Peace as a way of lifeWhat went into the making of 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 project and what will come of it
By Terence Sigamony
Peace is not just the absence of war. "If 30 per cent people in the world don't have food to eat, a similar number of people has no access to jobs and health-care, those coming from minority communities can't walk with their heads held high, those suffering from HIV are discriminated against, almost half of all women find their rights violated by their own families and a large number of them gets killed for 'soiling the honour' of their men, then how can there be peace in this world?" says Kamla Bhasin in an interview with The News on Sunday.
Kamla, South Asia Coordinator for 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 project, recently visited Pakistan to meet friends and those working for the promotion of women and human rights. Born in Shaheedan Wali village of Gujrat district, she migrated to India along with his family in 1947 when she was only one year old. Since 1980, she has been visiting Pakistan on regular basis and terms the country her second home.
In January 2005, Kamla joined a worthy cause in finding women from across the globe who could be nominated for the prestigious Nobel Peace Prize. Now that the process of finding 1000 of these women from over 150 countries is complete, their names have been submitted to the Nobel Peace Prize Committee in Oslo. "Through this project, we have tried to make the work done by these women visible."
Kamla says three things were kept in mind while deciding which country should send how many nominees. These were:
(1) Size of the population
(2) Magnitude of problems
(3) Amount of work being done by women
She explains why basing the quota on population alone could have been misleading. For example, Palestine is a very small country population-wise but in terms of wars and conflicts it has more than most countries on the globe. Similarly, some countries have a huge population as well as number of problems but the civil society movement there is small.
She says, based on these considerations, the quota for Pakistan was initially set at 20 and for India at 100. "But when we got very good nominations from Pakistan, I recommended an increase in Pakistan's quota. We, therefore, allotted nine more nominations to Pakistan out of Indian quota."
There is a general perception in many countries that in Pakistan women exist only as victims of rape and exploitation. They are not even allowed to walk freely and none of them is raising any voice against this sorry state of affairs. Fortunately, the nomination of 29 women from Pakistan for Nobel Peace Prize dispels this impression.
Kamla Bhasin says that 1000 is a symbolic figure. She believes the actual number of women pursuing noble causes runs into millions but it's impractical to collect the profiles and the photos of all of them. Doing the same thing for 1000 of them is quite achievable. She says 1000 women that have been selected are waging different kinds of wars. "These women are working in different parts of the world for justice and peace as lawyers, health workers and rights activists. They are working at different levels -- that is, at the grassroots level, national level and in some cases at the global levels. For example, Asma Jahangir works at the local, national and international level together while Aqeela, another nominee from Pakistan, works only at the grassroots level. We believe that the work of someone who operates at the grassroots level is as precious and valuable as that of a highly educated woman."
Kamla says we should also understand that these 1000 women are not working for women alone. "In some cases, they are working for entire communities. Asma Jahangir's work is not for women alone. Similarly, the work of some other nominees from Pakistan is not women-specific. For instance Hina Jillani works for human rights and Madiha Gohar's Ajoka Theatre works for social awareness.
Kamla observes a single person in a black suit and tie can't create peace by singing an accord in Geneva. "Peace will only come when millions of people dream of it, live it and work for it."
She believes that poverty is the biggest war thrust by the rich against the poor. "We have wars because people don't have food to eat. We, therefore, define peace in terms of a comprehensive system for human security. Any woman working for creating this security in any way is working for peace in our opinion. If a woman is providing jobs to 5,000 or 6,000 women she is doing peace work. If a blind woman is working for the rights of the disabled she is striving for providing a peaceful environment to the disadvantaged. For us all these women are working for justice, rights, democracy and peace." She also believe peace is not possible without justice.
She says that Nobel prize initiative is not aiming at the money -- $ 1.2 million -- that comes with the award for rewarding individuals. "If we get this prize, we are not going to divide it among all the 1000 women because the division will mean that they get only 1000 dollar each which doesn't make sense." So, she says, "we will create an international fund for peace. We will also raise more money to support the peace movement throughout the world. But even if we don't get the award, we won't be disappointed because the project to collect the nominations has already made the work of these women visible."
Already, she believes, a lot has been achieved as far as the objectives of the project are concerned. "Working for the project itself strengthened the peace movement. Our idea was to push the peace movement at a time when there was war in Afghanistan and in Iraq. We are saying that unless we strengthen the peace movement, war won't stop."