A three-day public forum at the University of San Diego that examined media and its role in the coverage of women in conflict areas worldwide through film screenings, panel discussions with frontline female journalists, filmmakers and social media experts, was given an extra dose of inspiration by Kenya’s Wahu Kaara as it closed.
“In my life, I do not want to know despair, to be helpless or pessimistic,” said Kaara, one of four Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice Women PeaceMakers this fall at USD. “In my life, I have hope and optimism. Attending this conference, I’ve interacted with other women who, like me, want to rise up. … Women are agents of change and there will be no peace without justice — justice for all.”
Kaara’s voice got louder and her passion and conviction grew stronger as she delivered her words. Her appearance came in the final segment of the Women PeaceMakers Forum titled “Women, Media, Revolution,” held Oct. 5-7. Kaara (pictured, right) shared the IPJ Theatre stage with fellow Women PeaceMakers Manjula Pradeep (India), Claudette Werleigh (Haiti) and Rashad Zaydan (Iraq) and IPJ Peace Writers Amy Choi, Bijoyeta Das, Alison Morse and Nikki Lyn Pugh. Each person gave a short reflection on the forum.
“This event was incredible,” said Choi, who is documenting Pradeep’s story this fall. “It renews my commitment to be a seeker, shaper and a custodian to get the word out.”
The forum hosted the viewing of documentary films “Acting Together,” “Weapon of War,” “The Sari Soldiers,” and “The Price of Sex” as well as an episode of the PBS series, “Women, War and Peace.” Each one offered a reminder of the work still to be done. Discussions with those associated with the respective projects followed and offered more insight, a need for more awareness and, most importantly, action.
Said Bulgarian photojournalist Mimi Chakarova, who produced “The Price of Sex,” which showcases her years of intensive investigative reporting on young Eastern European women who’d been drawn into sex trafficking and abusive situations: “I wanted to do this film to be able to put it into the hands of those entities who can show it and use it for good and help make change.”
Honored with the Nestor Almendros Award for Courage in Filmmaking at this year’s Human Rights Watch Film Festival, Chakarova said it should have been “an award for anger.” The issue of sex trafficking is so prevalent, she issued a statement no one wanted to hear: “Give me three days anywhere and I can find you women who have been trafficked.”
The forum also included discussions about pride and prejudice in gender-inclusive reporting, integrity and responsibility in new global networks, digital bridges and crucial social media, and a global exchange with voices from the ground.
Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International, discussed “Building Bridges, Rebuilding Societies” as the featured speaker for the Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series and Jane Ellen Bergman Memorial Lecture Series on Women, Children and Human Rights.
It was hoped that the forum, put together by IPJ Deputy Director Dee Aker, IPJ Program Officer Jennifer Freeman, IPJ Senior Program Officer Diana Kutlow and more, gave attendees “a renewed sense of commitment and energy” to make important connections and find solutions that help women all over the world, Aker said.
“We all need to be actors,” Kaara said. “This (forum) helps us become better producers and directs us to be part of the solution. This conference is a wealth of information and affirmation that peace is possible and there can be justice for all.”
— Ryan T. Blystone
Attend a free, one-hour conversation with one of the IPJ’s Women PeaceMakers, from 1-2 p.m. on Oct. 11, Oct. 13 and Oct. 20 in the IPJ Theatre. No RSVP required.