Partnership for Change Conference 2012: Dignity and Empowerment


Mairead Maguire, Nobel Peace Laureate – TRANSCEND Media Service

Oslo-Norway, 18-21 Mar 2012

‘Ending sexual violence: regaining dignity is a pre-requisite for empowerment.’
–Mairead Maguire

Dear Friends,

I am very happy to be here and would like to thank you for the kind invitation for me to address the Partnership for Change Conference.

Ending rape and sexual violence is a huge challenge to us all, but it can be done if we join in partnership and cooperation, and use a multi-faceted approach to transforming a culture of rape and sexual violence into a culture of nonkilling, nonviolence and respect for life and human dignity.

Chapter 13 of the Nobel Peace Laureates Charter for a World without Violence states that, ‘We have a right not to be killed and a responsibility not to kill each other’. We could add alongside this, ‘women and girls, and men and boys, have a right not to be raped,  or sexually assaulted,  and to be treated with dignity, equity and justice.

I believe that one of the ways to end sexual violence is to break the silence around this taboo by educating ourselves and others about rape and gender violence in conflict, and by working in partnership to end this crime against human life and dignity. Also by proclaiming that ‘life’, being our primary identity, must be above all other identities. This would help build a new culture for humanity based on respect for life and the environment, and for solving conflicts without killings.

As we know, every violent act has a violent consequence, so we know too that rape and sexual violence often have their roots in  the savagery of militarism and war.  In some countries, as shown in history, rape and sexual violence (of mostly women and girls, but also of men and boys) is a tool of war.  It is used by military forces, militia and other armed groups to subjugate, dominate and control people, and as a way of terrorizing and destroying whole communities.

I witnessed this myself a few years ago when, as part of a Nobel Peace Laureates’ delegation, we visited the Thai/Burma border. In the refugee camps we heard many stories from Karen women refugees (many pregnant) who had been raped, often gang raped, by Burmese soldiers.  In Burma, as in countries like Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, militaries are the cause of direct, structural and cultural violence, often targeting women – particularly in indigenous communities, as in the case of the genocide of Mayan women in Guatemala, where today femicide, domestic violence, and sexism are exploding.

In January 2012, a Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation visited Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala, and have just issued their Findings and Recommendations. In the words of Nobel Peace Laureate Jody Williams, ‘The war on drugs and increased militarism in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala is becoming a war on women’.  (In many South American countries we are increasingly hearing calls from the civil society for an end to militarism as a pretext of war on drugs). The delegation found that in Mexico, Honduras and Guatemala the police, and increasingly the military, deployed to cities and communities, under the ‘drug war’ pretext, not only failed to guarantee public safety but also perpetrated many crimes against women.  Private security firms hired by multinational companies are another unchecked source of violence and insecurity for women, particularly indigenous and rural women.

Rigoberta Menchu Tun, a Nobel Peace Laureate from Guatemala, said that ‘Indigenous women are often at the frontlines of communities that are trying to peacefully express their opposition to large-scale projects that threaten the health and land of indigenous peoples’.  The delegation made many recommendations that in order to be implement will need the concerted efforts of local and national authorities, civil societies, women’s organizations, and the international community.  They also made recommendations to the international community denouncing the targeting of human rights defenders, earmarking a greater proportion of foreign aid to women’s organizations recognizing that a community-based model will reduce a dangerous dependence on armed solutions to security challenges.

We can welcome the report of the Secretary General (UN) of 13th January 2012, on conflict-related sexual violence(l). The report lists for the first time names of some of the military forces, militia and other armed groups that are suspected of being amongst the worst offenders.  Countries named by the Sec. General include Somalia, Guinea, Kenya, Colombia, Cote d’Ivoire, Libya, Burma, South Sudan, Sri Lanka, Congo and Chad, but his report does not mention other countries where sexual violence has been perpetrated, such as Afghanistan, Iraq, Israel/Occupied Territories, and Haiti, where U.N. peacekeeping forces face allegations of sexual abuse and, increasingly, calls from Haitians for the UN forces to leave their country.

The extent of the problem of sexual violence is brought home to us when the Secretary General of the UN tells us that one out of every three women (that means three billion women) will experience violence in their lifetime.  A result of such assault upon their spirit and body (as sexual violation is about the inner destruction of the person), they often lose the sense of dignity and self-confidence. We must always remember to keep the survivors at the heart of all we do.

Supporting the survivors of sexual violence in their struggle to regain their dignity is a pre-requisite to empowering them to take control of their lives.  This means addressing their needs and helping them reclaim their lives and take leadership in their own communities.  Survivors, when given support and offered opportunities, can become empowered to work to end conflicts and gender violence in their communities.  We have seen this in Liberia where women mobilized to end violence and started a peace process.   In order to help empower women they should be included in all peace processes and constitute at least 50 percent of official delegations to peace process negotiations.  Resolution 1325 provides legal mechanisms that women could use for their voices to be heard in political decision-making.

We also need to support as much as possible women in Afghanistan, Egypt and Somalia, to educate women about the health dangers involved with violent female genital mutilation. 100 million girls and women live with circumcision, which is carried out on young girls often by their mothers. It is a dangerous cultural (not religious) tradition with no benefits, but with horrific suffering and often deaths of children.

Besides keeping victims and survivors at the heart of our efforts, it is important that we also focus on the rapist/perpetrator, to help us in getting to the roots of these phenomena and help end this victimization. Sexualized violence occurs in every country but tragically it is often accepted by society, and excused with the attitude that sexual violence has and always will be with us, and it is ‘boys and men behaving badly’. This mindset must change as rape and sexual violence represent a crime that must never be condoned, excused or supported by any society.

The practise in some countries of young males raping girls, and seeing it as a badge of honour or rite of passage to manhood, is criminal as it causes enormous suffering to the victims and survivors.  However, increasingly governments are legislating against violence against women and the culture of ’blaming the victim’ is being changed.  Questions are being asked of the perpetrator: what is his family background, his community, influences upon him, etc., in order to have a more comprehensive understanding of the rapist and his background.

The more we can understand the roots of this cult of violent macho masculinity that is cultivated by gangs and a culture of militarism and war, and whose basic need is to control and subjugate females to have a false sense of manhood, the more we can begin to heal this worldwide sickness. Rapes where the use of guns, knives or other  penetrating objects are used to penetrate, torture, and violate the female body, not involving real sex, usually are done by street gangs and in war zones.  Such brutality and inhumanity challenge us to find ways to teach nonviolence at every level of society to bring about cultural change. Men can be role models and raise their sons to respect women and practice equality.

An  International Campaign to stop Rape and Gender Violence in violent conflict zones, initiated by the Nobel Women’s Initiative,  will be launched in the near future and we look forward to working in cooperation and partnership with all those who have done and continue to do an excellent work in ending rape and sexual violence in conflict zones.

Thank you for your work, which gives hope and inspiration to us all.


l) Report of Nobel Women’s Initiative Delegation to Mexico, Honduras, Guatemala.  January, 2012.

2)  Report of the Secretary-General, of United Nations to  General Assembly Security Council, New York.’   ‘Conflict-related sexual violence’. 13th January, 2012.


Mairead Corrigan Maguire is a member of the TRANSCEND Network for Peace, Development and Environment. She won the 1976 Nobel Peace Prize for her work for peace in Northern Ireland. Her book The Vision of Peace (edited by John Dear, with a foreword by Desmond Tutu and a preface by the Dalai Lama) is available from She lives in Belfast, Northern Ireland. See:


This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 2 Apr 2012.

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One Response to “Partnership for Change Conference 2012: Dignity and Empowerment”

  1. Most enjoyable piece of writing. Of course I respect Mairead Maguire’s views, but at the same time,I find them incoherent, un-related to today’s world. In many ways, her proposals coincide with those of all wishful thinkers and even with most politicians, who endlessly claim they have “the” solution to end social violence, or the solution to end wars.

    How can we rear young men who respect women, who don’t rape them, etc, whilst we allow production and projection of films, both in the cinema and on TV, that teach exactly the opposite? On an almost daily basis, TV channels show films where youths torture and kill, very often for fun and become heroes. Young people want to emulate them. Not long ago I bumped into a disgusting film with children aged between 8 and 11 attacking each other, torturing, gang bullying, etc.

    Video and DVD games for children are specifically designed to develop a love of violence, blood, killing, weapons, etc, in the young.

    How could it be different??????? impossible. Why??? not because we have a culture of violence, but because we have a culture of “believing Armed Forces are necessary”. 90% of Peace lovers I talk to, repeat the same fallacy: “a country must have Armed Forces to protect herself in case of attack”. This is the culture that needs changing. We must teach humanity that weapons are for killing and nothing else.

    If Governments allowed children to grow up respecting human life, respect for women, etc, it will have to be to ALL people, from all religions and from any country.

    It will then be very difficult to send soldiers to kill others. This would bring a collapse of the Arms Trade. This is why I propose the abolition of Armed Forces, of weapon research, manufacturing and trading.

    Only then the culture of respect will be born, spontaneously.