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profiles of peaceful women

by Sierra Bacquie | August 3, 2005

Last week, this site featured the article “Will women win the Nobel Peace Prize?” which explained:

The 1000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 project was born in Switzerland, but is spreading throughout the world. It seeks to recognize and honour women's contributions to peace. This is “peace” in the broadest sense of the word, meaning not just the absence of violence or war, but personal security and social justice for all.

The project has nominated 1,000 women for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize – women who stand symbolically for the millions who work every day, in every corner of the earth, in the name of peace.

Nine of those women live in Canada. Over the next two weeks, this site will fill you in on their stories. This week:

Louise Arbour | Akua Benjamin | Marjorie (Maggie) Hodgson
(See our related feature, “Muriel Duckworth – Peace Activist” for more about her.)

LOUISE ARBOUR

She is one of Canada’s most distinguished jurists, and has served as the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights since mid-2004. Louise Arbour is perhaps best known for her role as the UN’s Chief Prosecutor for the International Criminal Tribunals for the Former Yugoslavia and for Rwanda, which she began in 1996 and completed in 1999. The Montreal-born Arbour preceded her current posting with a long list of illustrious accomplishments, including positions with:

  • The Law Reform Commission of Canada
  • The Canadian Civil Liberties Association
  • Osgoode Hall Law School

And appointments to:

  • The Ontario Court of Appeal
  • The Supreme Court of Canada

In 1995, Justice Arbour headed a Commission of Inquiry into “certain events” that took place at the (now closed) Kingston Prison for Women the previous year. These events included an all-male emergency-response team storming into one unit, strip-searching, and “extracting” several female inmates. The Arbour Commission recommended sweeping reforms to the way in which Canada’s penal system treats female inmates.

Justice Arbour has published extensively on human rights and justice-related issues, and received several honorary degrees. In its April 19, 2004 issue, Time magazine named her one of the world’s 100 most influential people.

“Your professional accomplishments will never be the only measure of your worth.” Justice Arbour said in her remarks to the 2001 graduating class at Newfoundland’s Memorial University. “I wish you the good fortune of working, as I have, with courageous people who stand for something.”

She could as easily have been speaking about the 1000 Peace Women Project when she said that: “Celebrations of accomplishments [provide an] occasion to reflect broadly on the duty – and the privilege – of making a contribution. A contribution that is often more within our reach than we realize, and when it is not, is always worth the extra distance.”

A feature-length film about Justice Arbour’s life is currently in production.

AKUA BENJAMIN

Akua Benjamin has been fighting racism, sexism and oppression and advocating for social justice for more than 30 years. She is a former president of the Toronto chapter of the Congress of Black Women and a founding member of the Coalition of Visible Minority Women. Moved to study and practice of social work by a simple desire to “reduce human suffering,” Ms. Benjamin graduated from the University of Toronto with a degree in social work in the 1980s. She began teaching at Ryerson University in 1988, and is now the Director of Ryerson’s Social Work Department.

Despite her academic and professional credentials, it is perhaps as a grassroots community activist that Benjamin is best known – and for which she is most respected. She has worked with countless coalitions aimed at bringing about positive social change on a wide range of issues: ethnic diversity, policing, the rights of immigrant domestic workers, Aboriginal self-determination, social welfare, women’s equality, intercultural communications – among others.

“Being in a leadership position does not make you a leader,” Akua told a meeting of social workers in the winter of 2005. “Leaders are identified by a community. You become identified as a leader when others recognize that you contribute to some meaningful change.”

Ms. Benjamin is part of the management team overseeing a five-year, million-dollar study examining the effect that racism, violence and health have on African-Canadian individuals and families. The project has been financed by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research.

Akua Benjamin is a woman in a leadership position who is truly a leader.

MARJORIE (MAGGIE) HODGSON

Maggie Hodgson, a member of the Carrier First Nation, is a healing-and-wellness activist, educator and author based in Edmonton, Alberta. She is the Special Advisor to the Deputy Minister of Indian Residential Schools Resolution Canada (IRSRC) – the department of the Canadian government responsible for dealing with the legacy of the residential schools and former residents’ claims for compensation. She is a cofounder of the May 26 National Day of Healing and Reconciliation, which acknowledges the abuse and cultural annihilation suffered by Aboriginal children in Canada’s residential schools. Hodgson herself is a survivor of the residential schools.

Ms. Hodgson works with others to “build understanding, a shared truth, and a better world for my grandchildren and other people's grandchildren.” She began working in the offices of the Native Counselling Services of Alberta, and then became a community developer and paralegal with Moose Jaw Legal Services. She went on to become the Chief Executive Officer of the Nechi Training, Research and Health Promotions Institute, and Special Advisor on Residential Schools for the Assembly of First Nations. Hodgson co-founded the first three programs for Aboriginal people to be administered and staffed by Aboriginals.

A regular and in-demand speaker at conferences and workshops, Maggie Hodgson has co-written four books, one of which – Nation to Nation – is part of the curriculum at dozens of universities around the world. She has received countless awards, including the United Nations Community Development Award, and two honorary doctorates. A tree has been planted in her name in the Peace Park in Israel, in honour of the work she has done for peace.

Maggie Hodgson believes that the 1000 Peace Women Project is a valuable effort: it acknowledges the important work of people other than “the Einsteins of the world,” and will "build bridges [among communities]where there are none and strengthen those that already exist."

This feature was first published on section15.ca’s predecessor site CoolWomen.

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