by guest contributor Kerry Crawford
To view videos from Global Gender Program’s celebration of International Women’s Day, see here.
On March 4th the Global Gender Program and Gender at Work co-sponsored a day-long series of panels and talks honoring International Women’s Day 2013 at the Elliott School of International Affairs. Jody Williams gave the morning’s keynote lecture, focusing on her work with the International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict.
Jody Williams is a tireless advocate for human rights and gender equality. In 1997 she was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize for her successful work toward banning and clearing anti-personnel landmines through the International Campaign to Ban Land mines. Williams was the 10th woman and the 3rd American to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
The International Campaign to Stop Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict, steered by the Nobel Women’s Initiative, is – as the name implies – a global coalition of non-governmental organizations (NGOs) and individuals working toward an end to rape and gender violence in conflict. Williams emphasized the importance of coming together and forming a coalition to create change, as individuals and organizations are far more influential when they work as a whole.
The campaign is based on three core approaches: prevention of rape and gender violence in conflict; protection of civilians and survivors of sexual violence; and effective prosecution of perpetrators and those responsible for rape and gender violence in conflict.
So why focus on rape and gender violence in conflict when violence against women happens every day in alarming numbers? Williams- and many of the members of the campaign- are quick to remind us that sexual violence in conflict is part of a broader continuum of violence against women. Rape and gender violence do not spring up suddenly at the onset of political or military aggression; rather, a larger and more insidious system of gender inequality breeds sexual and gender violence long before, during, and long after conflict. Focusing on rape and gender violence in conflict provides a valuable entry point through which NGOs and individuals can work to shed light on the continuum of violence against women and create broader and changes in gender relations.
Many creative and inspiring tactics have arisen from the International Campaign to Ban Rape and Gender Violence in Conflict. One Billion Rising united individuals in mass global action to speak out against violence against women and girls. The Stephen Lewis Foundation unites grassroots efforts to combat HIV/AIDS in Africa by supporting women, orphaned children, grandmothers, and people living with HIV/AIDS.
Jody Williams is a captivating speaker, in no small part because of her astounding humility. Selecting one key takeaway point from her lecture is a difficult task. Yet, the most essential lesson that should stay with all of us at all times is that violence is always a choice. Always.
Williams underscored the fact that we need to abandon our entrenched belief that there is something about the human condition that makes us inherently violent. Once we do that ending impunity for atrocities, especially rape and gender violence, may come more easily and the world may be safer for all of us.
If you would like to learn more about Jody Williams, you can read her new book: My Name is Jody Williams.