Inside USD

Inspiring Women’s Vital Role for Global Peace

Tuesday, March 8, 2011

Fire. Metal. Starvation. Hunger. Fear. Running. Those are the words women from around the globe say when asked what war means to them. It’s universal vocabulary that evokes universal emotion. Stop killing our sons, husbands and fathers.

International Women’s Day celebrates its 100th anniversary today. Around the globe, women come together to celebrate the victories they’ve had, but also to recommit themselves to battles being waged and motivate the next generation of female peace and human rights advocates.

The University of San Diego’s Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ) hosted the seventh annual International Women’s Day Breakfast on Tuesday. Keynote speaker Abigail E. Disney (pictured, left) spoke about her films that highlight the role of women in war-torn countries.

Abigail, the granddaughter of Roy Disney and grandniece of Walt Disney, didn’t start off in the family business making movies. She took a trip to Liberia several years ago to “listen and be harmless,” knowing in her heart that what she would see and hear would “unravel” her and take her life in a new direction.

She returned from that trip with a new mission in life: to help share the stories of women peace activists around the world whose stories of perseverance, hope and peace weren’t being told.

In 2006, Abigail produced the documentary “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” which told the story of a small band of Liberian women who had fought in a nonviolent way to end 14 years of civil war that had torn their country apart. From there, Abigail opened up her own production company, Fork Films. “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” has gone on to be a highly acclaimed and honored film. The film portrays an IPJ Woman PeaceMaker who spent two months in residence at USD last year.

Building on the film’s success, Abigail and her partners have launched a new project called “Women, War & Peace.” A trailer for the series, which will air in five parts on PBS this fall, focuses on the question, “What if you looked at war (or peace) as though women mattered?”

Telling the stories of women in the middle of war in Bosnia, Colombia, Afghanistan and Liberia, the series shows the burden of war on women.

“Everything important is placed on women,” Abigail explains. “Raising the children, teaching them right and wrong. Peace is a necessary precondition for success.”

Obviously moved by her work, Abigail chokes up when speaking about the women she has met while working on her films and those she comes in contact with throughout her advocacy work. She asked the packed room in the IPJ to remember to think big and beyond our years on earth. She also recalled a poem that Julia Ward Howe wrote when petitioning for an International Mother’s Day of Peace, which decades later became Mother’s Day.

“Our sons shall not be taken from us to unlearn
All that we have been able to teach them of charity, mercy and patience.
We, the women of one country,
Will be too tender of those of another country
To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.”

— Melissa Wagoner

A free screening of the film produced by Abigail Disney, “Pray the Devil Back to Hell” will be shown in the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Theatre tonight — March 8 — at 6 p.m. She will be on hand for a post-film discussion.

Photo by Rodney Nakamoto

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