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

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 Mussa, Youth Activist, South Sudan

“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.”

Fifi Baka, Human Rights Activist, Democratic Republic of the Congo

“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, Activist, Mali

“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, Member of Parliament, Central African Republic

“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, Youth Activist, Yemen

“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 Saleh, Municipal Council Member, Lebanon

“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.”

Ola al-Aghbary, Community Entrepreneur, Yemen

“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, Gender Specialist, Sudan

“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, Pioneer for Women’s Participation, South Sudan

“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.”

Maha Zeinelabdin Abdelwahad Sidahmed, Activist, Sudan

“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.”

Victoria Sandino, Senator, Colombia

“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 Touré, Member of Local Council, Mali

“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, Peacebuilder, Central African Republic

“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, Indigenous Youth Leader, Colombia

“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

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The online magazine of the United Nations Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs