A conversation with two Nobel Laureates: Ending Violence against Women

It was one of the most important discussions held this year; The International Campaign to Stop Rape & Gender Violence in Conflict and Breakthrough, an India-based human rights organization dedicated to ending violence against women worldwide, facilitated a discussion with two Nobel Peace Prize Laureates - Jody Williams and Shirin Ebadi -  on exploring how women's leadership is changing the way we tackle the global pandemic of violence against women and shape a roadmap for peace.

Nobel Laureate Jody Williams noted that too many global political discussions take place without women having a seat at the table. Williams gave examples of this serious lacuna in reflection of her own work with killer robots (fully autonomous weapons that could select and engage targets without human intervention) stressing that women need to be taken seriously in the political system. Statistics revealed that while women have made some progress in organizational leadership, they rarely have access to the political arena where the advancement of women’s rights is most needed. She also commented on the the idea of peace, urging us to observe peace through a fresh lens. Williams asserted that we shouldn’t compartmentalize the image of peace as a fringe concept, or in relation to “tree-huggers” and “hippies.” Rather, we should take control of this image, and redefine it through action. 

Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi raised a signifiant question about the way women’s leadership is changing on a socioeconomic level. How can governments be cognizant of this change? Presenting examples from her work in Iran, Ebadi talked about the difficulties of fighting violence against women in a patriarchal society, where religion is often used as a means to justify violence. She pointed out that the contemporary abuse of Sharia law has been a major  challenge to the women’s rights movement in the Middle East. “In Iran for example, if you criticize the government you could face serious consequences…The government will take away all personal rights.” 

Notably, both Nobel Laureates discussed the challenges that they faced while working with the government; they remained positive that things are changing - slowly, but surely. Williams observed that “when we push governments to push for change in a consistent fashion, we can bring about the change we need to see. We have to attack the fundamentals of the problem with the help of civil society to get governments to act. We need to get governments to acknowledge what conflict does to the fabric of society and the impact that it has. We have to discuss the entire continuum of violence against women, not just discussing rape in conflict.” 

Importantly, this dialogue framed the complexities of action (religion, caste, patriarchy, etc.) to encourage better collaborations between government, and civil society organizations. We left with a better understanding of the challenges we have to face in the fight to end violence against women. I was left with one question who do we get to act first?

The Nobel Women answered simply: 

Human Rights starts with you. 


Indeed it does. We must all take action to #EndTheSilence.

Meera Vijayann


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