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Activism for change: A conversation with Nobel Laureate Jody Williams

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© Judy Rand
Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Prize winner for her work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.

By Anna Azaryeva

UNICEF Radio is hosting a series of podcast discussions with Nobel Peace Prize winners. This is the third in the series.

NEW YORK, USA, 2 November 2010 – In a recent conversation with UN and UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello, activist Jody Williams talked about her leading role in the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL), and about leading a women’s peace delegation to the Middle East. Her experiences hold potential lessons for achieving the UN Millennium Development Goal of universal primary education.

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Ms. Williams and ICBL received the Nobel Peace Prize for their work on banning and clearing anti-personnel mines. Ms. Williams is the founding coordinator of ICBL, which expanded to include over 1,000 non-governmental organizations in more than 60 countries during her tenure. She was instrumental in achieving an international treaty banning anti-personnel landmines in 1997.

Drawing lessons for the global education movement from these successes, Ms. Williams emphasized the importance of bringing together coalition partners from different sectors and allowing them all to contribute in their own ways.

“In the landmine campaign, we had de-miners involved. We had people putting the prosthetic limbs on the victims. We had survivors speaking out themselves and on behalf of other survivors,” said Ms. Williams. “The world changes a lot easier if we try to work together.”

Women working for peace

Of the 97 individuals who have received the Nobel Peace Prize, only 12 have been women. Seeing the prize not only as an honour but also as a responsibility, Ms. Williams and her sister laureates have established the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an advocacy organization. They use their visibility as Nobel Prize winners to amplify the efforts of women's rights activists – and of organizations that address the root causes of violence to work for peace, justice and equality around the world.

Ms. Williams travelled with a delegation last month to Israel and the Occupied Palestinian Territory, for example, to learn firsthand how women’s organizations are overcoming barriers to peace. In order to achieve lasting peace and social transformation, she explained, it is critical that women’s voices be heard in the peace process.

“It falls on women’s shoulders to keep everything together while the men wage war,” said Ms. Williams. “Women are the ones who try to mitigate that suffering. And with a little bit of consciousness and a little bit of sense of what they can do together, it is amazing to see what women do.”

A different vision of security

When women are involved in peace processes, Ms. Williams suggested, they can offer a holistic vision of conflict resolution that goes beyond simply putting the guns away.

“It takes a different vision of what security is,” she said. “It means education for kids. It means health care for kids and pregnant women. It means housing for everybody. It means equality before the law.” 

Ms. Williams believes that change is possible when people act on a common cause and a common vision of the future. “I think this is what is happening to women around the world these days – empowered women, women who have education, women who have their own resources,” she said.

Access to education

In the field of education, there is evidence that change is not only possible, it is happening. UNICEF estimates that about 100 million children of primary school age were out of school in 2008, compared to 115 million in 2002.

Reaching these children remains a challenge; many of them are among the most marginalized in their societies, and many live in conflict-affected and fragile states. According to UNESCO, approximately 25 million children remain out-of-school in developing countries and territories affected by conflict.

Jody Williams’s comments illustrate an important point for advocates of universal primary education: Coalition work and concerted efforts by all partners will be central to bringing about change – in the form of access to education – to every child who is still denied it.


 

 

Audio

25 October 2010: UN and UNICEF Radio moderator Amy Costello speaks about activism and change with Jody Williams, founding coordinator of the International Campaign to Ban Landmines.
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