Is Peace an Unattainable Dream? | A Q&A with Nobel Peace Prize Winner Jody Williams

17 February 2020

Nobel Peace Prize winner and human rights activist, Jody Williams  travels the world expounding her incredible wisdom. She was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997 for her work toward the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines and continues to lobby for improvements in human rights and global security.

Jody caught up with us to share some of the incredible work she is doing with the Nobel Women’s Initiative, what sustainable peace looks like and her latest campaign which sees her fighting against killer robots.

Your story is one of inspiration and perseverance, how did you become involved with aid work in El Salvador, providing artificial limbs to children who had lost arms and legs to landmines?

Actually, in El Salvador I organized a program called The Children’s Project which brought children wounded in the war to the US for medical treatment. One aspect of my work has been trying to mitigate the impact of armed conflict on innocent civilians. Wounded children were innocent, tragic victims of a war they had nothing to do with. Hospitals in the US donated medical treatment. The generosity toward the children and their families was simply amazing.

I didn’t become involved with the issue of landmines until late 1991, when I was asked by the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation and the German humanitarian aid organisation Medico International if I would be willing to try to create a civil society campaign to ban landmines. Ultimately, that led to the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and the pressure created by the campaign resulted in the 1997 Mine Ban Treaty. Today more than 160 countries are part of the treaty and we are moving ever closer to a world free of landmines. It was for that work that the International Campaign to Ban Landmines and I shared the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.

Could you tell us a bit about the Nobel Women’s Initiative and what you believe the biggest challenges the world faces when it comes to peace and equality?

The Nobel Women’s Initiative, which was launched in January 2006, was founded by six women recipients of the Nobel Peace Prize. We agreed, in addition to the work each of us does individually, to come together to use our influence and access to spotlight and support the work of women’s organizations working around the world for sustainable peace with justice and equality. I invite you to check out our brief page  about the Nobel Women’s Initiative.

I believe that the biggest challenge to building sustainable peace is the feeling that “peace” is the unattainable dream of “tree-hugging” types. Peace is not a utopian dream. Working for it is hard work every single day. The challenge is immense when billions upon billions of dollars are thrown at creating weapons and launching wars at the cost of meeting the real needs of humanity. Achieving deep and meaningful equality requires that we all see the humanity in each of us.

Your latest campaign sees you fighting against killer robots. Can you explain a little about what they are, and why this is so important for people to be aware of?

Part of creating sustainable peace requires getting rid of weapons and the belief that using violence - militarism - will make us safe and secure. I do not question at all the belief that violence only begets more violence. Killer robots are weapons that can operate by themselves to target and kill human beings. How can anyone believe that it is morally right to give life and death decisions to machines? The first revolution in warfare came with gunpowder. The second with nuclear weapons. The third will be with killer robots. Have any of these “advances” made the world a better, safer place? We cannot meaningfully talk about peace without tackling the weapons that destroy peace.

Mary Wareham, left, and Jody Williams of the Campaign to Stop Killer Robots with their mascot ‘David Wreckham’. Credit: The Guardian

You’ve spoken about the importance of empowering women to learn about human security and its fundamental role in achieving peace. Why is this a pressing issue, and what advice would you give women who don't know where to begin?

We always hear about national security, the security of a nation, but we hear very little about human security, what it really takes to make people secure in their daily lives and in thinking about the future. What makes people secure is not nuclear weapons, for example. What makes people - women and their families - secure is knowing their children will be able to get a good education.  Have access to health care. Have a decent job that pays people enough to live on. Be able to live in a clean, thriving, sustainable world. That means spending tax-payer money on those things rather than on war.

If there was one thing that you'd want an audience to take away from your speech, what would it be?

That there is nothing magic about being about positive change in the world. The essence of “activism,” a word that seems to scare people, is simple “act.” To act for change. One person alone cannot change the world, but when we come together to make the world a better place for everyone - even the people we don’t like very much - ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things.

Finally, what's next for you?

What’s next? Not sure. I’m rather taken up with what I’m doing now. Life is a curious and wondrous journey and I’m pretty open to where it’s going.

Thank you for taking the time to chat to us Jody, we look forward to following your incredible journey campainging for a better world.

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