Replacing Hatred with Hope

Sojourners Magazine, November 2004 | Go to article overview

Replacing Hatred with Hope


Swanee Hunt, founder of Women Waging Peace, spoke with Sojourners' Rose Marie Berber about her book This Was Not Our War and the ways women are engaged in peace processes in conflict-ridden countries.

Sojourners: What got you involved in Bosnia?

Swanee Hunt: I was appointed ambassador to Austria in 1993, and Sarajevo was so dangerous then that the State Department didn't want to open up an embassy there. I offered to have it in Vienna, so for over a year, the U.S. mission to Bosnia was actually in our embassy in Vienna. As a result, I was meeting the political figures and hosting negotiations, and I became very concerned about the 70,000 refugees that were in Austria. I went out and heard their stories--which sounded like they were coming out of World War II. I'd "always wondered who those policy makers were sitting at their big mahogany desks when Hitler was organizing and advancing, and all of a sudden I realized I was a policy maker sitting at a big mahogany desk. I represented this lone superpower that wasn't doing anything about it. I decided I had to add my voice.

Sojourners: Why did you decide to write this book, particularly with the voices of Bosnian women?

Hunt: There were few people who had the hundreds of hours that I had with the women. Various journalists or policymakers were telling the stories, and they were all about the man. You might have a woman victim pop lip every now and then, but there was nothing--zero--about what the women had been doing to try to prevent the war, to stop it while it was going on, or to stabilize the country afterward.

Since I started working on this book, I have been doing trainings with and visiting women in Rwanda, Guatemala, Iraq, and Afghanistan, and what I have discovered is that this book isn't about Bosnian women. It's about women all over the world who are organizing in remarkably similar ways with remarkably similar motivations. They don't even know about each other. It's not like there's this model that everyone's trying to follow. It's much more indigenous than that.

I have worked on training more than 350 women, not counting the Bosnians, from 35 conflicts, and I've linked them with more than 3,000 policymakers. I was inspired by these women in Bosnia. My life was really changed by them.

Sojourners: What does the training consist of?

Hunt: In March I did a three-day training in Rwanda for 80 women who are all members of parliament, ministers, or civil society leaders. In Amman Iraqi women, the members of the governing council, women who'd been elected to the city councils--women who are now ministers in the new Iraq. It was training on honing their message--how to speak to policymakers, what are three words to use instead of "peace" (security, stability, etc.), and why you want to have words like that in your vocabulary. Then we practiced. I would ask a question, hold the microphone in front of their mouth, ask another question, and just keep working on "keep it tight, keep it short, use the right vocabulary," helping them build their confidence. …

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