By Maria Saporta
A new central theme for Atlanta is emerging — showcasing the role of women and human rights around the world.
Take three different globally significant events occurring in Atlanta within a two-week period.
The first one has already happened. More than 700 women from more than 30 countries were in Atlanta from Oct. 29 to Oct. 31 to attend the International Women’s Forum. The focus was “Human Rights/Human Responsibility: Toward a Better Future.”
A highlight of the three-day forum was at the closing night’s gala when former First Lady Rosalynn Carter was honored with IWF’s “Leading Light Award.”
As a founding member of IWF’s Georgia Chapter, Carter spoke of her 44-year dedication to the cause of mental health.
It began when her husband was running for governor, and Georgia was closing its mental health hospitals. She confronted her husband at a campaign stop and asked him what he was going to do about mental illness when he was governor. He told her: “We are going to have the best program in the country,” because he was going to put her in charge..
Although that didn’t come to pass for pragmatic reasons, the former First Lady of Georgia and the United States has been spent the better part of the last five decades helping remove the stigma of mental illness so that people can see treatment and “live good, full productive lives in the community.”
And it is a cause that she has championed at the Carter Center – where she has been able to marry her interests in global health, mental illness, human rights and women issues in what has been described as one of the most successful post-presidencies in U.S. history.
By the way, three extraordinary women were inducted into IWF’s Hall of Fame. The Hall, which was started in 1985, includes many of the best known women from around the world.
The three women inducted this year were: Gayle Anne Hurd, a movie and television producer who also is known as the “First Lady of Sci-Fi;” Olga Maria del Carmen Sanchez Condero, a justice on Mexico’s Supreme Court. Olga Sanchez has worked hard to make sure women were treated fairly in the courts; and Maureen Harding Clark, a judge from North Ireland who on the United Nations’ Warm Crimes tribunal
That leads us to the second globally significant event happening in Atlanta.
On Wednesday, Nov. 5, from 7 p.m. to 8 p.m., the Carter Center will be holding a special event called “The Elders: Building a Lasting Peace: Where are the Women.”
Two panels of Elders and women peace builders will explore what can be done to prevent conflicts, combat negative cultural norms, and ensure that women are part of peace-making efforts. This event promotes the recommendations on women’s role in peace building set out in President Carter’s acclaimed recent book “A Call to Action: Women, Religion, Violence, and Power.”
The first panel will look into the alternatives to violence and extremism being proposed by women.
What role can women play to prevent conflicts from breaking out? How do we involve women at the grassroots?
Participants will be: former U.S. President Jimmy Carter; Mary Robinson, first woman president of Ireland and former U.N. High Commissioner for Human Rights; Asha Haji Elmi, peace activist and member of the Federal Parliament of Somalia; and Sanam Naraghi Anderlini, a leading international advocate, researcher, and trainer on conflict prevention and training.
The second panel will discuss the role of women in peace negotiations and peace-building efforts. How can we ensure that women are involved in peace processes? What cultural norms are preventing women from taking up their place at the decision-making table?
Participants will be: former U.N. Secretary-General Kofi Annan; Hina Jilani, leading activist in Pakistan’s women’s movement and human rights champion; Jessica Neuworth, founder of Equality Now; and Manal Omar, acting vice president, Center for Middle East and Africa at the U.S. Institute of Peace.
The program will be moderated by Carter Center CEO Mary Ann Peter., a former U.S. ambassador to Bangladesh.
The third event will take place during a series of events at Georgia Tech’s Ivan Allen College from Nov. 11 to 13 when Beatrice Mtetwa will be awarded the prestigious Ivan Allen Prize for Social Courage.
She is the first woman to be receiving the Ivan Allen Prize, which comes with a $100,000 cash award, which was named for the courageous Atlanta Mayor Ivan Allen Jr. The late mayor was a beacon of racial tolerance during the volatile 1960s in a segregated South.
Mtetwa is a fearless lawyer from Zimbabwe who has been recognized for being an advocate for women’s equality and advancement. She has dedicated her life to representing those who have persecuted under the Mugabe regime. In 2009, Mtetwa became the only African other than Nelson Mandela to win the prestigious Ludovic-Trarieux International Human Rights Prize.
Atlanta’s hosting of the women’s-related human rights events reinforces the role that the Center for Civil and Human Rights is playing in the city. The Center already has declared that one of its focus areas will be on the rights of women around the world.