Palestine-Israel Journal: I heard that you just participated in an "Occupy Wall Street" demonstration.
Cora Weiss: We were there because it is an important historic and cultural development. I originally thought that it was anarchic and a little hippie, but it is not. It is thoughtful and serious. Who else but young people would sleep out in the cold at night on a stone bed? It is very important that it be taken seriously. It represents an evolution in the way to organize protest. It is nonviolent, leaderless and democratic.
On Saturday, October 15th, there was a demonstration in Tel Aviv which plugged in with a live connection to the demonstration in New York and many other cities in the world, so this is really a global phenomenon, which is extremely encouraging. The reason why we are talking now is connected to the special issue that we are doing. It was originally called "Women's Empowerment," and then we had brainstorming discussions. The Israeli and Palestinian women said that that is an old term that they no longer like and that they would prefer to talk about "Women and Power" instead. What do you feel about that?
I'm not a big fan of power. There is an old expression that "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely." Also, we see a lot of women in power today, and most of them are not feminists. The woman president of Finland is a feminist and a terrific role model, but there are three women in the United States who have the greatest power who called for the bombing of Libya. Power, by itself, is not my best friend. What I want to see are "peace" women, "justice" women, "gender equality" women, "sustainable development" women, who are at every level of government, who are in equal numbers with men in power at every peace-making table. It is a different concept, I think. When we have full and equal participation, we will have power.
I bow to the Israeli and Palestinian women, obviously. This is their journal and they have to make the decisions. But my thinking has evolved over the last 50 years. I used to say, "Women, women everywhere but not enough in power," and I don't say that any more.
Now you're saying the question is, whether it is women or men, what they do with the power that they have.
Yes. The question is what kind of women. We see the "Palinization" of some women in this country, and the Tea Party has loads of women in it. I now feel, in developed countries at least, we have to distinguish between "women" women and "peace" women. In developing countries, I think we can still talk about women because so many women in these countries have shared the same experience of poverty, marginalization, oppression, violence, and so we can count on women in developing countries to embrace views of peace and justice.
What do you feel about the three women who were just awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in this context?
I think that Leymah Gbowee from Liberia and Tawakkul Karman from Yemen are fantastic grassroots peace women, both of whom share common experiences. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf has clearly made a huge contribution in Liberia following a horribly long war, but she comes from a different background. The prize given to Tawakkul demonstrates that UN Security Council Resolution 1325 is not a Western idea - it applies to Islamic values and to non-Western cultural values, and that is very important. Leymah is extraordinary. She organized women to encircle the house where the men were sitting and wouldn't let them out until they had a peace agreement signed.
Let me make one more comment. The Norwegian Nobel Committee, when it awarded the peace prize to these three remarkable women, cited UNSCR 1325 and said in its second paragraph (meaning right at the top) that the resolution underlines the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in terms of peace processes and in peace work in general. Many people are now calling it "the 1325 Nobel Peace Prize."
Since you were involved in the initiative, the civil society activity which led to the creation of 1325, we wanted to look back and hear, first hand, how it evolved. How did this come to be?
It's a wonderful story of mere mortal women getting together and saying, "It's enough." It's enough that men are making the decisions. The discussion began with International Alert in London, and it moved to the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference at The Hague in May 1999.
Is International Alert an organization or an initiative?
It is a not-for-profit organization in London and is an activist think tank. There were women there who started the discussion, and then the discussion moved to The Hague, where we had 10,000 people. We gathered at that conference under two banners: "Peace is a human right" and "Time to abolish war." At one point, without planning, women came together and started talking about the fact that it is time for the UN to insist that women be at all levels of governance and at every peace-making table. From May of 1999, women around the world continued the discussion. In June of 2000 we, a dozen or so women from civil society, joined with women from the United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM) (the agency that preceded UN WOMEN) around an oval table and worked out our differences among ourselves. We made the compromises needed in order to get unanimous consent on a draft that we then proceeded to write. We were very strategic in our planning. On International Women's Day, March 8, Anwarul K. Chowdhury, president of the Security Council, delivered a powerful presidential statement. To this day it remains a remarkable teaching tool and a remarkable document in the history of the SC. It helped to pave the way for the unanimous adoption of our draft resolution.
We waited for Namibia - because they had just adopted the Windhoek Declaration on Women - to become president of the Security Council in October to present our draft. In the meantime, Namibia lent us one of their staff members so that we could benefit from her knowledge of Security Council language and how their resolutions are written. We drafted the resolution and sent it to the Security Council. At the time, Angela King was UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan's Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, and her assistant was a very young man from Russia, Andrei Abramov. She gave our text to him and told him to edit it down so that it would get passed unanimously. He took it home and spent the whole night editing it down to 18 paragraphs. It was presented by Namibia to the SC on Oct. 30, 2000.
We had two important friends at the table: Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury from Bangladesh and Ambassador Patricia Durrant from Jamaica. The Namibian president asked for a unanimous adoption; the word "adoption" becomes important.
The reason "adoption" became an important word is that some of the women didn't believe an adopted resolution would constitute international law. To be law, they felt it would need to be voted on. So we called on the UN's lawyer, Hans Correll, who pointed to Article 25 of the UN Charter, which says: "The Members of the United Nations agree to accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council…." UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security was unanimously adopted and is international law, and now we see national action plans have been adopted in several dozen countries, and more will be written in other countries to carry out the intention of the resolution.
Can you mention some of the other women sitting around that oval table? Who were they, and what did they represent?
They included Sanam Anderlini from International Alert; Betty Reardon from the Peace and Justice Studies Association; Felicity Hill from the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom; Florence Martin from Amnesty International; Maha Muna and Ramina Johal from the Women's Commission for Refugee Women and Children; Isha Dyfan from the Jane Addams Peace Association; and myself. I apologize if I forgot anyone. It was a diversified group, but we sat there representing women from grassroots organizations from around the world. The difference between the draft resolution that we presented to the SC and subsequent resolutions on the same issue (or related to the same issue) is that our draft was prepared and vetted by civil society organizations globally. The subsequent resolutions, which are mostly about sexual abuse, which is terribly important, and the implementation of these resolutions, were headquarters-driven and -written and did not focus on civil society women participating in decision-making. We can not pluck rape out of war and let the war continue. 1325 calls for Participation of women at all levels of decision making, Prevention of violent conflict and Protection of women during conflict. This is why they don't have the ownership that 1325 has. It was 1325 that was cited by the Nobel Peace Committee for very good reason.
So this is a genuine civil society contribution, and the stakeholders were involved in the whole creation.
Exactly. There were two more steps. The first is that when we presented it to the SC we went around lobbying every one of the 15 member states, and worked hard to get it recognized and adopted. Secondly, we immediately set up a working group to monitor its implementation. We demonstrated a sustained interest in and ownership of this resolution so that it would become implemented under Article 25 of the UN Charter.
This is clearly a great achievement and also a fascinating role model for other civil society initiatives.
That is correct. I'm not sure if there has been another SC resolution with such broad participation of the stakeholders whose lives will be improved by the resolution, and who will feel an ownership so that its implementation is enforced and monitored.
Here we are marking the 11 anniversary of the adoption of the resolution. Looking at what has transpired over the past 11 years, how do you feel about the influence of this resolution?
I guess the Nobel Peace Prize Committee thought it was pretty important, and that gives it its greatest legitimacy. The influence is huge. Everywhere we go now there is an increased sensitivity and people ask, "Where are the women"? Change happens. There is a wonderful line in a Tony Kushner play, "Change come fast, change come slow, but change come." The point is that it is happening; it is coming, and there are more and more people involved. One day, governments should be embarrassed if they don't have equal numbers of women at their decision-making tables. There is an incredibly brilliant, beautiful series of documentary films on television, "Women, War and Peace," about women in Afghanistan, women in Colombia, women in Bosnia, women in Liberia, and it shows two things: a) Women are not victims; women are part of the solution; they are survivors; and b) it puts the question of war on the table. Women say, "We are tired of war; we are tired of violence… It's enough." These documentaries have become important contributions to the discussion globally. Isn't it time to put war on the table for abolition? Humanity got rid of slavery, colonialism, apartheid and the prohibition of women voting. Why not war?
That is why we created this issue and we hope that our issue will be a contribution both in our region and internationally.
Remember that one of the women who got the Nobel Prize is the star of "Pray the Devil Back to Hell," about women from Liberia, one of the episodes in the "Women, War and Peace" series. One of the co-producers of the series is the niece of Walt Disney. That is a huge change from comic strips to a serious understanding of what women are doing around the world to end their marginalization and oppression and to put an end to war (www.womenwarandpeace.org).
Extremely impressive and I would add that one of the other women who won the Nobel Peace Prize is a representative from the Arab Spring, which is such an encouraging phenomenon in our region.
For the world. Tawakkul is an extraordinary woman, and it was terribly important that the Nobel Committee cited her.
1 From Tony Kushner's play Caroline, or Change, May 1999, Olivier Award for Best Musical.