Friday, November 16, 2001
Women Waging Peace come to Carlisle
Last Wednesday night, a group of 35 people gathered at the Ruettgers home on Bedford Road to meet with nine inspirational women from Rwanda who are their country's delegates to this year's Women Waging Peace colloquium in Cambridge.
Rose is a major in the army and former mayor of Kigali, Isabelle is a magistrate on the Supreme Court, Soline is the legal advisor to President Kagame, Connie is a member of Parliament, Teddy is an educator, Sheenah is a journalist, Anne-Marie works in the private sector, Goretti is an international commissioner for a children's organization and Justine is a lawyer.
Third annual colloquium
For the past two weeks, 60 exceptional women involved in peace-building efforts in some of the most violent areas of the world have gathered in Cambridge for the third annual Women Waging Peace colloquium. (Women Waging Peace is a year-round collaborative effort between the Women in Public Policy Program at the Kennedy School of Government at Harvard and Hunt Alternatives, a private foundation that supports peace initiatives and policy making.) This year women from all different ethnic and religious backgrounds came from Cambodia, Rwanda, Guatemala, and the Philippines as well as Afghanistan, India, Palestine, Israel, Bosnia, and Sudan, among other countries. A few are prominent in their national governments, some are journalists, others are building bridges through dance programs or sharing oral histories to overcome decades of hatred and mistrust. They are involved in many different peace and reconciliation initiatives. All have known tragic loss. These delegates, some of whom have never been out of their countries, come together to learn, to share their stories, and to build a network of support that can sustain them when they return to their troubled countries. They are given training in information technologies and media strategies, they learn to develop contacts with public policy makers and peace builders here in the states, to access the resources of the Kennedy School, and to share their own peace-building strategies with women from other parts of the world. It is tiring, exhilarating and often emotional work for these women. Their two weeks are packed with workshops, seminars, training, interviews, public forums, research symposia, policy work, receptions and then at the end of the day (after 10 or 11 p.m.) they are likely to gather in their hotel rooms and exchange stories and ideas into the early morning hours.
Another vital component of the funding for this amazing peace initiative is the Alliancea group of business leaders, mothers, members of book groups, philanthropists, and a few corporate sponsors that provide much-needed financial support to cover the travel expenses of the delegates, give them laptops, and help fund the network that aids these dedicated women in their ongoing pursuit of peace-building efforts when they return to their homes. Many members of the Alliance also serve as local hosts for the delegates they sponsor and have the opportunity to participate in the many seminars and programs of the two-week colloquium.
The Ruettgers women and their involvement
Maureen Ruettgers and her daughter Polly have been closely involved with Women Waging Peace for the past three years, both in building the Alliance which Maureen chaired last year, and supporting the colloquium delegates on a daily level to make them feel welcome. Last Sunday Polly escorted a group on a historical tour of Boston while Maureen took the Cambodian delegation to Lowell. I recently spoke to Maureen and Polly about Women Waging Peace and their passion and commitment to these women. Here are a few of their comments:
Maureen: Involvement with WWP is an opportunity to give understanding and respect to the people with these conflicts no matter what their country, its size and resources. It is about education at all levels, from public policy down to the peace-building activities within small villages. The policy makers and academics that attend this colloquium are learning first-hand from these women about what is going on in these countries at the grass-roots level.
Polly: I feel I have become a more compassionate person through my experiences with these women. It is difficult on a daily basis to open oneself to heartachethe horror and struggles these women deal with. But it makes you a better person. You have to take little steps. I feel I can help them by being a good listener. They are so appreciative of the support and the concern.
Maureen: Peace-building is hard work. You have to develop it and nurture it and attend to it. These women are an untapped resource. They have watched conflicts continue on and on. Nothing has improved. They want to try new ideas and they have opportunities that men don't have because women are not "warriors" and they are not immediately suspected of having agendas. This is not a feminist cause. These women want to build and preserve peace for all future generations.
Polly: I have been to Rwanda twice since becoming a member of the Alliance. I have learned so much. Last time I attended the Gacaca trialsthe overwhelming task of bringing hundreds of thousands of people who stand accused for their role in the genocide of the Tutsis in Rwanda in 1994. In order to handle the sheer volume in a country with only 80 lawyers, they assemble large crowds from the prisoners communities and present the prisoners (who are wearing pink) one by one asking, "Who knows this man? Who knows what they did?" And based on what the onlookers stand up to say, the prisoners are either released or held for trial. It was very moving. Clearly not a perfect system, but it is a start and evidence of the country's reconciliation efforts and challenges.
Maureen: Last year's larger delegations came from Burundi, Sri Lanka, Mexico, and Russia, including Chechnya. These dedicated women bring with them their culture, courage and incredible stories.
Polly: We have the intellectual capacity that is of such value to these women. If we can't help them personally, chances are we know someone who can. The networking we can provide for them is so valuable.
Maureen: One very important part of WWP is the opportunity for these women to communicate safely with one another once they are back in their home countries, where many of them live in constant danger for their bold work. EMC has provided a secure web site so they can stay in touch with less fear. [Michael Ruettgers, Maureen's husband, is the executive chairman of EMC Corporation.]
Maureen: WWP has created some powerful alliances and opportunities for these women. Agnes Nindorera, a journalist who was with last year's Burundi delegation, lost 60 family members in that country's massacres and is a Nieman Fellow at the Kennedy School this year. Some women have been invited to Washington to meet with policy makers there. Others are now working directly with peace coalition teams in their countries' governments who recognize that these women have the pulse on what is going on.
Polly: Because women often lack political status in these countries, they ironically have flexibility to move between different sides and work to build bridges between ethnic and religious groups. As mothers, they are determined to stop the violence in their countries. They want peace for their families.
Each woman has her own story to telll, like Maria Cristina Caballero who rode eight hours alone into the jungle in Colombia to seek out and interview the general of the paramilitary forces who admitted for the first time that he was tired of the war and wished there were a way to break the cycle of violence and revenge. She carried that initial prospect of peace back to the government. And Ida Kuklina organized the mothers of Russian soldiers to expose what was going on in Chechnya and the senseless killing of their sons. Aloisea Inyumba, in her late 20s, was appointed minister in charge of families, women and children; she first had the responsibility of burying the 800,000 victims of the 1994 genocide in Rwanda and then had to find homes for 500,000 orphans. This was in a country whose infrastructure had been destroyed in those four months of madness.
It is impossible to set all the stories down here, but I asked Maureen and Polly one last question: How did they feel the September 11
Maureen: I worry that we will become isolationists concerned only with our own safety and not reach out to these countries and people in extreme need but I think certain initiatives like urging our children to think about and work to raise money for the children of Afghanistan are some good things that have come out of these tragic events. Women Waging Peace is more important than ever. It represents a place for all voices.
This year's colloquium ends tomorrow with a cultural evening featuring presentations from the different delegations. For more information about Women Waging Peace you can access their web site: www.womenwagingpeace.net.
© 2001 The Carlisle Mosquito