• Thursday, April 24, 2014
  • A program of IPS Inter Press Service supported by the Dutch MDG3 Fund

    Nobel Women’s Initiative Celebrating women’s leadership and vision: In Memory of Wangari Maathai

    Wangari Maathai (1940-2011). Credit: The Green Belt Movement.

    By Wendy Harcourt

    The loss of Wangari Maathai, the first African woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize on Sunday 25 September has been felt around the world. Feminists, environmentalists, Presidents, spiritual and UN leaders, peace activists, women and men, mourn for the passing of the Nobel Laureate. As a leader and fighter, and founder of the Greenbelt Movement in 1977 she connected African vision, knowledge and action to end environmental degradation and human rights violations of women.

    As well as her great work for Kenya and women world wide through the Greenbelt Movement, another initiative that Wangari Maathai led with vision and wisdom was the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

    Her fellow women Laureate remember her with the words:

    Wangari was a true visionary whose work and life served as a powerful example to women everywhere. She showed us that the eradication of poverty, the empowerment of women, and a sustainable future for our planet are all essential building blocks of a more just and peaceful world…

    Her passion and commitment have moved countless people to take action to improve their communities. We will miss her great shining smile and her indomitable spirit but all those she has inspired will keep her vision alive through each small action we take toward a better world.’ (http://wangari.greenbeltmovement.org)

    The Nobel Women’s Initiative funded by the MDG3 Fund will undoubtedly continue in the spirit of Wangari Maathai to inspire and make a difference to women’s lives worldwide. The MDG3 Fund supports the Initiative’s groundbreaking work on raising women’s voices for peace, equality and justice. The unique work of the Initiative is to connect the grassroots to power at the top through the selfless example and hard work and daily example of the Nobel Laureates.
    As Wangari’s active and passionate engagement with women from all walks of life attest, the initiative knows how crucial it is to listen to women and find the leadership within. The Nobel Women’s Initiative illustrates how women’s leadership can be about a different type of power not domineering, hierarchical top down power but vertical power, building networks that are supportive and connecting. These women leaders are not ordering change but collaborating with women and men and making the difference together.
    In the Nobel Women’s Initiative Wangari worked with 6 other  Nobel Peace Prize winning women:  Jody Williams, Aung San Suu Kyi, Mairead Maguire, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchu and Betty Williams to support women leaders building peace, demanding justice and achieving equality and rights in Burma, Iran, Sudan, Israel and Palestine, Mexico and Central America.
    The Laureates work to raise public awareness of women’s issues in some of the world’s most difficult ‘hot spots’ courageously undertaking advocacy. They build power alliances to end violence against women in conflict situations. They work hard with media, with government and with civil society networks to encourage women’s engagement in political decision making. Their work is about getting women heard in public fora push down to the root causes of sexism, conflict and inequality. Most of all these women as inspiring political leaders encourage the participation of women and women’s perspectives in decision-making processes.
    Perhaps the most complex of those aims is ensuring women’s perspectives are heard in decision making processes. It is not about getting women into the room, but making sure men in power listen to their perspectives, learn from their stories and therefore ensure change happens based on women’s knowledge and vision. The first-ever International Tribunal on Crimes Against Women of Burma and a Review Conference of the International Criminal Court (ICC) held in Uganda ensured that the messages of grassroots’ women activist were brought to the media and to the governments to make sure that violence against women can be stamped out.
    Their advocacy for peace, just, equality and human rights is achieved through their tremendous convening power as well as ability to shape new conversations, build networks and create new forms of collaboration for a non violent equal world. With their own fame they are able to bring media attention to the work of women activists particularly those engaged ending war and militarism, and in support of women in peace negotiations and other peace building efforts.

    The  Nobel Women’s Initiative puts the media spotlight on how rape is a weapon of war They have put their full weight behind the implementation of comprehensive national action plans as called for in UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820. The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict, spearheaded by the Nobel Women’s Initiative calls for justice, resources and immediate support for the survivors. Even as Wangari Maathai was fighting for her own health, she was  at the Review Conference of the International Criminal Court in Uganda in 2010 with  Shirin Ebadi joining Sudanese women activists to call for an end to impunity for crimes against women and girls.

    The Noble Women’s Initiative is a unique example of how extraordinary women in different continents are working together to highlight women’s struggles for wrights around the world.

    As Wangari Maathai stated in her call for support for Sudanese women in we now know were the last months of her life: ‘women’s inclusion at the peace table leads to a broader inclusion of issues aside from security and power and women are able to build bridges between disparate groups’.

    As so many have acknowledged in these last days, Wangari built many bridges, inspired many and her love, commitment, kindness and passion will stay with us.

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