«CORA WEISS ORAL HISTORY PROJECT The Reminiscences of Cora Weiss Columbia Center for Oral History Columbia University PREFACE The following oral ...»
Weiss: That's a serious problem, because I had a big fight with the representative from Amnesty [International], I'll never forget it. But I can't remember what it was about. [laughter] She, I think, was only an intern at the time at AI [Amnesty International]. But because she represented such a powerful institution, she brought authority to the table. I mean, her views were taken seriously. But I can't remember what. So, we argued, we compromised, we discussed, we agreed.
And UNIFEM brought a woman from the Namibian Mission to the U.N. who could help us learn Security Council language. The reason we picked Namibia is because Namibia was going to be the president of the Security Council in October, and we needed a friend. Namibia had just completed something called the Windhoek Declaration, which was a declaration about women
This tall, wonderful woman came, I can't remember her name, and she helped us with Security Council language. And we began drafting. We drafted a draft for October, because Namibia would be president, Jamaica had a woman ambassador, and was on the Council, and Anwarul Chowdhury from Bangladesh was on the Council. So, we had three good friends, three feminists.
We geared our effort to October. We had a draft ready. We went around the table, and assigned people to the different countries, the fifteen countries of the U.N., to, "Lobby them" on the draft.
We sent the draft to Angela King. She was the Secretary General's gender advisor. She was from Jamaica. She took the draft and she gave it to her deputy, who was a young Russian man. The combination of “Russia,” culturally, politically, historically and “man” didn't bode well for us.
He stayed up all night long, and he turned our draft into nineteen paragraphs. The only thing wrong with it—I was going to show it to you, but I didn't bring it to the table is that it never utters the word, "Shall." And that omission of demand is what created the doubts. He brought it to her in the morning, and she took it to the Security Council on the last day of Namibia's presidency.
And they had never seen anything like it before, and Anwarul Chowdhury made a terrific speech.
He also made a terrific speech in March, on International Women's Day. So, we knew we had a solid friend. And basically, how could all these men and one or two women say no to women?
We created kind of an embarrassing situation. Embarrassment is a very important form of diplomacy. I discovered that during the Vietnam War. They adopted it unanimously. So here's another doubt: They didn't vote, they adopted. That created yet another doubt in—
Weiss: Well, it turns out not to be.
Weiss: But the women, who had no experience with U.N. resolutions or the Security Council, doubted that it was real, that it was as valuable as a resolution that would be voted. But again, Hans Corell came to our rescue and said, "Look at Article 25. The Security Council dealt with it, and now member states are required to carry it out." And so, we have. Even the United States came through in December of 2010, with a National Action Plan.
Q: Do you recall what nation you lobbied?
Weiss: Oh, that's a good question. Probably Jamaica, because I knew the ambassador, and she was a friend. Lucille Mair.
Q: Did you have any conversation with the Americans?
Weiss: No. I deliberately stayed away, because I didn't want them to turn me down. So, somebody who wasn't known to them went to see them.
Weiss: Who was the U.S. ambassador?
Q: I can't remember.
Weiss: I have to look it up. I have no idea. It could have been Madeleine Albright.
Weiss: In 2000? I don't know.
Q: Could have been. Yes, could have been.
Weiss: So, one day, I asked Madeleine Albright at a meeting at the Council on Foreign Relations, how come you don't implement 1325, which was adopted on October 31st? "Oh," she said, "Because it was adopted on Halloween."
Q: [laughs] What did she mean by that? Or, what did you think she meant by that?
Weiss: She didn't take it seriously.
Weiss: Anyway, it's been adopted. We have a National Action Plan in the United States. It has its wrinkles, because the first agency in the U.S. that it was given to for drafting, national action, was the military. The Department of Defense. That was the last place that we had in mind when we were working around the table, because this was a peace agreement, as far as we were concerned. It was to promote peace, and it was to include women at the peacemaking table. We discovered in the Irish Peace Agreement that it made a huge difference. That's a whole story about the Irish Peace Agreement and me.
Q: Well, now you can fast forward to that. It's a logical subparagraph.
Weiss: Except I think the Irish Peace Agreement was April 10, 1998. But in any event, it's linked because I took a group of Americans, I think we were a dozen, on a peace process tour to Ireland, September 16th to 25th, 1994. I have two huge files about it in the office. We went to the North.
But before we got to the North, we got off the airplane, and we went immediately to Mary Robinson, who was then president. Even though it was drizzling, she walked us around the president's place. It's like a little mansion, in Dublin. She talked to each one of us. It was a remarkable choreography and conversation. We told her we were going to the North, and she invited us to come back when we were finished, to report to her, which was fabulous opening.
We then went to Belfast, we went to the North. We were met by Caitriona Ruane, who worked for the Center for Research and Documentation. It was a research outfit, and she hosted us and took us around. We met with the Irish women, Catholic and Protestant. The one thing they asked
They would be attacked. When we finished the tour, after we had been in a prison, we had been in the police department, we had met with Irish Catholics and Protestants and slept in the homes—all of us were assigned to a home of Northern Irish people. When we went back to Dublin to take the plane back to New York, we met with not only Mary Robinson, but with Jean Smith, who was President Kennedy's sister and the U.S. Ambassador to Ireland. The one thing we told both of the women was, the one message we're bringing back is the Irish women need a safe place to meet. And they arranged it. At that place, the Irish women agreed that they would go to George Mitchell, who was the U.S. facilitator for the Irish peace talks, to resolve The Troubles, to end The Troubles.
George Mitchell said to them, "No, you can't have a place at the table, because it's only set for political parties." They went back and they formed the Irish Women's political party. They came to George, and they said, "We're sent by the political party, the Irish Women's—" He said, "Fine." They got not one, but two seats at the table. What they did at that table has not been replicated since. They refused to let the men, who represented the political parties, go forward until they got their human rights demands institutionalized. It was a remarkable and successful effort.
Q: These were human rights for women?
Weiss: Human rights for everybody.
Weiss: Those human rights demands are in the famous agreement, it's called the "Good Friday Agreement." That agreement is referenced by many of the subsequent peace processes. The South Africans went to Ireland to talk to the people who sat at the table. How did you do it?
What did you do? They learned lessons from the Troubles Agreement, from the Good Friday Agreement, to use for South Africa's agreement to end Apartheid. It was used by other countries.
It's a very important agreement, and the fact that it has these institutions for human rights is, "Spot on," as they say in South Africa. So, where were we? We have 1325. We use it. We have training sessions about it.
There's an organization that's devoted almost entirely—the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders—it's devoted almost entirely to implementing 1325 in developing countries, and helping the women understand how they can use it at the local level, as well as at the national level, because your village shouldn't be an exclusively male hierarchy, ignoring the women, ignoring their right to participation. It gives women the right to participate.
Q: Now, going through your speeches, I noticed that it was post 1325 that you make a very obvious effort to publicize 1325, and going back to it in many kinds of contexts, not just peace process, but women, the particular roles of women, and actually, in some cases, discriminatory policies towards women, et cetera, et cetera. Do other people do that, or have you taken this as
Weiss: Oh, sure. No, it's among my missions, but it's integrated with everything I do. I do peace education, and then women. I'm working now on an op-ed piece that's being written by Sanam Anderlini, and I'm helping her edit it, for [William J.] Hague, the foreign minister of England, who's called a meeting for next week of ministers, a ministerial meeting on rape. Initially, it was going to be rape, I think, of women in general, rape and abuse. But now, it's limited to rape and violent conflict. The problem with his proposal, and the direction that he's going to take the discussion, is that he wants to pluck rape out of war and let the war go on. That's one of my bestused phrases these days.
So, I had an opportunity yesterday to meet Peggy Kerry, who is a friend, and who works at the U.S. Mission in charge of non-governmental organizations, civil society. She told me that he was going to go, that John Kerry, her brother, was going to go to Hague's conference for one day. I said, "Peggy, would you like John to take a message to Hague? We can't let rape be plucked out of war and let the war go on. They have to be dealt with simultaneously." She said, "Of course.
Of course that's right." "Well," I said, "It's not the way it's going to happen.” She's going to convey my message. I spoke to Sanam this morning, and I said, "Send me an executive summary of the op-ed," which she's putting on OpenDemocracy.org in London. So, that's how things happen. You have lunch with somebody, you meet them, they tell you something that you might know something about.
Weiss: It's you and me. It's not corporations and it's not government. It's people who have the right to vote, and it's people whose public opinion, whose opinions, help to move policy, we hope. It's worked in a number of cases.
Q: But when you talk about it, you also talk about it in terms of—you said— Weiss: Organized.
Q: —non-government agencies, in terms of organizations.
Weiss: Right. NGO [Non-Governmental Organization] is a phrase that—it means NonGovernmental Organization.
Weiss: But I think it frequently means No-Good Organization. So I prefer to talk about Organized Civil Society, or CSOs, Civil Society Organizations.
Q: Well, give me an example of an organization in which you and I would be participants in
Weiss: Women Strike for Peace was a Civil Society Organization. The Hague Appeal for Peace is a Civil Society Organization. The Lawyer's Committee on Nuclear Policy is a Civil Society Organization.
Weiss: They are organizations that bring together mere mortals and promote social change, or whatever they promote. They're not limited to social change, but I work with the social change Civil Society Organizations. I am passionate about organized civil society. I think I would never be in a corporation, that I'm aware of, because I'm not out for profit. I've long ago decided never to be in government.
Q: So, these are—in some of the pieces I have, the list of organizations with which you've been identified, committees, conferences, et cetera, runs page after page after page that are any number of organizations. So, this is, to my mind, then, this is the connection between the listing of all of those organizations and the philosophy behind it.
Weiss: The philosophy behind it is that— Q: You have to be organized.
Weiss: You have to be organized and be—you have to be people of similar mindsets, I mean, to
Q: Now, I've interviewed a number of people who are deeply embedded in conservative movements. They start with the argument that anything the government does is wrong, and the alternative to the government is the individual, or people who organize outside of government agencies which is, in many cases, exactly what you're talking about.
Weiss: Except that that's an anarchic argument, isn't it?
Q: Yes. Tell me why.
Weiss: We support government, because government makes change, makes policy. So we're there to influence government. I hope that's one major distinguishing characteristic. I mean, that sounds like libertarians and anarchists.
Q: Yes. Yes.
Weiss: Yes, well, that's not my cup of tea.
Q: That's what I was trying to get at.
Weiss: You know, I'll tell you another thing, since we were talking about women. I've looked through some of the things I've said a long, long, long time ago, my early, early speeches. I'm
because a man was elected and not me, and the women voted for the man when I was in high school—I don't know what it was because of. Or, because of the influence I had from my mother and books that I read when I was very young, but I started out talking about “Women, women everywhere, and not enough in power.” Or, “Women count if you count the women.” Or, “Where are the women?” I just wanted women, period. Then I evolved and the movements evolved, and we all got more sophisticated. At one point, Bella Abzug started to talk about—she wanted a large group of women, concentration of women. A "critical mass" was the word she used. So, I adopted that idea, and then I realized that if you had a critical mass of women in this country, they could be Tea Party women, because the Tea Party had a majority of women members.
Q: Oh, yes?