On Tuesday, October 25th, the U.S. Institute of Peace, in collaboration with USAID, the Institute for Inclusive Security, and Vital Voices will host a discussion with Ambassador Swanee Hunt and USAID Deputy Administrator Donald Steinberg on the best ways to ensure a direct role for women in peace-building efforts worldwide. In addition, film producer Abigail Disney and film director Pamela Hogan will present their PBS documentary film, I Came to Testify, that describes how a group of 16 women from Bosnia, victims of the war’s systematic rapes, broke through political and societal silence by stepping onto the witness stand at an international tribunal.
We asked Abigail Disney to answer a few questions about why it’s critical for women to play a vital role in peace building around the world.
What is the goal of the Women, War & Peace series? What do you hope audiences take away from watching it?
We hope audiences will gain a nuanced, expansive understanding of women’s capacity to influence change and decision-making on the local, national, and global level. Moreover, we strive to show audiences what it means to be a peacebuilder. The women we follow are the embodiment of the idea that peace is a process, not an event—a verb, not a noun. The Indian diplomat Vijaya Lakshmi Pandit—the first woman President of the UN General Assembly—said that “the more we sweat in peace, the less we bleed in war.” It’s our aim to show those who are sweating for peace. And it’s our goal to illustrate the ways in which women are already doing—and are poised to continue doing—this crucial work.
The Administration is working on a National Action Plan that outlines U.S. support for women as key enablers of peace and stability in countries affected by conflict. What would you like to see detailed there?
In order for the National Action Plan to be successful, it must mandate genuine consultation with women at the local level. We’ve learned in making Women, War & Peace that local women, not just elite women inhabiting capital cities, have access to crucial resources to rebuild their countries. There’s vulnerability in any action plan that excludes them.
Further, the plan must also take care not to emphasize the protection of women over their participation. We must keep women safe from violence but we cannot cast women primarily as victims in need of service, rather than as active agents with a vital capacity to shape peace. Forging channels for consultation with women may be uncomfortable—requiring us to venture into rural areas, to stay longer without the comforts of home, to speak in new languages. But this deepened commitment will pay off in an intimate understanding of local resources. Ultimately, it will allow the U.S. to support those citizens who are best positioned to avert and resolve their own conflicts.
If you had an unlimited budget at your disposal to address women, peace, and security, how would you direct it for the most impact?
I would invest in the creation and support of a consultancy of local women leaders from across classes, ethnicities, and geographies to inform U.S. activities in countries not only where conflict is present, but also where conflict has yet to break out. I’d invest in increased communication among thousands of citizens on a local level, rather than among a few citizens on a national level. I’d invest in durable relationships with conflict zones long after the guns stop firing: investment to support education, health care, and civic participation over decades. I’d focus on human resources rather than financial ones, investing in millions of people rather than in one silver bullet. Most of all, I’d prioritize the U.S.’s ability to be flexible, responsive, and adaptable to—and open to critique from—those we serve.
For more information regarding the event, please visit here.
ABIGAIL E. DISNEY is a filmmaker and philanthropist. Her longtime passion for women’s issues and peacebuilding culminated in her first film, the acclaimed PRAY THE DEVIL BACK TO HELL, about the Liberian women who peacefully ended their country’s fourteen-year civil war. She is currently Executive Producer of the groundbreaking PBS mini-series WOMEN, WAR & PEACE, the most comprehensive global media initiative ever mounted on the role of women in peace and conflict.