While working to promote human rights in Pakistan, Asma Jahangir and Hina Jilani have been arrested, abused, and even had attempts made on their lives.
A continent away, Flora Brovina spent 19 months in jail for founding the Albanian Women's League to help the women and children of war-torn Kosovo.
In the past, their efforts might have gone unnoticed. In fact, only about 10 percent of Nobel Peace Prize recipients have been women. But today a United Nations agency and International Alert, a human rights group, will honor six women and organizations with a new award - the Millennium Peace Prize for Women. "We really need to encourage women throughout the world living in areas of conflict," says Ruth Perry, former leader of Liberia and co-chair of the award's selection committee.
Experts say that women - who make up 75 percent of the world's 40 million displaced - tend to be very involved in issues, and are the key to helping rebuild an area after war. But women are not nearly as involved in the peacemaking process as men.
"Warlords are the ones who are invited by the powers-that-be to come to the peace table," says Noeleen Heyzer, executive director of the UN Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM), cosponsor of the new peace prize. "Up until now, peace and security were seen as military issues."
Ancil Adrian-Paul, a campaign manager for International Alert, says it is also important to focus on the contribution women make in rebuilding efforts. "Peace is not an event that happens immediately," she says. "It's a process that needs to be nurtured."
The stories of the prizewinners show how they make their voices heard.
Ruta Pacifica de las Mujeres (Women's Road to Peace), a Colombian group, has organized protests against violence throughout their country and arranged meetings between warring factions. In one meeting, unarmed women confronted guerrillas and placed carnations in their rifle barrels.
Dr. Brovina, under Serb oppression in 1998, volunteered to teach emergency medical skills to 1,000 Kosovars, who in turn spread that knowledge to 30,000 others. Brovina, who was released from prison in November, continues to help rebuild Kosovo, including providing shelter for hundreds of women and children who have been traumatized by the war. "I don't think I've done anything extraordinary," she says. She doesn't necessarily think of herself as a role model, but says she has heard children say they would like to grow up to be a physician like her.
Other recipients of the prize include Leitana Nehan Women's Development Agency, a Papua New Guinea group that helps to bring together divided communities, and Women in Black, an international organization that protests against aggression and violence. A posthumous award will be presented to the leader of Rwanda's women's movement, Veneranda Nzambazamariya, who helped rebuild after the genocide of 1994 and died in a plane crash in January 2000.
"These awards are important to recognize those who are doing that work, so the young women today can see that it's a viable option," says Elizabeth McGovern, Director of Global Initiatives at the University of Maryland's Academy of Leadership.
The UN began looking into increasing the role of women in October, when the Security Council called for a study of women in peacekeeping. But increasing the participation of women can seem too overwhelming unless there are clear cases of how it can be accomplished, says Swanee Hunt, a former ambassador to Austria and the founder of the group Women Waging Peace.
The peace prize, which may be awarded once every three years, will help make that concept a reality, Ambassador Hunt says. "When you give prizes to six women, and you describe what each of those women is doing, then the concept becomes concrete."
Part of the need for concrete examples comes because of stereotypes. Women are often recognized as refugees before they can be considered peacemakers. The suffering of women and children can be a powerful agent for raising awareness about an area in conflict, but those stereotypes make it difficult for women to break out of the victim mold."One side is given visibility and the other side is not," says Ms. Heyzer. "The prize completes the picture."
(c) Copyright 2001. The Christian Science Monitor