It would be of no surprise to anyone that women have played a key role in peacebuilding throughout history. As we celebrate International Women’s Day today, this provides us with a moment to reflect on just some of the significant women who have shaped the peace landscape of today.
Betha von Suttner
In 1905, Bertha became the first woman to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for her book Lay Down Your Arms, a radical anti-military piece which argued for international arbitration and congresses to prevent wars. Despite being a rumoured inspiration for the prize, it took her five years to personally receive the award.
In 1931, Jane became the second woman awarded the Nobel Peace Prize which she received for her work as a social worker, internationalist and feminist. She was actively against the idea of war, and in 1906 published Newer Ideals of Peace. In the following decade, she continued to advocate for peace; speaking at the Peace Palace at the Hague and advocating against America’s entry to the first World War.
Monica McWilliams and May Blood
Monica and May founded the Northern Ireland Womens’ Coalition in 1998, during the long period of religious tensions in the area known as the Troubles. They founded this group in order to bring women’s voices to the table during constitutional talks on peace; creating a platform based on inclusion, equality and human rights. Together, they contributed to the success of the Good Friday Agreement and their community’s resilience in the wake of conflict.
A prominent lawyer, Shirin was one of Iran’s first female judges, and in 2003 became the first woman from the Islamic world to be awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. Shirin is an advocate for human rights, particularly women and children’s rights. After the Islamic revolution, Shirin opened her own legal practice to exclusively defend individuals being persecuted by authorities, with her open criticism of the hierocracy leading to her imprisonment in 2000.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf
Ellen became Africa’s first female elected head of state in 2005, when she became president of Liberia. Having studied in the US, Ellen returned to her home country of Liberia to serve as the minister for finance, but fled when the government was overthrown by a military coup. In exile, she became the first woman to lead the UN Development Program in Africa. After a long political battle, in the midst of a nation-wide rebellion and civil war, Ellen held the office of president from 2006 to 2018. In 2011 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for promotion of peace, stability and women’s empowerment throughout her life.
Miriam was invited by President Simeon Bengino Aquino to join the Philippines government’s team for peace negotiations with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. Four years into these negotiations, both sides signed a peace agreement, thus ending Asia’s longest-running insurgency. This also made Miriam the first female chief negotiator to sign a major peace accord, for which three of the five government signatories were women. Miriam is now a senior mediation advisor at the UN and a professor of political science at the University of the Philippines.
Although these are only a few of the many stories that could be told, the peacebuilding movement has benefitted significantly from the involvement of women throughout its history. As we look forward, there are many reasons to be hopeful for the work we can do together to bring about positive change.