The “Women, Peace and Security Agenda” in Action: Photographs of Women Peacemakers and Peacebuilders From Around the World

Photoville “In Their Hands” exhibit at Brooklyn Bridge Park. UN Photo/Gaelle Sundelin

Women are peacebuilders, decision-makers, peacekeepers, community leaders, changemakers and activists. But, as Acting Executive Director of UN Women Pramila Patten pointed out, in her opening remarks at the New York City flagship photography festival Photoville at Brooklyn Bridge Park in New York on Saturday, 18 September: “Too often, the narrative of women in war and conflict is that of victimhood. Yet we know there are countless stories of women across the globe who are actively working to prevent conflict, recover from crisis, and build peace — sometimes putting their own lives at risk.” The photo exhibition “In Their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace”, which the United Nations Department of Peace Operations (DPO), in collaboration with the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA), UN Women and in partnership with Photoville, brings you that other side of the story.

The exhibition profiles 14 women from around the world who have mediated with armed groups, participated in peace talks, advanced political solutions, advocated for women’s rights and participation, built social cohesion or pushed for peaceful transitions. Their stories come from the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen and Colombia.

The UN has partnered with local women photographers, who are not only documenting the stories of women striving to build peace in their communities, but who also share in those very struggles themselves.

The exhibition is open for viewing until 1 December 2021 at Brooklyn Bridge Park. It will also be shown at UN Headquarters in time for a Security Council debate on Women, Peace and Security at the end of October; and in December in Seoul, Republic of Korea, at the Peacekeeping Ministerial, a conference designed to garner political support for peacekeeping operations from the international community, identify new commitments of countries to strengthen peacekeeping operations and evaluate the implementation of such commitments. It will then travel to several UN peace missions in Africa before being returning to Brooklyn next to the Ruth Bader Ginsburg statue in City Point, downtown Brooklyn, for International Women’s Day on 8 March 2022.

Here are these inspiring women in their own words. For more information on each of them, visit https://www.un.org/en/exhibits/exhibit/in-their-hands/stories

Changing Societies

Zekia Musa is a 29-year-old visually impaired youth activist and peacebuilder who works with the South Sudanese Ministry of General Education and Instruction representing people with disabilities. She also mentors disabled pupils at schools in the capital Juba. Photo by Maura Ajak/Copyright © UN

“Inequalities are rife across South Sudan. We have to have equal laws and equal justice for everybody. Disabled people need to be included in decisions that impact us directly. I advocate for our rights because I want to see us being included and heard in the future of our country.”

As the executive secretary of the Gender and Women’s Rights Network, Fifi Baka promotes the protection and defence of the fundamental rights of women and girls. In the capital Kinshasa, she also represents the Nothing Without Women Movement (Rien sans les Femmes/RSLF), which brings together more than 300 civil society organizations and Congolese activists to push for equal participation of women and men in decision-making bodies across the DRC. Photo by Ley Uwera/Copyright © UN

“I remain convinced that as long as women are not sufficiently considered and involved in decision-making and in peace negotiations, we will not have peace nor sustainable development in our country.”

Loda Coulibaly works to advance women’s rights in Mali as a member of several women’s organizations including the Network of Young Women Leaders of Political Parties and Civil Society and the G5 Sahel Women’s Coordination group. Loda advocates for the participation of women in the peace process in Mali and is a member of the “Citizen Initiative for the Consolidation of Peace and Women’s Political Leadership” project. Photo by Kani Sissoko/Copyright © UN

“Women play an incredibly important role in society, therefore I advocate for the participation of women in the ongoing transitional process in Mali.”

Transforming Politics

Béatrice Epaye has been elected several times as a member of parliament to represent Markonda, her constituency and home. She has leveraged her position as president of the forum of women parliamentarians to reform the country’s electoral code, making it more favorable to women, with a 35% representation quota. Photo by Leila Thiam/Copyright © UN

“Only when we leverage on women’s leadership and mobilization power, will we achieve peace in my country. It is our right to sit at the decision-making tables, not just around them. Last elections showed we still have a long way to go.”

Olla al Sakkaf, a 27-year-old youth activist from Yemen. After her graduation from the Faculty of Arts at Taiz University, she joined a civil society movement with a pioneer youth organization, working on projects related to gender-based violence, peacebuilding and enhancing coexistence between communities. Photo by Hana Haza’a/Copyright © UN

“The war has killed hope and turned our lives into a tragedy, but my work pushes me to persevere and makes me hopeful about the future. Every small change I cause in my community gives me hope for a better future for me and for women and youth like me.”

Randa Abu Salih is a member of Tyre Municipal Council in Southern Lebanon and chairs the Council’s Women and Child Affairs Committee . There, she helps train local police officers on women’s rights and child abuse prevention in one of the poorest areas of the city. Photo by Rawan Mazeh/Copyright © UN

“I think that the challenges ahead for Lebanese women are huge and we need to ensure all women access their rights, effectively participate in decision-making and that justice is equitable.”

A Yemeni community entrepreneur who has worked with many local and international organizations, Ola al-Aghbary is the Founder and Executive Director of the Sheba Youth Foundation for Development. Photo by Heba Naji/Copyright © UN

“It takes hope to be able to do the kind of work done by Yemeni women and youth peace advocates. We need to believe we can bring youth home from the frontlines, and that roads will one day open, and that women will one day assume leadership positions and have more influence.”

Building Peace

Hawa Games Dahab Gabjenda has extensive experience as a gender specialist, having worked on women’s empowerment, development, humanitarian and peacebuilding initiatives. She participated as a gender observer in the Juba peace talks held between the Transitional Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in 2021. Photo by Maimana El Hassan/Copyright © UN

“My loyalty and love for my community has always fueled my striving for peace, because we cannot forget where we come from. Peace is the most valuable asset for a society that needs to be built from scratch. Peace cannot be confined to meetings and speeches in lofty conference halls, but instead must spread from the streets.”

Alokiir Malual made history as the only woman to have signed a peace agreement in South Sudan in 2015. Through United Nations support in South Sudan, Alokiir was one of the seven women signatories to the Revitalized Peace Agreement in September 2018. Today, she is part of the Revitalized Joint Monitoring and Evaluation Commission, established to monitor and oversee the implementation of the Revitalized Peace Agreement, and she co-chairs the subcommittee on peacebuilding. Photo by Maura Ajak/Copyright © UN

“We are growing. We have smartly taken advantage of the peace process, making sure to gain more for women: we achieved a 35% participation quota by uniting as women and as groups, and coming up with one position, one demand. A formidable achievement by the women of South Sudan.”

Sudanese activist Maha Zeinelabdin Abdelwahad Sidahmed led the Women of Sudanese Civic and Political Groups, better known as MANSAM, an alliance of eight political women’s groups and civil society organizations, during the Sudanese revolution in 2019. Most recently, Maha was one of the gender observers at the Juba peace talks held between the Transitional Government and the Sudan People’s Liberation Movement in Juba in 2021. Photo by Ola Mohsin/Copyright © UN

“I urged the Transitional Government and the opposition Sudan People’s Liberation Movement-North to ensure women participate in peace talks and contribute to implement the peace agreement, especially on security arrangements as it is vital to sustain peace and security.”

In 1993, Victoria Sandino Simanca Herrera joined the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia — People’s Army (FARC-EP). 20 years later, she led the gender sub-commission on behalf of the FARC-EP at the Havana, Cuba, peace talks. In 2017, Victoria participated in the political council of the Fuerza Alternativa Revolucionaria del Común (FARC) party as one of the few women elected. Photo by Samy Vasquez/Copyright © UN

“I aspire to contribute to the transformation of our country, from this war and violence that we have experienced to a different Colombia: a Colombia in peace, with social justice and equal rights for men and women.”

Sustaining Peace

Mouna Awata is the president of the Women’s Peace Hut (Case de la Paix) in Gao, supported by UN Women and the UN peace operation there, MINUSMA. The Hut brings together 76 women’s groups from diverse backgrounds and communities. Together, they promote peace and social cohesion to prevent and resolve conflicts in this volatile region of Mali. Her broad scope of work includes mediating with armed groups, preventing violent extremism and working with survivors of sexual violence. Photo by Kani Sissoko/Copyright © UN

“Because of the conflict, the men left Gao. Women were left on their own. So, we decided to create the Peace Hut where everybody is represented: Arab women, Tamasheq women, Fulani women… Everybody. This platform has really helped us overcome our challenges and differences.”

Marthe Mbita played a key role in the negotiations of the Cessation of Hostilities Agreement signed between armed groups in December 2017 by directly engaging in discussions with their respective leaders. Marthe actively promotes the civil and political rights of women with local authorities and community leaders and brings together international organizations and communities. Photo by Leila Thiam/Copyright © UN

“When I make someone feel at peace, when I help people live together peacefully, it enriches not only me but the country as a whole.”

Daniela Soto is a 22-year-old indigenous woman from the Nasa people, a philosophy student and a victim of the armed conflict. She has been a coordinator of the youth programme at the Regional Indigenous Council of Cauca (CRIC), where she has led training processes on the rights of indigenous peoples, youth and women. She coordinated the project “Leadership camp for young women in Cauca for the construction and sustainability of peace”, a pilot project of the UN Women Colombia youth strategy. Photo by Deisy Tellez Giraldo/Copyright © UN

“I come from a place that has historically been hit hard by violence of all kinds, from racism, discrimination to armed conflict and economic inequality. I hope that I can contribute to social transformation, which is not only in my hands, but the responsibility of everyone in this society.”

For more information on the photographers, visit https://www.un.org/en/exhibits/exhibit/in-their-hands/artists