The Nobel Peace Prize is awarded annually to an individual or organization that has “done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, for the abolition or reduction of standing armies, and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses.” Yet, in its more than 110-year history, only 15 women have been recognized and awarded this great honor.
This was the driving force behind the creation of the Nobel Women’s Initiative – an organization run by Nobel Peace Prize female laureates who aim to “magnify the power and visibility of women working in countries around the world for peace, justice and equality.”
According to the initiative, much of the work that is done by women worldwide is often “carried out in shadows with little recognition.” Despite these women working hard to bring peace and justice to their communities and countries, their work is often underestimated, and at times, discouraged.
Early in October the University of Regina’s Women's Centre, in partnership with MATCH International and the Nobel Women’s Initiative, was honored with the presence of three extraordinary women who spent two days in Regina sharing their stories and their work with students and community members.
The three women – Maria Luisa Aguilar Rodriguez, a human rights activist from Mexico, Aghsaan Barghouthi, a freedom fighter from Palestine, and Walaa Salah, a women’s rights and legal advocate from Sudan – captured their audience with discussions and stories from the front lines of their work. They shared their everyday struggles with the audience, described the issues they were dealing with in their homelands, and engaged listeners in the hopes and dreams they had for the future.
But, what stood out most for these women was what it meant to be a true hero.
“I am not a heroine, I am doing my best to be the voice of those real heroes and heroines struggling in my country,” explained Barghouthi.
Salah agreed with Barghouthi, recalling a story she witnessed back in Sudan about a remarkably strong woman and her fight for justice.
“You cannot forget the disasters around you. You cannot keep silent [and] just keep watching. It’s encouraging and discouraging at the same time." – Walaa Salah
“We have a story of a street vendor; she is 50-something years old. She is very poor. She has to wake up at 5 a.m. to get to the place where she is selling tea in the market,” shared Salah. “At the same time, she is an active member of a cooperative which is trying to gather other women. She was nominated in the elections to the Parliament just based on the work she is doing with the street vendors. She started mobilizing them, working against police when they come [to] attack them. This woman … she is more poor than me, she is less educated then me, but she is doing things even that I can’t do.”
For these three women, the real heroes are the ones like this old woman fighting for her rights, and the rights of her colleagues – the real heroes who do great work and inspire others, but are seldom remembered, acknowledged, or thanked.
“The basic thing we can do [for these women] is give them recognition. This is important. They are doing what they can,” said Rodriguez.
Rodriguez further went on to talk about the organization she works for, and the people who have been doing the same work “in the same place, in the same office, for 15 years,” without being recognized.
But, beyond the recognition, the three women stated that it is important to continue fighting for justice – in good times and in bad – with, or without recognition.
“You cannot forget the disasters around you. You cannot keep silent [and] just keep watching. It’s encouraging and discouraging at the same time,” said Salah.
Barghouthi shared the same sentiments, stating that “sometimes [you think] ‘I don’t want to continue, I am tired’. But the one who is silent against the truth is a speechless devil.”
“It’s about the impact that you do, [even on] one person,” added Rodriguez. “And then on one family, and eventually a lot of families.”