalist), and Christine Menz (Communications Specialist) - came up with the idea. They then identified 20 women in different parts of the world to join the team as regional coordinators.
Women's force for peace
Preparing for the wrong war
When invited to be the coordinator for South Asia, I embraced the initiative without a moment's hesitation. I thought advocating for giving the prize collectively to 1,000 women would state loudly and clearly that peace cannot be achieved by one individual. Peace is, and has to be, a collective dream, process and task. In fact, the number 1000 is also only symbolic. It is symbolic of the millions who want and are working for peace and justice; the millions who are saying 'another world is possible'.
I joined because I felt that, through this initiative, we could show the different faces of war and peace. For example, totally avoidable poverty and disease are the most debilitating and dehumanising wars; patriarchal violence is a war against half of humanity. Then there are caste and racial wars; wars against the 'other', like in Gujarat or Sudan or Bosnia.
For us in this project, peace is not just the absence of war. Peace is comprehensive human security. Peace, for us, is not possible without justice. The joint nomination of the 1,000 women from 153 countries was officially handed over to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo in January 2005. On June 29, about 50 press conferences were held in different parts of the world to publicise the names of the 1,000 women. In South Asia alone, we organised 12 press conferences in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Pakistan and Sri Lanka to release the names of the 157 South Asian women who are amongst the 1,000.
South Asia has the largest number of peace women from any region and India's 91 peace women are the maximum from any one country. There are 29 peace women from Pakistan, 16 from Bangladesh, 12 from Sri Lanka and nine from Nepal. These figures speak for the amazing work being done for peace, justice, rights and sustainable livelihoods by women in South Asia and the resilience of the people's movements, of which women are an integral and big part.
The nominated women have committed themselves to the cause of peace and justice, often under the most difficult circumstances. About 20 per cent of the nominated women are from the grassroots level. They are fighting against totally unnecessary and avoidable poverty, hunger and disease; struggling to get access to clean water, control over land and other resources; struggling against big dams, and big multinational corporations destroying local diversities, both biological and cultural. These women are trying to build bridges between conflicting communities. They are working to protect the human rights of women, minorities, Dalits, HIV+ people and sex workers. In our list are several illiterate but 'life-educated', wise women. There are also highly literate lawyers, doctors, social scientists, physicists. And there are writers, poets and theatre women.
Many of these women have turned their personal tragedies into social activism. Each woman is inspiring, each committed and focused. Each woman's work is sustainable and long term; it is exemplary and worthy of emulation.
The most important tasks for the team implementing this initiative were to define peace, to decide the criteria for selection; to make detailed nomination forms; to fix quotas for different regions and countries and then to invite nominations. The 20 coordinators and the team of eight women from Switzerland have had four meetings since 2003 to take this project forward. Each time, we talked for three or four days from early morning till late at night.
In their regions, the coordinators had to publicise this idea as widely as possible. We did this through our existing networks, the Internet, our website and through the local media. The greatest challenge was to get those who work silently in remote areas, and have no access to electronic media, nominated. The existence of effective networks, and enthusiastic response from most people to the thinking behind this initiative and committed work by everyone involved, got us over 2,000 nominations.
After the short-listing and final selection of the peace women, began the tedious task of making short and long, interestingly written profiles of each woman. In most cases, the information provided in the nomination forms was not enough. We had to go back to most women for additional information. Fortunately for us in South Asia, the efficient and committed team of the Women's Feature Service, New Delhi took over the task of writing the profiles and they did a very good job.