On March 8, International Women’s Day, six awardees received the first-ever Millennium Peace Prize for Women from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) and the London-based activist group International Alert.
“Why is it that we bring warlords to the negotiating table and not women,” asks Noeleen Heyzer, UNIFEM executive director. “Our job is to identify the unsung heroines who have wrestled their way to the front of the line, where they now stand a better chance of sharing equally in economic and political power.”
Veneranda Nzambazamariya, who died of cancer last year, was recognized for the reconciliation she brought about as president of Pro-femmes Twese Hamwe, a collective of 32 women’s organizations in Rwanda. The group was assembled shortly after the April 1994 massacre of Tutsis and sympathetic Hutus that resulted in one million deaths and the creation of more than two million refugees. Flora Brovina, president of the League of Albanian Women of Kosova (see the Ms. news story from February/March 2000), was honored for establishing a center that cared for women and children fleeing Kosovo during the Serbian occupation. In April 1999 she was arrested by the Serbian military for gathering food, clothes, and medical supplies for the Kosovo Liberation Army. (She was released in November 2000.) Pakistani human rights activists Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani (see Ms., February/March 2000), were honored for helping to bring a feminist solution to the bitter conflict between India and Pakistan over Kashmir.
Two groups also won awards. Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres, from Colombia, was acknowledged for teaching coexistence strategies to rural and professional women. The group also organizes women’s marches, calling for peaceful resolutions to ongoing conflicts. And Leitana Nehan Women’s Development Agency won an award for providing humanitarian relief to the women and children victimized by the nine-year war between Bougainville rebels and the Papua New Guinea military. Leitana Nehan also provides training in conflict resolution, promotes HIV/AIDS awareness, and teaches tactics to end violence against women.
“We must send a powerful message that women need peace,” says Anwarul Karim Chowdhury, U.N. permanent representative of Bangladesh. “But more important, peace needs the involvement of women.”