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Woman PeaceMaker Receives International Honor

Thursday, January 24, 2008

saroor1.jpgWhen Shreen Abdul Saroor of Sri Lanka was selected as a Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Woman PeaceMaker (WPM) in 2004, it was because of her willingness to stand up for the rights of women in her country despite the traumatic circumstances in which they were living. Her continued dedication to forging post-war change and pioneering peace was why she was asked to return to the IPJ last fall as part of the first Women PeaceMaker’s Summitt.

Saroor continues to be honored for her work as an advocate for human rights and was recently selected for the 2008 Voices of Courage Award from the Women’s Commission for Refugee Women and Children.

Saroor is co-founder of the Mannar Women’s Development Foundation (MWDF), a nongovernmental organization formed to help Muslim and Tamil women displaced by violence on Mannar Island in Sri Lanka. Her work there includes fostering humanity across conflict and ethnic lines on an island where most of the previously mixed communities are now separated by the war. She has been credited for finding innovative ways to empower women in her war-torn country.

“Using micro-credit loans, Shreen and the MWDF have worked to bring women together to create an integrated foundation on which to rebuild their fragile communities,” IPJ staff members wrote in the nomination letter for the Voices of Courage Award. “Shreen is also the visionary of the Mannar Resettlement Project (MRP), an initiative to resettle a mixed group of Tamil and Muslim internally displaced families in their native district.”

Saroor also founded Mannar Women for Human Rights and Democracy (MWfHRD), a women’s committee that has successfully brought international attention to gender-based violence in the war-torn areas of the north and east, where the internally displaced number in the hundreds of thousands. As stated in her nomination letter, the committee recently drew attention to the case of a young displaced mother in Mannar, who was raped and murdered by government forces. They also successfully lobbied the government to include human rights violations in Mannar to the list of 16 cases being investigated by a Special Commission appointed by the president.

During an IPJ Nepal Project workshop in 2006, Saroor spoke to a group of Nepali political, civil society and women lawyers about the challenges they faced in their country. She worked with them to better understand the connections among complex social, political, economic and cultural divisions, and shared some of her experiences from grassroots mobilizing to political and legislative lobbying.

Program organizers said the women were able to relate to Saroor, not only for her impeccable style and ease of speaking, but because she could relate to them on a personal level. She’s been there. She was displaced from her home when Muslims were expelled from the northern part of Sri Lanka. She fled with her family, leaving life as she knew it behind.

“Shreen is an incredibly strong advocate,” said Laura Taylor, IPJ program coordinator for the Nepal Project. “She not only amplifies the voices of the marginalized and oppressed, but she empowers them to speak up, and creates spaces for their voices to be heard.”

Saroor isn’t the first IPJ Woman PeaceMaker to receive this honor. Christiana Thorpe, a 2004 PeaceMaker from Sierra Leone, received the award in 2006, and last year 2005 PeaceMaker Sister Pauline Acayo of Uganda, received a Certificate of Recognition by the same group.

Saroor will receive the award at a luncheon in New York on May 6, 2008. To learn more about her work and why she is deserving of this honor, go to http://peace.sandiego.edu/pdf/WPMNarratives/ShreenAbdulSaroor.pdf.

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