National Commentary

Time for U.S. Women to Keep the Peace

Three women from Africa and the Middle East have won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize. We are still in two major wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, and additionally have military involvement in Pakistan and Yemen. So where are the American female peacemakers? Shouldn’t we be leading in the struggle for peace, especially considering our losses in the violence of war?

There is one woman who stands out – Medea Benjamin, the co-founder of Code Pink: Women for Peace. Code Pink describes itself as “a women-initiated grassroots peace and social justice movement working to end the wars in Iraq and Afghanistan, stop new wars, and redirect our resources into healthcare, education, green jobs and other life-affirming activities.”

Medea herself is a strong peace advocate. After being pepper sprayed during a recent protest against the War in Afghanistan, Medea reminded us that pepper spray is nothing compared to what innocent civilians face when drones rain bombs down on their communities. Currently she is with the Wall Street protesters – leading her pals in the fight for our piece of the pie to pay for schools, housing and healthcare instead of funding wars.

The three women who shared the Nobel Peace Prize – braving the all-male tradition in their country in order to break the chains of centuries-old customs of second class citizenship that relegated women to their kitchens – are Liberian President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Liberian activist Leymah Gbowee, and Yemeni opposition leader Tawakkol Karman, who protested for freedom long before the Arab Awakening.

One might say the American suffragists broke away from male dominance in 1920 after they won the right to vote after a 70-year struggle. As much as they achieved, we still have a way to go with regard to women’s equality in the workplace and in politics.

Unfortunately at this time, two of the most prominent women in American politics are Rep. Michele Bachmann of Minnesota – who is still in the race for the GOP Presidential nomination, and Sarah Palin who is not running. Both Republican women are reactionary conservatives. These women don’t seem to understand that they would never have been in competition for the highest office in our land, had it not been for liberal women who defied the rules to demand equality and their rights.

It took too long, but the manifestation of female progress in regressive societies is the doling of the great honor of the Nobel Peace Prize to three women in underdeveloped countries.

President Sirleaf is best known as the first woman to be elected president of an African country. Harvard educated, she served as finance minister, and worked at the World Bank and the U.N. Development Program. Although Sirleaf has made progress for Liberia’s economy, she is criticized for not doing enough for the crippling poverty and 50 percent unemployment rate.

Gbowee organized Muslim and Christian women to demonstrate for peace. The Washington Post quoted her as saying, “I’m shocked, I’m numb, I’m still really feeling like it’s all a dream to me.” She continued, “There is no way we can negotiate peace and security if we leave out the women of the world.” Gbowee called the peace prize an acknowledgement now, and said “we can only succeed.”

Karman called the award “a victory for our revolution, for our methods, for our struggle, for all Yemeni youth, and all the youth in the Arab world – in Tunisia, in Egypt, everywhere.” She added, “This will give the people more strength, and to recognize that peace is the only way, that making a new Yemen must come without violence.”

Women in these so-called backward countries are still behind the fights for jobs and other social needs, including health and education. They are pointing the way, and they have been ignored for too long. The spirit of freedom is contagious and these Nobel women laureates have shown us the way. While American women know there is still work to be done to achieve a more just society, why have we retreated?

Where are the Eleanor Roosevelts, the Betty Friedans, the Bella Abzugs, and so many other women leaders who stood their ground to advance the causes that created a better and more peaceful country? Of course we have Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, but she has turned out to be one of the boys.