Dee Aker, Deputy Director, Institute for Peace and Justice and founer of Women Peacemaker Program.
Ludmila Popovici, Peacemaker participant from Moldova.
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CAVANAUGH: This is KPBS Midday Edition. I'm Maureen Cavanaugh. The 2012 Nobel peace prize will know announced this Friday. It is fair to say the international community is at last taking notice that women are in the forefront of peace efforts around the globe. Last year, three African women were honored with the prize, and this year, the university of San Diego is celebrating the 10th anniversary of its women peace makers program. We'll hear about some of the remarkable women who've taken part in this program and meet one of this year's peace makers. Dee Aker is deputy director of the institute for peace and justice and founder of the women peace maker program.
AKER: Thank you.
CAVANAUGH: And Ludmila Popovici is a participant from Moldova. Now, describe what this event is.
AKER: We bring in four women from some place around the world where they've stayed in their own country during difficult, violent times. And always women are putting civilization back together again. We're dealing with the crises that come afterwards, and avoiding a lot of conflicts.
CAVANAUGH: How are the women peace makers for your event chosen?
AKER: We have a lot of applications from around the world. Organizations working on the ground in many countries make originations for women they see who are really innovators, survivors. And we go through the applications, and the director of the program, Jen Freeman carefully examines this, and we bring four women from four different places in the world.
CAVANAUGH: And what is the criteria for a peace maker?
AKER: I wish in all reality we called them peace builders. So many of the women are not necessarily because we have a certain tag for bias maker like a negotiator. But it's a person who actually changes consciousness on the ground for individuals and communities so they can actually live together and build together societies that can function pretty well.
CAVANAUGH: And what do the women do when they get here? What constitutes the peace maker program?
AKER: When they're here, each woman works with a writer, a professional writer, and every single day of the week, documentarians are writing the story. How did they get that way, what are their practices? We have a body of information to share at the university, ands with universities worldwide, and filming on the ground. We try to capture the stories of what they do and how they do it and use it for the models. People are saying there are no models out there. Yes, they are, we just haven't been paying attention to them.
CAVANAUGH: And your women peace makers speak at events.
AKER: Absolutely. Tomorrow night the four that are in residence will be there speaking on a panel at 7:00 at the Joan crock institute for piece and justice. Each of the next several afternoons, Thursday afternoons, for students in particular. But there's an afternoon conversation from 12:30 until 1:30.
CAVANAUGH: You work with survivors of torture in Moldova. Where is Moldova?
POPOVICI: It is a country between Romania and Ukraine.
CAVANAUGH: How widespread was the use of torture in that area of the world?
POPOVICI: Widespread. And principally in this system, torture was used as -- how to say? The torture was used not only for political reasons but simply to force people to admit uncommitted crimes.
CAVANAUGH: So they were basically tortured in order to admit to things they did not do
POPOVICI: Yeah. And it was everyone who has been under arrest, everyone account be subjected to torture.
CAVANAUGH: So it was a typical method.
POPOVICI: Typical methods.
CAVANAUGH: And what regime? You're talking about the days of the Soviet rule.
POPOVICI: Yes, and after that, there was this endless transition period, torture started to be use by police.
CAVANAUGH: Because it was so familiar to them.
CAVANAUGH: Now, what made you want to work with survivors of torture?
POPOVICI: Oh. It's a long story. But when I started to work in Moldova, after 8 years of independence, and this endless transition, people became very depressed. And I saw a lot of traumatized people around me. And I started to put questions, why? And I started to identify some groups, special groups of people, first group was victims of political repressions, people who have been arrested and sent to Siberia, Kazakhstan, to gulag, and principally in Moldova, everyone has relatives, friends, etc, who have been among victims of political repression from the past. Peoples have been destroyed, very much. That's why when I heard about similar centers in Romania, I started to think about how to create something similar in Moldova because we had a lot of people.
CAVANAUGH: And what kind of trauma, what kind of problems do people have after they have been subjected to torture?
POPOVICI: Both physical and psychological trauma. Both. And the consequences for the rest of their life. Because after this period, after gulag, for example, they have been forced to keep silence, not to speak out about their problems, and these psychological consequences influenced very much their families, their relationships, their life, marital status, etc. When I started to work with them, we started to understand that this -- dimension or this span of our people, our country.
CAVANAUGH: How do you think your work helping people deal with that actually aids the cause of peacemaking?
POPOVICI: Helping them, especially recent victims of torture, to rebuild their life, to find this peace in their soul, to find the ways how to communicate with other people in their family, in their circles, etc, it's very useful for us to continue this activity. It's a very good moment for us because sometimes it's very difficult to work without financial stability. It's difficult for us to find money to help them because rehabilitation means money. Very difficult and extensive. In our center, we're tries to help them with physical problems, physical consequences, but it means treatment, medicine, etc. Also medical documentation to help them to go to court and to defend their rights. It's very important also. Because principally in Moldova, forensic medicine is only to state institutions, and sometimes for example have 5 cases assisted by our center.
CAVANAUGH: Now, we heard the widerange of work that she's doing, and how it goes into the legal aspect, the medical aspect, the family aspect, are the personal aspect. I'm just wondering, you have had now 10 years of being able to meet and host such women. Do you have any stories to tell us about some of the women that you've met and some of the stories that have stayed with you over the years?
AKER: Well, they all stay with you. And the fact that the women come from so much different backgrounds, Ludmila is a doctor, others are lawyers, others are simple people in villages. Of one stands out right now in my mind. From northern Kenya. The first woman subchief of police. There's a 2,000 year battle going on between cattle rustlers in the northern part of Kenya. They have been fighting forever. And in the last 300 years with guns. She's the first person who got these people to actually have a negotiation, put down their gun, and they're working together, primarily using the women from both sides and getting them together and letting them see that it's ridiculous. Every year their children, their husbands get lost in these battles. But there are so many women. Someone had much more visible influence. One of of the women was just with us, working with the Supreme Court in Guatemala, and she had brought in 15 people to testify during the Supreme Court on the sexual violations that occurred in the crisis there. So having a wide range of women, they're pretty impressive stories.
CAVANAUGH: What do you hear from the women themselves who have been at this event? What has the peace makers' program done for them?
AKER: It's been very exciting for us to hear the fact that it changed their lives. They came here, we thought we were helping them just document it. But it's transformative having four women from four different places in the world realize they have something to offer each other. But also they continue online. And now regionally, so they can deal with problems in their own area. They have a certain clout. They have credibility after this program. They go back, and their governments seek them out and say could you come and help us with this particular issue? It has multiple effects as well.
CAVANAUGH: Well, let me ask Ludmila, why is it important for you to be here?
POPOVICI: It's very important. I was very impressed by this program because after 12 years of this involvement, dealing with victims, it's very, very difficult. It's important for us to feel that we are not alone, we have sisters around the world, people who are working very hard in similar conditions, and to have to support each other, we have to learn how to deal with these situations. Now it's for important also for us to exchange experience and to share best practices, how to deal in some of the cases, how to use international instrument, how to access international institution, how to help victims to have good access to international institutions. So it's very, very important for us. It's incredible.
CAVANAUGH: Both men and women can work for peace. Why is it important to focus on women peace makers?
AKER: Their stories have not been documented. They just don't get the attention. And they continually work on the ground. I've been working in conflict resolution for years. I continually saw country after country. Who was putting things back together or who stopped the situation but no recognition. So I think we're better at recognizing men. They have more influence and power. But really, it doesn't work unless the women's stories are also told.
MAUREEN CAVANAUGH: And tell us just again how people can attend this peace maker program.
AKER: Yes, definitely tomorrow night, Wednesday night at the institution for peace and justice, 7:00 in the theatre, all four women will be there and we'll tell you then when you can meet them individually. And sometimes people invite them out to talk in their communities.
CAVANAUGH: I want to thank you both so much for speaking with us.
POPOVICI: Thank you, thank you.
AKER: Thank you so much, Maureen.