As a young nurse, Selma Hadzihalilovic assisted female war victims in Bosnia. As a peace activist, Sumaya Farhat-Naser stopped soldiers from shooting at Palestinian children. And as a neighborhood health center director, Patrice Keegan witnessed the case of a Boston girl who was kidnapped, raped and then buried alive.
Take these three women and add dozens more from hot spots around the globe, from the deserts of Sudan to the inner cities of the United States. Bring them together here in unprecedented delegations that include their sworn enemies--Indians with Pakistanis, Serbians with Croatians, Azerbaijanis with Armenians, Israelis with Palestinians. Ask them to try to make peace first among themselves, then with the rest of the world.
And, seemingly without exception, they will, said organizers and participants of "Women Waging Peace," which today launched a global network to link the voices and enhance the visibility of women committed to peace as mothers, wives, daughters and sisters, often at tremendous personal expense.
At a time when Secretary of State Madeleine K. Albright is frequently seen as the only woman on the international diplomatic stage, the newly formed coalition of leading female peacemakers--led by Queen Noor of Jordan, Nobel Laureate Jody Williams and Marian Wright Edelman of the Children's Defense Fund--is also aimed at moving women's peace efforts beyond grass-roots activism and toward shaping public policy.
"They come together as a network of women who are determined to stop the violence in some of the most dangerous regions of the world," said Swanee Hunt, a former U.S. ambassador and director of the Women and Public Policy program at Harvard University's John F. Kennedy School of Government, which sponsored the event. In a joint statement with delegates, she added, "They are seeds of hope."
Over two weeks, 110 women compared notes on tragedy and conflict resolution in seminars and workshops ranging from power dynamics to Internet training. Discussions today featured policymakers including Leon Fuerth, national security adviser to Vice President Gore; Evelyn S. Lieberman, undersecretary for public diplomacy and public affairs at the State Department; and Ambassador Nancy Rubin, U.S. representative to the U.N. Commission for Human Rights.
Factions who would not have agreed to be in the same room two years ago spent hours discussing crises in their homelands, although tensions arose and they put some matters aside. Most participants said the experience opened their eyes to the universal nature of conflict and the humanity of women they had learned to hate from afar.
"The only time the conference was hard was when we didn't have time to finish discussing the issues we raised," said Hadzihalilovic, whose delegation included representatives from each of the warring factions in the former Yugoslavia.
Farhat-Naser, director of the Jerusalem Link, which works with Israeli and Palestinian women's organizations, agreed. "At home, we are overshadowed by mistrust, fear, uncertainty, not knowing if we can plan for tomorrow or next year. This heals my soul," she said.