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FEATURE | summer 2006

The Peacemongers
Can these Nobel laureates help stop a war?

Chinese garment workers
Four of the Nobelists for peace:(left to right) Jody Williams, Betty Williams, Shirin Ebadi, Rigoberta Menchú Tum. Photo: Michael Collopy

There is perhaps nothing more stereotypically masculine than war.

It’s not that there haven’t been women inclined to make war, but this need to hit, to thrust, to dominate, to claim supremacy is downright boyish. And there has perhaps been no U.S. presidential administration more unrelentingly macho than this one.

In the midst of this dangerous game of nuclear one-upsmanship, five women—joined by women’s and peace groups from around the world—hope to do nothing less than change the course of history. And why not? These five—all Nobel Peace Prize winners—are not strangers to that goal.

In the 105-year history of the Nobel Peace Prize, only 12 women have ever won the honor (see Page 42). Seven are still alive, and five of them have formed the Nobel Women’s Initiative: Jody Williams from the U.S., Shirin Ebadi from Iran, Betty Williams from Northern Ireland, Wangari Maathai from Kenya and Rigoberta Menchú Tum from Guatemala. (Laureate Aung San Suu Kyi remains under house arrest in Burma, and Mairead Corrigan of Northern Ireland is not active with the other laureates.) Together they represent a large portion of the globe: North America, the Middle East, Europe, Africa and Central America. Their long-term goal is to help change the status of women world-wide, but in the short term they have focused on stopping the U.S. from going to war with Iran.

“What we are calling for is quite simple: a nonviolent resolution of the standoff between the U.S. and Iran,” says Jody Williams, on the phone from her Virginia home. “We do not want to see another Iraq and more disruption in the volatile and fragile Middle East. We do not want to see more suffering among women and children in another Middle Eastern country. No more military action. We all for a negotiated resolution of the standoff.”

After forming the Nobel Women’s Initiative in April, Williams and her colleagues immediately called for a meeting of American and Iranian NGO leaders—all women—in Vienna. Held in early June, the meeting set forth a plan for the NGO leaders to take back home: a strategy for building international pressure to help convince the U.S. and Iranian governments that negotiations and compromise are better alternatives to war. Continue to the full article