Nobel Laureate Jody Williams, whose work with the International Campaign to Ban Landmines (ICBL) resulted in an international treaty, told Meredith College students that every person has the power to make the world a better place.
Williams presented the 2013 Lillian Parker Wallace Lecture at Meredith College on April 2, at 7 p.m. in Jones Auditorium. She shared her story as a grassroots activist, which took her from Vermont to the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize.
Her life is an example of how a “normal person” could work with others to change the world, Williams said. As a founder of the ICBL, Williams said she worked with thousands of others to “bring attention to what happens to people and societies in war and after war.”
“We pressed, pushed and called for a ban. Landmine survivors became part of the effort … all of us together were able to inspire governments,” Williams said. The effort resulted in a sweeping international treaty banning antipersonnel landmines (weapons designed to harm humans) being signed by 122 nations in December 1997. One week after that historic event, Williams became the tenth woman (and only the third American woman) in history to receive the Nobel Peace Prize.
Williams said she found receiving the Nobel Peace Prize unsettling at first. “I don’t want to be a role model – I’m an activist,” Williams said, describing what she felt was the weight of the honor.
A partnership with other women Nobel laureates changed Williams’ feelings. Along with Nobel Laureate Shirin Ebadi of Iran, she took the lead in establishing the Nobel Women’s Initiative.
“With the Nobel Women’s Initiative, we are trying to share our Nobel Peace Prize with women working around the world for peace and equality,” Williams said. “It suddenly made sense to me … now those women get to be heard.”
Ebadi and Williams were joined in 2006 by Nobel Laureates Wangari Maathai (Kenya), Rigoberta Menchú Tum (Guatemala) and Betty Williams and Mairead Maguire (Northern Ireland). The Initiative uses the prestige of the Nobel Peace Prize and the influence and access of the women Nobel Laureates themselves to support and amplify the efforts of women around the world working for sustainable peace with justice and equality.
Williams is inspired by “people no one knows, who get up every day in the most dire circumstances and work to make peace.”
She encouraged the young women in the audience to use their lives to make a difference.
“Don’t be afraid to think outside the system. Think, say things you believe, and don’t be afraid to make people uncomfortable,” Williams said. “Change happens when people are uncomfortable.”
The Wallace Lecture honors Dr. Lillian Parker Wallace, who served as professor of history at Meredith from 1921 to 1962. Jody Williams is the fifth Nobel laureate to present the Wallace Lecture, following Jimmy Carter (1986), Elie Wiesel (2003), Shirin Ebadi (2006) and Wangari Maathai (2009). The lecture has been presented seven times since 1978.
To view a photo album of Jody Williams at Meredith, visit the College’s Facebook page.
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