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Nobel Laureates, Sally Field, and Other Muzzled Peace Voices

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Sunday night at the Emmy Awards Sally Field was cut off by the Fox Network during her anti-war statements in her acceptance speech. This wouldn't be the first time women speaking out for peace have been silenced, and the story that links Sally Field's comments to a major women's peace event winding up on that same day, are an intriguing, and ironic, part of that story.

This past weekend the Omega Institute for Holistic Studies in Rhinebeck, New York, gathered a diverse group of amazing women for a conference called "Women, Power & Peace." The event was organized by the Women's Institute at Omega; V-Day, the organization opposing violence toward women, founded by The Vagina Monologues playwright Eve Ensler; and The Nobel Women's Initiative, a new organization founded last year by five women Nobel Peace Prize winners dedicated to "peace with justice and equality."

On the first evening of the conference, Omega Institute co-founder Elizabeth Lesser announced that scheduled speaker Sally Field, who had participated in several of Omega's Women & Power events, was unable to be there. Field, who plays the matriarch in the television series, Brothers & Sisters, was nominated for one of the Emmy Awards, which were being televised on Sunday night. Lesser added, "She's incredibly sad not to be here, but she promised both Eve and myself that if she wins, she'll make the speech be about women, power and peace," eliciting booming applause from the audience. Field did indeed win the Emmy last night, and in her acceptance speech (the end of which was cut off by Fox), she said, "Surely this belongs to all the mothers of the world. May they be seen, may their work be valued and raised. Especially to the mothers who stand with an open heart and wait. Wait for their children to come home from danger, from harm's way, and from war. I am proud to be one of those women. If mothers ruled the world, there would be no..." (And this was where she was cut off from the broadcast): "god-damned wars in the first place." As of Monday morning, other news services from around the world are picking up the story and airing the full quote.

The Women, Power & Peace event that Field missed was headlined by three Nobel Laureates, Betty Williams (1976; for her work with Mairead Corrigan as founders of the Northern Ireland Peace Movement), Rigoberta Menchu Tum (1992; for her campaigns for human rights, especially for indigenous people, in Guatemala) and Jody Williams (1997; an American who worked for the banning and clearing of anti-personnel mines). They were joined by several women from conflict zones, who told their wrenching stories of horrific atrocities happening to women and girls in their countries. The conference was a parade of inspiring women, and the audience was repeatedly brought their feet in impassioned support of their powerful messages.

The event also featured a variety of other inspiring women, ranging from well-known media figures such as Jane Fonda, Kerry Washington and Pat Mitchell, opinion leaders and activists such as Majora Carter, along with renowned academics such as Kimberle Williams Crenshaw, Carol Gilligan and Riane Eisler.

The event sought to raise awareness and consciousness about these issues, and build momentum to empowering women and taking effective actions towards a lasting global peace. The questions were complex and there were no easy solutions. Yet the ensuing dialogue about creating new paradigms of both "power" and "peace," and defining the essential and desperately needed role that women (and men) in touch with their true feminine power have to play, seeded the potential to create the shifts that can heal this increasingly troubled and dangerous world.

Like Sally Field, not all the women who were invited and wanted to be there were able to attend. Aung San Suu Kyi, who won the Nobel prize in 1991 for her human rights work in Burma, has been under house arrest (her fellow laureates continually called for a campaign to free her); she was represented at the event by a tribute by actor/activist Kerry Washington. Sherin Ebadi, the 2003 Nobel winner for her work in Iran for democracy and human rights, had been a confirmed speaker, but it was announced on the first night of the conference that due to both bureaucracy (or perhaps a bit of purposeful conspiracy, as Ensler suggested) was unable to get a visa in time. The fact that these two women were kept from the conference was further evidence of the resistance and censorship of women's voices today. As Elizabeth Lesser, the co-founder of Omega Institute stated, when announcing Ebadi's inability to obtain a visa, "The irony I'm sure is not lost on any of you -- that a Nobel Peace Prize winner would not be allowed to speak at a conference about peace between the two nations in the world that are in grave need of conversing about peace". She then added, "Aung San Suu Kyi, who is under house arrest now in Burma, says, 'There is an age-old prejudice the world over, that women talk too much. But is this really weakness? Could it not in fact be the strength the world needs?' So it's understandable that you would feel the loss of her not being here, but I hope you'll also take it as motivation to speak up, to speak out for peace."

Little did Sally Field realize that by not appearing at a conference about Women, Power and Peace, she wound up being the most visible example of what this event was all about, and proving that silencing of women is not just limited to foreign countries, but very much alive here in the U.S. (and on the Fox Network).

Marianne Schnall is a writer and interviewer, founder of Feminist.com, and co-founder of EcoMall.com.

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