In Their Hands: The Power of Partnerships with women leading peace

May 13, 2022

By: Camilla Stamp

More than 1 million peacekeepers have served under the UN flag since 1948. Peacekeeping is a collective endeavour, working with governments, military, police and the justice sector, as well as civil society, women and youth, local community leaders and UN partners.

Peacekeeping partnerships help us create conditions where peace can last and development can grow. Leading up to the International Day of UN Peacekeepers on 29 May, we are bringing the voices and perspectives of our partners and peacekeepers driving change on the ground.

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Since 2021, the Department of Peace Operations at the UN, the Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs, and UN Women, together with New York City’s iconic Photoville festival, have been working with local women photographers working in conflict-affected contexts. The powerful partnership effort led to the photo exhibition, “In Their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace”, which elevated the voices of 14 women who have mediated with armed groups, participated in peace talks, advanced political solutions, and advocated for women’s rights and participation in Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, Mali, South Sudan, Sudan, Lebanon, Yemen, and Colombia.

The exhibit continues to travel around the world, including the UN Office in Nairobi, Kenya; Kinshasa, the Democratic Republic of Congo; Kadugli (South Kordofan) in Sudan and the Dubai Expo 2020 in Dubai, UAE. Most recently, the exhibit made a come back in Bangui, the Central African Republic and some of the women photographers shared their challenges and aspirations in an online discussion, “Women, Peace, Power: Women Photographers as Peacebuilders”, moderated by Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming.

Today, we zoom in on some of the women photographers that helped bring the photo exhibition to life.

Can you tell us what you learned from capturing the work of women peace activists and why you wanted to be a part of the project?

Maura Ajak (South Sudan): “I have learned a lot. [This project] has taught me to see how women are writing the history of our country, becoming peacebuilders and giving a new future to young girls.”

Maura Ajak is a local woman photographer, freelance reporter, and camerawoman from South Sudan.Her work focusses on human rights issues including the prevention of sexual violence in South Sudan by elevating the voices of youth and people with disabilities, among others.

What have you learned photographing peace activists and what do you want the world to see through these images?

Hana Haza’a (Yemen): “If it wasn’t for photography, our voices would not be heard. No one would know the extent of suffering the Yemeni people are going through. Photography has played an important role in conveying this to the world and shedding light on Yemen as a country and its people.”

Hana Haza’a is a professional photographer and civil society activist based in Taiz, Yemen. Most recently, she launched a campaign calling for the reopening of the main road to and from Taiz to lift the siege of the city and advocates on a daily basis for women’s participation in peace and security, humanitarian relief and the role of Taiz youth in the peace process.

Samy Vasquez (Colombia): “Photography has always been male-centric, and women are seldom valued in this field. But through our work, we are proving that women are political subjects with a voice. Women photographers are capable of telling moving stories and contributing to peace.”

As an ex-FARC member and a signatory of the Final peace Agreement in Colombia, Samy serves as an inspiration with her involvement as a communication officer in the Dialogue and Negotiation Commission in Havana that led to her country’s peace agreement.

What challenges did you face as women photographers?

Maura (South Sudan): “Every day I face new challenges! At the beginning, you feel like you are not accepted within the field, but this is the passion that I have, the dream that I have, and no matter how much it will take, it will not stop me. The tough road has taught [me] how to change the narrative of the environment that we are living in, how to move ahead on issues on gender equality, and how to respect my rights and other women’s rights.”

Samy Vasquez (Colombia): “Within photography, work has not been easy for women. But now we are capable of showing that we are empowered women that can contribute to peacebuilding. Because without women, peace is not possible. […] From this position we keep on building our country and we keep on working for a stable peace in Colombia.”

As drivers of change and peace, Maura, Sammy and Hana’a are front-line activists and their work shows the true power of partnerships: “if the UN had hired men to take these photographs, we would have seen very different visuals. […] It is not hard to find amazing women photographers, there are thousands of them, and I think these stories should be told through the lens of a woman. As an organization, we advocate for that.”, stresses Laura Roumanos, Executive Director and Co-founder of Photoville.

Under-Secretary-General for Global Communications, Melissa Fleming, emphasized the importance of the storytelling done by these women photographers, stating:

“These photographers are not only intimately familiar with the conflict and instability in their countries, but also fighting to ensure that the stories are told and their images are seen.”

You can watch the online discussion “Women, Peace, Power: Women Photographers as Peacebuilders” here.

To see the work of local women photographers and learn more about the groundbreaking work of local women leaders and peacebuilders, watch the “In Their Hands: Women Taking Ownership of Peace” exhibition online.

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Ahead of #PKDay on 29 May, join UN Peacekeeping’s campaign People Peace Progress: The Power of Partnerships, as we highlight the stories of peacekeeping and the power of partnerships that help us secure peace, progress and sustainable development.

More #PKDay information: https://peacekeeping.un.org/en/international-day-of-peacekeepers-2022

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