Artisans of Peace
Sr. Marianne Farina, CSC
Three women have won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. They are Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the first woman president of Liberia; Leymah Gbowee, peace activist, also from Liberia; and Tawakkol Karman, a Yemeni journalist and activist.
They join other women who have received this prestigious award in past years. However, this year in bestowing the honor to three women simultaneously, the Nobel committee has emphasized women's contributions to global justice and peace. As Nobel committee chairman Thorbjorn Jagland stated in the citation read Friday morning, “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.”
In very significant ways, these women are artisans of peace. They have taken bold initiatives, crossing religious, cultural, and gender boundaries to advocate for the full humanity of persons and the securing of human rights for everyone in their societies. Pope Benedict XVI addressed the need for such an approach for peace in his encyclical Caritas in Veritate:
"Even peace can run the risk of being considered a technical product, merely and outcome of agreements between governments or initiatives ensuring effective economic aid…[peace efforts] are to have a lasting effect, they must be based on values rooted in the truth of human life. That is, the voice of the peoples affected must be heard and their situation must be taken into consideration…"(paragraph 72)
The art of peace-building witnessed in the lives of these women is attentive to voice of the people and empowers them to work for justice. Their art inspires people from other nations who share such struggles.
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf is the only elected female head of state in Africa, and she is up for re-election next week. She is a Harvard-educated economist who has steered the country toward significant economic growth and expanding political participation after Liberia's 14-year civil war. Her leadership has offered to Africa, and to all of us, a model for how we might reconcile war torn areas and reform war-tired thinking, through a re-vitalization of human and natural resources.
Leymah Gbowee was instrumental in organizing and growing an interreligious women's peace movement that ended the Second Liberian Civil War. She brought women together to pray, fast and stage non-violent protests. These events inspired Liberians to stand-up against inter-community violence used as an instrument for perpetuating the civil war. Her story has been a resource for others who through viewing the 2008 documentary, "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," are learning ways to bring disparate groups into a working solidarity for peace.
Tawakkol Karman is a Yemeni journalist and human rights activist and a major figure in the ongoing "Arab Spring." She founded the Women Journalists' Without Chains . This organization advocates for freedom of speech, through freedom of the press and the release of political prisoners. The 32 year-old mother of three is a member the Arabic Network for Human Rights. Her indomitable zeal has strengthened the resolve of so many other organizations in Yemen as well as neighboring countries.
As one commentator noted, these women are protagonists in the public sphere, not just protectionists of their own kind. In a recent statement, Nobel winner Gbowee said that,
"My goal is to ensure that there is absolute peace in Africa and the rest of the world," [and] that African women have a unique role to play in conflict resolution in Africa and the world at large."
As global actors, they remind us of our common humanity, which seeks justice, and longs for peace. Central to their efforts is the forming of life-giving relationships to support open, fair, and courageous participation in all spheres of society.
We can learn much from the stories of these women. In fact, a five-part, five-week documentary series begins on PBS on Oct. 11 will offer us a glimpse of this monumental work. The program entitled “Women, War & Peace,” looks at women who work for peace in Bosnia, Afghanistan, and Africa. Perhaps the lessons we glean from their work will motivate us to see how we too can become artisans of peace.