“We have the power to stop war and turn our upside world upright,” Nobel Laureate and Peace is Loud speaker Leymah Gbowee told the over 1,000 peace activists assembled for the opening panel of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF)’s Women Stop War conference. This conference commemorated the 100th anniversary of WILPF’s inaugural convening in 1915, when women gathered to strategize for a peaceful end to World War I. A century later, the players have shifted but the challenge still remains: in a world primarily led by men and where military spending is prioritized, can women unite globally to advocate for peace?
Over the three days of the conference, participants discussed the practicalities of this question in plenary and breakout sessions. On the final day of the conference, Peace is Loud presented a panel discussion and short films screening,On the Frontlines Against Militarism & Extremism: Women’s Stories from the Middle East, North Africa and Asia. The film content included clips from The Trials of Spring, a multimedia project that Peace is Loud is working on as the outreach partner. The project highlights select stories of women engaged in acts of social and political participation in six Arab Spring countries.
Clips were shown from the trailer that introduces the Egypt and Tunisia stories; from rough cuts of the short films from Yemen, Bahrain and Libya; and from a series of interviews with women activists in the region who attended ICAN’s 3rdAnnual Forum on Women’s Rights, Peace and Security in November 2014.
The panel was opened by Peace is Loud’s Executive Director, Angie Wang, and moderated by Peace is Loud’s Program Director, Jamie Dobie. The first panelist,Zahra’ Langhi, spoke powerfully of her work with the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace to see inclusive democracy, gender equality and peace realized in Libya, the ongoing struggle to have women’s voices heard, and the need for holistic, coherent approaches to peace. She and writer Razan Naim al-Maghrabi both discussed the memory and legacy of Salwa Bughaighis, the peace activist featured in The Trials of Spring’s Libya film who was tragically assassinated in her home last year. al-Maghrabi talked about the tremendous impact of Salwa’s death, particularly on the lives of writers, journalists and activists.
Azza Kamel of the Appropriate Communication Techniques for Development(ACT) in Egypt reflected on her work to emphasize human rights issues within the new Constitution, and to draw attention to the sexual harassment women face, both in the private and public spheres. She talked about how young Egyptian men and women came together as one to tackle this issue.
Amal Basha, the official spokesperson for the National Dialogue Committee in Yemen, shined a light on peace efforts in her country. “When the revolution in Yemen came, women were at the forefront and ready to be spokespeople,” she told the audience.
Sanam Anderlini of the International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) andSameena Nazir of the Potohar Organization for Development Advocacy in Pakistan provided a critical insight into the need for greater visibility of women peacebuilders. Anderlini emphasized the importance of making sure that the voices of women human rights activists are elevated. Nazir added, “We need to put out a counter-narrative against extremism and demand space for women in the media.”
There was a strong response to the panel, and a lot of audience interest in screening The Trials of Spring in local communities once the content becomes widely available.
Gathering advocates and activists together to ramp up peacebuilding efforts is no easy task. But the power of conferences like this one lies in baring witness to women’s stories—allowing no one but them to speak for them, and helping as many people as possible hear what they have to say.
For updates on the release of The Trials of Spring content, please stay tuned to the project website.