The second international conference of the Nobel Women's Initiative took place in Guatemala, May 10-12, 2009. Four female Nobel Peace Laureates gathered with 135 women activists and policy makers from 24 countries to discuss ways to "Redefine Democracy for Peace Justice and Equality”. openDemocracy was there to explore the major themes and record events in articles, a multi-authored blog and podcasts.
We are grateful to the Barrow Cadbury Trust and The Tides Foundation for their financial support which made this project possible.
For our coverage of the first Nobel Women’s Initiative conference “Women Redefining Peace in the Middle East and Beyond” in Ireland in 2007, click here. Rapporteurs blogged the discussions and we podcast the meeting daily. Shirin Ebadi, Isabel Hilton, Ann Carr and Nadwa Sarandah explored the major themes in an article series.
Iranian journalist Zhila Bani Yaghoub and her husband Bahman Ahmadi Amooyi were arrested in Iran over the weekend after government forces reportedly raided their home. Yaghoub is a veteran journalist who has worked to promote women's rights in Iran. She spoke recently at the Nobel Women's Initiative conference on 'Redefining Democracy' held in Guatemala.
The Nobel Women's Initiative issued a statement saying:
"This kind of behaviour and treatment is unacceptable. They questioned me about my nonviolent protests in USA against the Afghanistan invasion and Iraqi war. They insisted I must tick the box in the Immigration form admitting to criminal activities. I am not a criminal, my nonviolent acts in the USA opposing the war on Afghanistan, and Iraqi, are acts of conscience and together with millions of USA citizens, and world citizens, I refuse to be criminalized for opposing such illegal policies.
I am back from Guatemala, from this exciting, spiritually-connected gathering: a great dance, party, food, and robust conversations at an invigorating meeting. It’s so exciting that I keep smiling to myself remembering the energy in the room, the sisterhood, the fact that as women race, colour, region, affinity, language never matter. For us it was about how to make a difference and truly redefine “Democracy”. As I transit in Texas, my realities hit again and I leave dreamland.
Many of us travelled on the same flight from Houston to La Aurora International Airport. Our entry into Guatemala was grand. We were welcomed by Erin Allison and the other organisers.
There was a comfortable minibus waiting to take us to our hotel, Casa Santa Domingo in Antigua city. Six of us, an ‘assorted' group of sisters, enjoyed the unknown landscape, and each other's company. A few of the sisters already knew each other but the others were meeting for the first time. We easily fell into a conversation that took us from the personal introduction to the introduction of our organisations. We shared our hopes and excitement for the conference and located ourselves in it. Before we went to our different rooms, we agreed to meet at the end of day two, go into town and explore pubs, restaurants, the remarkable history of Antigua; its taste, texture and smell.
WOMEN'S STRUGGLES FOR DEMOCRACY ON THE OUTSIDE
This presentation is based on an airplane conversation between Hope Chigudu, other sisters and a man (fellow passenger) who introduced himself as Tino.
Tino: My name is Tino. Since we took off, I have been listening to the conversation between you and your friends. I could not help it. You are loud; everyone on this plane has been listening to you. You keep talking about the conflicts scourging the African continent and then your desire for democratic participation. Let me provoke you; if democracy were a woman, or feminist, what would she do?
“I am reflecting on experiences in Sri Lanka of working with women involved in conflict situations at a time when the situation in Sri Lanka is perhaps the worst it has ever been in thirty years of a very protracted and bitter civil war.”
Sunila Abeysekera is Executive Director of International Women’s Rights Action Watch – a Sri Lankan feminist activist and human rights defender who has worked on issues of women’s rights and human rights in the Asia Pacific region and globally for thirty years and more.
Behind the high walls of a hotel in Antigua, the tranquil colonial capital of Guatemala, as the more than 100 women participants moved into the third day of “redefining democracy” some 40 miles away in the modern capital Guatemala City, democracy did a little redefining of its own. It was precipitated by an event unusual even for Guatemala: the distribution at the funeral of a murder victim of a video in which the deceased, a respected lawyer, accused the president, his wife and his secretary of organising not only his own murder – he was shot on the streets of Guatemala City while riding his bicycle on Sunday - but the murders earlier in the year of two of his clients.
It’s Time to Return to the Hotel Brochure
Day Three. One of the plenary speakers, I can’t remember who it was, told the delegates, ‘We are the privileged ones’. People nodded and you could see that this struck a chord. I have been wondering exactly what it meant. The most obvious reading belongs to the same family as the jesting remark made by Jane Austen’s Elizabeth when she suggests that she fell in love with Darcy when she first saw his lavish ancestral home, Pemberley.
It's hard to believe it's the third and final day of the conference. In a way, it seems like we just arrived. In another, it feels like we've been here for weeks, if not longer. We've come to expect conversations across meals and coffee breaks that span region, sector, discipline, and point of view.
All events of this kind have their own shape and dynamics. If Day One was an eager and passionate Tatiana’s letter, not to Onegin, but to an already cynical yet surely reclaimable democracy – we seem to have collectively matured overnight. There are three major themes to this great day’s proceedings: lessons from some extraordinary women who have run for and held political office, strategic thinking from women reporting unforgettably from the front line of war-torn societies, and the sliding into place of the last gargantuan building block for our overhaul of democracy – the battle for women’s human rights.
When men have done making war on each other and on each other’s women, many return to home to make war on their own. Aftermath is the neglected story of war: what happens to the guerrilla fighter after he lays down his gun? Or to the former soldiers with stories of horrors never told, men cast adrift from the companionship of shared military experience, alone with unspoken memories?
The evidence is that many come home to act out their nightmares through violence against women.