1st women's peace prize awarded

2001-03-09 18:57

United Nations - The Kosovo paediatrician who became a symbol of ethnic Albanian resistance to Yugoslav repression. Two Pakistani lawyers whose lives have been threatened for defending women's rights. A Rwandan who helped families and communities rebuild after the 1994 genocide.

On International Women's Day, these women and a Papua New Guinea organisation that worked to rebuilt trust between splintered communities, a Colombian group that stages massive women's peace demonstrations, and a worldwide network of women against war received the first Millennium Peace Prize for Women.

The Nobel Peace Prize has only been awarded to 10 women or women's organisations since 1901 so the United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) and the London-based human rights organisation International Alert decided to sponsor an award to specifically recognise women's leadership in building peace, holding communities together during war, and bridging ethnic divides.

"The leadership that women have been asked to show in times of crisis is an issue of life and death," Unifem's Executive Director Noeleen Heyzer told the awards ceremony on Thursday night. "Very often, the kind of leadership that is shown by these very powerful women has gone unrecognised and unrewarded. But they are the ones who have held their communities together."

The first winners of the peace prize for women had tried to break the cycle of hatred and create a vision of peace in the world, she said.

Flora Brovina, who was jailed by the former Yugoslav government for aiding independence-seeking separatists and freed in November after Slobodan Milosevic was toppled from power, said The League of Albanian Women, which she founded, protested against the war and took care of women, children and the elderly.

"I am troubled today because the world learns of the tireless and valuable work of these women towards peace only when tragedies occur," she said. "Why should tragedy, genocide, and ethnic cleansing ever happen? Can't we prevent wars before they ever break out?"

Asma Jahangir, who won the award with her sister Hina Jilani for their two-decade struggle to defend women's rights and human rights, accepted it on behalf of women activists in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh who work together for peace.

"Bring women forward (in peace negotiations) and we will guarantee you peace," she said.

Veneranda Nzambazamariya of Rwanda, who headed a collective of more than 30 women's organisations created after the 1994 genocide, was honoured posthumously for her key role in helping to restore peace to her country. She was killed in a plane crash a year ago off the Ivory Coast.

The three organisations that received a prize were Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres, a coalition of women's organisations working toward conflict resolution in Colombia; Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency which has played a key role in peace negotiations and reconstruction in Papua New Guinea; and Women in Black, which started in Israel in 1988 and has held silent vigils in many countries to protest war.

At Thursday night's award ceremony, recipients mingled with UN ambassadors, business leaders and celebrities including actress Glenn Close, award-winning director Lee Grant, and Dana Reeve, wife of former "Superman" star Christopher Reeve.

Each winner received a bronze statue of a woman with arm outstretched by American sculptor Tim Holmes. - Sapa-AP