Women, Media, Revolution: Closing

As Day Three of the forum began, IPJ staff and forum participants cheered the winners of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize: Leymah Gbowee and Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia and Tawakul Karman of Yemen. Gbowee spoke at a previous IPJ conference after a screening of “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” a documentary about how women forced combatants to go to the peace table and end the war in Liberia. Her colleague, Vaiba Kebeh Flomo, was an IPJ Woman PeaceMaker last year and had her story of working with Gbowee and other Liberian women documented. Deputy Director Dee Aker reminded those gathered that without “Pray the Devil Back to Hell,” Gbowee and Flomo’s stories, as well as women’s side of the history of the war and peace process in Liberia, would never have been told.

Unfortunately, journalist Prue Clarke, who runs the New Narratives project in Liberia, had to leave for New York upon the announcement. Her rather critical piece on Sirleaf appeared in last week’s Newsweek, so her perspective on what the award means for Liberia and its upcoming elections was missed at the forum.

Mimi Chakarova responding to questions about her film, "The Price of Sex"

Day Three closed on a more somber note than how it began. Mimi Chakarova’s startling and overwhelming documentary “The Price of Sex” was the last film to be screened. Chakarova spent a decade making the film, following survivors of sex trafficking and investigating the trade in Eastern and Western Europe and the Middle East.

After a Q&A session with Chakarova in which she explained the daunting tasks of changing perceptions about the issue and of helping victims of the trade, Professor Necla Tschirgi, who teaches human security in the Kroc School of Peace Studies at USD, opened the final panel nearly speechless. A native of Istanbul, a major destination city for sex trafficking, Tschirgi was at a loss to explain her initial feelings after viewing the film, but applauded Chakarova and the rest of the filmmakers and journalists: “I think knowledge is power, and without the work that you do, I couldn’t do the work I do.”

The 2011 Women PeaceMakers and their Peace Writers closed the forum with reflections on the previous three days. Kenyan Wahu Kaara began, “In this conference and all that we have experienced, concluding with this film, I feel bitter but I want to rise up. Get out of the box of the media that lets us accept news of war, rape, trafficking as acceptable. It is not acceptable. It is you in the media that must affirm the stories of life.” Claudette Werleigh, the first female prime minister of Haiti, warned of the danger of new media and technology increasing the gap between people.

Peace Writer Bijoyeta Das (left) and PeaceMaker Claudette Werleigh responding to the forum

For the Peace Writers, three of whom are freelance journalists, the forum was reinvigorating. “I have a renewed sense of commitment and responsibility as a seeker, shaper and custodian of stories,” stated Amy S. Choi, who is documenting the story of Manjula Pradeep of India. Nikki Lyn Pugh, writer for Rashad Zaydan of Iraq, closed the panel and forum with a message of hope: “Where is the hope in these situations? The hope is in the telling of them, the bravery of the people who have allowed themselves to be filmed, the journalists. Those single acts of courage give me hope.”

Thank you to all the speakers and participants for a meaningful and thought-provoking three days. Stay tuned in the coming weeks for a final report and photos from the forum.