They started alone; each woman a lone voice for equality and justice in their respective countries. The six founding members of the Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI) know that change can begin with one person’s idea, but moves forward when many join together.
NWI Co-Founder and 1997 Nobel Laureate Jody Williams
“We recognized that if we did come together and use the access and influence we have by virtue of the peace prize, we could use it to support the work of women’s organizations around the world,” said Jody Williams, NWI co-founder and 1997 laureate for her work to ban antipersonnel landmines. “In that sense, we are about bringing women together, who wouldn’t necessarily come together, to share ideas and thinking and new strategies.”
Williams, together with her sister laureates Shirin Ebadi, Wangari Maathai, Rigoberta Menchú Tum, Betty Williams and Mairead Corrigan Maguire, believes winning the prize is an honor, but also a responsibility. She says peace is a commitment to equality and justice, a sentiment echoed by Ebadi of Iran.
“In all wars, it is women who are most vulnerable and women who are the last group to benefit from democracy,” she said. Ebadi was the first Muslim woman to win the prize, honored in 2003 for her work to promote human rights in Iran. “When (the NWI) speaks about peace, and we think that the arena for our work is the whole world, you can imagine how big that goal is.”
Since 2006 the NWI has championed the victims (mostly women and children) of atrocities in places such as Darfur, Burma and the Middle East. They have organized UN tribunals, met with government leaders around the globe and raised awareness of the plight of the most vulnerable in wars’ crossfire.
Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi
“For example, I want to bring your attention to the UN tribunal in New York,” Ebadi said. “It seems like the world forgets about Burma, but at the tribunal, women testified about the atrocities that they had suffered, and that was like a scream that awakened the world.”
The NWI is housed in the UH Graduate College of Social Work, where Jody Williams is the Sam and Cele Keeper Endowed Professor in Peace and Social Justice.
“I firmly believe that if we live in a world of gender parity, it raises the bar for everybody. When women’s rights are met then everybody’s rights are better,” Williams said. “No one person changes the world. One person might be a catalyst to bring people of like mind together to change the world.”
The Nobel Women’s Initiative is part of what’s happening at the University of Houston. I’m Marisa Ramirez.
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