This Nobel Peace Prize weekend, Oslo’s Grand Hotel is filled to the gills with international guests, including an especially robust crowd from Liberia and Yemen. Women in eye-popping African prints pose for pictures taken by their sisters or husbands. Meanwhile, little ones take advantage of their mothers’ distraction to run up and down the red-carpeted stairwells. All the while, moving gracefully through the happy bedlam are young women with faces beautifully framed by tight scarves.
To someone who often watches the world through a camera lens, this has been a feast of eye candy. But as I’ve moved along with the crowd around the three women laureates (Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman) through a packed stack of events, I’m energized by knowing that there are thousands more women around the world who are celebrating.
I’ve received reports describing how there was, literally, dancing in the streets when the chairman of the Nobel committee stated unabashedly that the 2011 prize is a recognition that women hold up half the sky. “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women acquire the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
Of course all were not pleased. Some women are facing rock-throwing men when they publicly show their support of the laureates. Others live continuously under oppressive regimes where they risk imprisonment or torture because of their nonviolent struggle.
But this year’s prize not only is a historic recognition of women’s contributions to global security; it’s also a signal to policymakers that while the laureates are exceptional, they are not exceptions. Huge numbers of women have been, are, and will be engaged in the work to stop war, yet today fewer than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements are women. Did I say it’s a signal? That’s an understatement. The Nobel Committee has issued a clarion call to policymakers, insisting that women leaders be fully let into the leadership of the whole wide range of formal and informal peace processes everywhere. That means preventing conflict, stopping wars, and stabilizing chaotic post-conflict societies.
To make that very point, from Cambodia to Colombia to the Congo, women have been holding spirited “Rise with the Prize” gatherings. This global celebration is led by the Institute for Inclusive Security, a Washington, D.C.-based organization I chair. Given that we’re passionate about pulling up chairs for women to any peace table, there’s been a lot of hoopla in our offices as we’ve received dispatches from women in more than 25 countries. A few examples:
• In Afghanistan, the Afghan Women’s Network—the leading women’s non-governmental organization, headquartered in Kabul—wrote a letter of congratulations and sent green scarves for me to pass on to the laureates. These scarves were worn by Afghan women who pushed successfully for a place at the weighty international conference in Bonn, Germany, one week ago.
• In India, a women artists entrepreneur group called The Indigenous Tapestry held a celebration in their village, Hening Khulwa, in Peren District. The whole village participated in traditional tribal attire, coming together to pray and enjoy a high tea.
• In Israel, Brig. Gen. (Ret.) Israela Oron and former Knesset member Eti Livni hosted a dance party for policy shapers (including several ambassadors) in Tel Aviv.
• In Pakistan, Aman-o-Nisa: The Pakistan Women’s Coalition Against Extremism issued a press release and hosted public screenings in Hyderabad, Islamabad, and Peshawar of the documentary Pray the Devil Back to Hell, featuring Leymah as she helped unite Christian and Muslim women to stop the war.
• In Sri Lanka, 1,200 women watched the prize ceremony during an art exhibition and conference in Colombo. This followed celebrations in 11 districts around the country.
• In Uganda, female members of parliament released a statement underscoring the relevance of the award to their own work.
• In Bolivia, Cambodia, Kenya, Liberia and Rwanda, women wrote op-eds for their local papers.
• Worldwide, women rallied in person and in the Twittersphere. (I contributed my share from the ceremony, and a host of other events.) Many retweeted one of my favorite quotes from President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. “If your dreams do not scare you, they are not big enough.”
This plethora of Rise with the Prize events captures the fortitude of women as they stand together. It reminds all of us to stop and recognize victories (small and large) that move women forward toward a vision shared with many a good man—of freedom from want and fear, through global, sustainable peace.
Shall we dance?