She Leads: women in conflict ridden countries are a paving the path to peace

Published: 18th September 2020
Ugandan youth activist

Ugandan youth activist Ferida Marmin. Photo: Susan Schulman/Oxfam

Wherever women are, peace is. Women and peace are synonyms.

Women from 11 conflict and post conflict countries share stories of fight to rebuild their countries and find peace  a new photo collection that will be published on Word Peace Day on Monday 21 September.

The powerful stories and images of women who have lived through some of the world’s worst conflicts - including poets of the Sudanese revolution, art activists in Colombia and a defender of the Amazon, and a journalist shining a spotlight on the plight of refugee in the Central African Republic - are captured in an interactive and immersive photo collection, called “She Leads”.

  • Alaa Salah (22), ‘the women in white’ who became a symbol of the Sudanese fight for freedom and the central role women played in it when a photo leading a protest went viral says “I look at the picture and don’t see myself. I see the strength, bravery, glory, and the sacrifices of Sudanese women. It is not me. I am just one of hundreds of thousands of others. We were all in it together.”
  • Bissan Oudah, a community organiser from Gaza tells us “I believe in what I am doing and what I am doing is right. Either I agree to be excluded or keep going and become a valuable member of society. It is a fight I am taking on behalf of myself and the rest of the women in my community.  Once I carve this space, other women will carve it too.” 
  • Elisabeth Morales Tascon (29), an Embera leader, human rights defender from  Colombia says “I survived a landmine. I’ve tried to take my life twice, because I thought my life didn't have any value. I thought everything had ended. But I survived for a reason. I created an organisation 5 years ago for indigenous women victims of the conflict. We work with women to keep alive different arts and craft practices…The women use different colors and different designs to tell their stories. They express different emotions through their crafts; it might be joy, it might be sadness.”
  • Marina Moulow-Gnatho (29), a journalist from Central African Republic tells us “Journalism has always been my passion, but it takes bravery. As a radio broadcaster, I was able to reach and inform a large audience and get to places that others couldn’t. In 2015, radio was the only way to hear what was happening. I visited one camp, where people - even children and pregnant women, were sleeping on the ground. Suddenly, there was shooting, and I had no idea what to do. I had just arrived and found myself in the middle of it. I realised it was crucial to do this reporting and I had to just summon up the courage.
  • Sayama Zawng Naw (29), a community Leader from the Myitkyina Janmaikawng KBC Camp in Myanmar says “All my life, leaders in administrative roles in the village were men and men and men. Women can do this too.  As women, we should build our capacity more and be leaders, Being a leader doesn’t mean it’s only you all the time, you have to help others to lead too. After me, two other women became leaders in the camp community.”
  • Masuma Jami, a peace activist from Heart, Afghanistan says “The traditions, norms and prejudices in my society do not allow women to do activism. To do so, we must be very brave and overcome the challenges and obstacles that society puts in front of us…Political peace is important, but the government can also focus on creating a culture of peace and engage women and marginalised groups.”

The project, a collaboration between Oxfam and renowned photographer, Susan Schulman and features women from Afghanistan, Central African Republic, Colombia, Mali, Myanmar, Somalia/Somaliland, South Sudan, Sudan, Occupied Palestinian Territory, Uganda and Yemen.

Years of evidence shows that women are involved in peace-building, agreements are 35 percent more likely to last beyond fifteen years. Yet in the 20 years since the UN Security Council passed a resolution recognizing  the need for women to be a part of peace negotiations and action aimed at preventing future conflicts there has been little progress. For example, eighty percent of Afghanistan peace meetings since 2005 have left women out completely, globally women constitute just 13 percent of negotiators, 3 percent of mediators and 4 percent of signatories in major peace processes.

Notes to editors

Global data on women’s participation in peace processes is from the Council for Foreign Relations.

Oxfam, the IMatter Campaign and LSE Centre for Women, Peace and Security as part of the AHRC project will launch a new series of discussion papers, ‘Transforming Power to put Women at the Heart of Peacebuilding,’ a collection of essays on Feminist Peace and Security focusing on Sub Saharan Africa, MENA Asia and the Pacific on 21 September 2020 at 13:00 BST| 15:00 EAT | 08:00 NYT for 90 Mins.

Panelists will include:

  • Helen Kezi-Nwoha – Executive Director of Women’s International Peace Centre – Uganda.
  • Dr Zeynep Kaya -  MENA expert and Senior Teaching Fellow at SOAS and Cambridge University.
  • Professor Paula Banerjee – Former Vice Chancellor of Sanskrit University.
  • Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls and Alisia Evans – Pacific feminists working on the nexus of communication, peace and humanitarian action.
  • Madeleine Rees – Secretary General of Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom will be moderating the event.

Register for the event here.

The women featured in the book, photographer Susan Schulman and Oxfam spokespeople are available for interviews. The book is avaliable for preview upon request. 

Contact information

Michelle D’cruz I I +254 79467 4052

For updates, please follow @Oxfam.