Globally and locally, women are using their voices and actions for peace and justice. This was evident during an Oct. 17 panel discussion at William & Mary's Sadler Center, based on the fall PBS series, "Women, War & Peace." Onscreen, the series shows how groups of women - organized, vocal, and on the move - have made changes in their countries. Panelists at William & Mary's event included women whose activities have made a difference locally in Hampton Roads, and throughout the world.
The event was part of a three-part community discussion hosted by WHRO, the local public media affiliate, and co-sponsored by William & Mary Law School, Old Dominion University (ODU) Women's Studies Department, and Commonwealth Catholic Charities Refugee and Immigrant Services. The Oct. 17 event began with remarks by Bert Schmidt, WHRO President, and Stephen Hanson, William & Mary's Vice Provost for International Affairs and Director of the Reves Center for International Studies.
Following a trailer for "Women, War & Peace," panelists responded to questions from Barbara Hamm Lee, WHRO Director of Creative Services, and members of the audience. Panelists included Christie Warren, Professor of the Practice of International and Comparative Law and Director of the Program in Comparative Legal Studies and Post-Conflict Peacebuilding at William & Mary Law School; Dr. Jennifer Fish, Chair of ODU's Women's Studies Department; Karen Kurilko, Division Director, Resettlement Services of Commonwealth Catholic Charities; and Mithal Abed Ali, a refugee from Baghdad, Iraq, and a doctor of pharmacy, who now lives in the Hampton Roads area and is working toward her U.S. medical credentials.
"We are pleased that this documentary series tackles issues crucial to our world, in both our distant and more recent history," Hanson said. "Women's distinctive perspectives on war are finally being recognized, and they are increasingly speaking up because their views of war and peace can be very different from those of men."
"Women approach the topic of war far differently from the way that men do," Warren said. "Women look carefully at the causes of war because they know that women and children are most affected by war's damage. When they see the causes of war, such as power struggles and the desire for natural resources like precious metals and gemstones or land, they know that they aren't willing to die for those things. Women want peace for their countries, for their families, and for their homes. Their natural reaction when someone does or says something wrong is not to pick up a gun and start shooting."
The "Women, War & Peace" series consists of five separate stories of war, and describes how women became involved to change the course of both war and the peace process.
Warren has advised on constitutional issues and processes in Haiti, Kosovo, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Somalia and Sudan, and she participated in the Darfur Peace Talks. Last summer, thirteen of her students at William & Mary Law School worked around the world in developing and post-conflict countries promoting development, peace and reconciliation. All thirteen, Warren noted to the audience, were women. She most recently served as the Senior Expert in Constitutional Issues for the United Nations Department of Political Affairs Mediation Support Unit Standby Team. She currently serves as the curriculum advisor for the Constitution Building Processes Programme at the International Institute for Democracy and Electoral Assistance in Stockholm.
"Many women are part of internationally sponsored peace processes, and they consider a degree in international law helpful in getting them to the negotiation table," Warren said. "Once women are included, they are able to get the attention of those in power and advocate for the causes of equality and peace."
Fish, Associate Professor of Women's Studies at ODU, has focused her research for the past ten years on the relationship between gender and South Africa's transition to democracy. She related the story of 300 grandmothers raising their grandchildren, who banded together in that country and mobilized to educate and to care for those affected with HIV and AIDS.
"They provided human security for their grandchildren," Fish said, "and have shown a great capacity to mobilize people on the ground, and to get action."
Fish has spent long periods of time working and researching in Cape Town. She is the author of "Domestic Democracy: At Home in South Africa," which is based on 85 interviews with domestic servants and their employers, and a co-editor of "Organizing Across Divides: Gender and Democratization in South African Civil Society. "
Service learning is a large part of Fish's courses. For example, a number of her students have traveled to South Africa as part of a course on global and social change. She also has sought international service opportunities for her students in Kenya, Rwanda, and in other parts of the world.
Kurilko spoke about the refugee resettlement services offered by Catholic Charities in Hampton Roads. Her group greets refugees at the airport in Newport News; ensures they have clothing and food; and settles them into housing that is secure, furnished, and provisioned with food.
Her agency also provides English instruction and educational planning, employment placement, and orientation to the local community, its laws and its customs. School liaison services, for example, help refugee children enroll in school. Over all, Kurilko said, intensive case management is provided to ensure needs are met.
"Women, up to now, have been kept in the background; they have not been the powerbrokers," Warren said, "despite the fact that they and their children are the ones who are most adversely affected by war. Women are now demanding to be heard and to be involved in peace processes at leadership levels."
"Men have always been known as the warriors, and they have been proud of that identity. Because of this, women often have more legitimacy and credibility as peacemakers," Warren said. "This is borne out by the recent award of the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize to three women working to bring peace in their countries."