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Quotes from Participants at the Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Conference

by Marianne Schnall

Since such an interesting diversity of perspectives from so many different sectors were represented at the NWI conference, I decided to solicit some insights on this issue from some of the amazing women who participated at the event. These follow:

"[Sexual violence] is a way of demonstrating power and control. It inflicts fear on the whole community. And it is unfortunately a very effective, cheap and silent weapon with a long lasting effect on every society."
- Margot Walstrom, Special Representative of the UN Secretary-General on Sexual Violence in Conflict.

"Rape is used in my country as a weapon against those who only want to live in peace, who only want to assert their basic rights... It is used as a weapon by armed forces to intimidate the ethnic nationalities and to divide our country...We must do everything we can to put an end to this. Violence starts in the mind, so we have to start by changing the minds of men and women all over the world."
-Aung San Suu Kyi, Nobel Peace Laureate and democracy leader in Burma.

"We have to be a loud and clear voice for those whose voices cannot be heard. Under international law, rape is a crime against humanity—and it is our duty to work to bring impunity for such crimes to an end."- Shirin Ebadi, Nobel Peace Laureate from Iran.

"We survivors continue to fight against oppression. In Rwanda, women head 35% of the households. They are poor, they have HIV-AIDs, some of them have children born out of rape and most of them have been rejected by society. In Rwanda, there is a feminization of poverty."
- Godelieve Mukasarasi, Coordinator, SEVOTA (an organization helping genocide survivors), Rwanda.

"Rape is one of the most obvious forms of violence against women, but it should also be understood as part of a continuum of violence—one that starts with the violent words that we use against one another."
- Jody Williams, Nobel Peace Laureate and Chair, Nobel Women’s Initiative.

"To stop sexual violence, I believe in empowering women. Often [men] have the mindset that they are the stronger ones, and women are weak. Having power physically, mentally and economically is important for women."
- Rockfar Sultana Kahanam, Commander of Bangladesh Female Peacekeeping Unit in Haiti (United Nations Stabilization Mission in Haiti).

"I think if we wait for the international community to start a global movement to end sexual violence, then we will be waiting for the rest of our lives. I think it up to us, women in civil society, to come together and tackle it one continent at a time—in a holistic manner."
- Leymah Gbowee, Executive Director of the Women, Peace and Security Network in Africa. Gbowee played a key role in bringing the end to armed conflict in Liberia.

"In the US context, sexual assault has always taken place. It is really a matter of US society growing up and acknowledging the dirty little secret that sexual violence and domestic violence are pervasive throughout US society, and are specifically concentrated in the US military. We can applaud the service of our service members, especially during a time of war, but we have to acknowledge that crimes are committed by service members against other service members. It is actually the patriotic thing to do and it actually improves the military when you hold perpetrators and you hold negligent commanders accountable for these crimes."
- Anuradha Bhagwati, Executive Director, Service Women’s Action Network.

"I want to see more communities put their words into action and allocate their resources to the survivors [of sexual violence]. This means to not just pass a resolution—but also provide practical and concrete support. Sometimes the international community is busy passing resolutions while women on the ground continue to suffer with no access to resources."
- K’nyaw Paw, Board Member, Women’s League of Burma.

"Rape in war is a sign of a problem that is systematic and widespread. Until the day that a woman can have a social value that is greater and deeper than merely sexual or procreative, until a woman is more than simple property, until women are fully represented in all the places where power is divvied up, then rape will always be a problem. And rape will always be a problem in more places than just the Democratic Republic of Congo—or Africa, for that matter."
- Abigail Disney, Filmmaker and Producer of the upcoming Women, War and Peace series debuting on PBS.

"If we can travel to the moon and back—then of course we can end sexual violence."
- Charlotte Isaksson, Senior Gender Advisor, Swedish Armed Forces, Sweden.

"I think there is a socialization that goes where violence becomes acceptable. You have to change that and say, ‘No, that’s not acceptable, rape is not acceptable and neither is any form of violence against women. We must not be ambiguous about violence. The greatest war is fought inside our own hearts, a war of anger and resentment and greed. So we start within ourselves and then with our families and our communities."
- Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate.

Portions of the above appeared in the article Peace Laureates Take On the War on Women at The Women's Media Center by Marianne Schnall.

For more information on the Women Forging a New Security: Ending Sexual Violence in Conflict Conference and ways you can get involved, visit the Nobel Women's Initiative web site at www.nobelwomensinitiative.org

Marianne Schnall is a widely published writer and interviewer. She is also the founder and Executive Director of Feminist.com and cofounder of EcoMall.com, a website promoting environmentally-friendly living. Marianne has worked for many media outlets and publications. Her interviews with well-known individuals appear at Feminist.com as well as in publications such as O, The Oprah Magazine, Glamour, In Style, The Huffington Post, the Women's Media Center, and many others.

Her new book based on her interviews, Daring to Be Ourselves: Influential Women Share Insights on Courage, Happiness and Finding Your Own Voice came out in November 2010. Through her writings, interviews, and websites, Marianne strives to raise awareness and inspire activism around important issues and causes. For more information, visit www.marianneschnall.com and www.daringtobeourselves.com

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