Four international women peace makers, representing Kenya, Liberia, the Philippines and Zimbabwe, arrived at the University of San Diego this week to begin a two-month residency where they’ll to share their personal stories, have it documented by a peace writer and learn about their female counterparts’ peacekeeping efforts.
Now in its eighth year, and funded by the Fred J. Hansen Foundation, the 2010 Women PeaceMakers Program participants (pictured, left to right with IPJ Program Officer Jen Freeman, center) are Sarah Akoru Lochodo (Kenya), Merlie B. Mendoza (the Philippines), Vaiba Kebeh Flomo (Liberia) and Nora Chengeto Tapiwa (Zimbabwe).
In the weeks ahead, the women tell their stories to writers who capture their struggles, successes, dreams and disappointments. They interact with and address high school and other public audiences, and become a central part of the USD community for eight weeks.
“Their valor and steadfast work for peace in their communities always inspires our students and USD community. They, too, are transformed by this exchange,” says Dee Aker, IPJ deputy director.
They will also participate in the international Women PeaceMakers Conference, “Precarious Progress: U.N. Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security,” Sept. 29 to Oct. 1, hosted by USD’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice.
The conference coincides with a momentous year, marking both the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action and the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 — a landmark resolution created to address the victimization of women in conflict and recognize the integral, inspiring and often ignored ways in which women contribute to peace.
Each of the four women USD welcomes this year bring their own insight, knowledge and passion to women’s and human rights around the world.
Sarah Akoru Lochodo of Kenya is the only woman negotiating among the semi-nomadic and pastoralist communities in her district. When Akoru was appointed assistant chief of Kainuk Sub-Division in 2002, it was a time when gun violence and cattle rustling plagued the region. Akoru had to carry a gun herself at times, even as she was stepping forward as the first women bringing about non-violent resolutions to the region. She is well known as a community mediator who encourages discussion of the roots of the region’s violence and surrender of illegal weapons.
Peace activist and social worker Vaiba Kebeh Flomo of Liberia has worked since 1998 to heal both her nation and its women from the 14-year civil war between rebel groups and the Liberian army. Working at the Lutheran Church in Liberia, Trauma Healing and Reconciliation Program (LCL-THRP), Flomo supervises psychosocial services to war-affected women and girls and empowers them to build peace and promote nonviolence in their communities. Desperate to do more than respond to the war’s victims, Flomo and a colleague formed the Christian Women Peace Initiative and began mobilizing women to protest the war and register to vote.
Merlie B. Mendoza of the Philippines has coordinated peace in both government and grassroots capacities. As a peace practitioner and humanitarian, Mendoza has more than two decades of peacebuilding experience ranging from the Office of the President in Manila to the conflicted frontlines of Mindanao. In 1989 she served the Corazon Aquino administration in various presidential departments and assisted the official Government Peace Negotiating Panel for Talks with the Communist Party of the Philippines/New People’s Army/National Democratic Front.
A dedicated activist, Nora Chengeto Tapiwa works to protect and procure the peace and human rights of her fellow Zimbabweans in both Zimbabwe and South Africa. Currently in exile herself, Tapiwa is a widely known leader of Zimbabwean activists in South Africa. As founder and current secretary of the Zimbabwe Diaspora Development Chamber, she strives to create cohesion and unity among the Zimbabwean diaspora and within South Africa’s migrant communities at large.
In addition to the four PeaceMakers, the IPJ conference will feature leaders from around the globe. Monica McWilliams, chief commissioner of the Northern Ireland Human Rights Commission, will address the conference as part of the Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series on Sept. 29, with a talk entitled “From Peace Talks to Gender Justice.” The Commission was established after the Good Friday Agreement in 1998 and strives to promote awareness of human rights in Northern Ireland, review existing law and practice, and to advise Northern Ireland legislative bodies on the measures that need to be taken to protect human rights in Northern Ireland.
The conference boasts four panel discussions that include Moving Policy into Practice: Indicators of Change, Securing Protection During and After Conflict and Creating National Actions Plans based on USCR 1325, Prioritizing Gender Justice and Engendering Peacebuilding for Conflict Prevention and Recovery.
— Melissa Wagoner