International women's summit in Abu Dhabi calls for end to war and protection of survivors

Politicians and peace activists urge ceasefire in Gaza and protection of Palestinian women at Forbes 30/50 conference on International Women's Day

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Nobel Peace laureates and survivors of violence have made an urgent call to protect women and children on the final day of an international conference that brought together female leaders from around the world.

The need for dialogue and compromise in war-torn Gaza and Ukraine was the focus for speakers at the Forbes 30/50 summit that concluded in Abu Dhabi on Friday, International Women's Day.

The four-day conference, which started on Tuesday, drew leading women from more than 30 countries, spanning the business, creative and non-government sectors.

Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, the former president of Liberia and first elected woman head of state in Africa, said it was the responsibility of all nations to stop the killing of innocent people.

There is need for a leadership that can bring the parties together, talk about the reasons for conflict and try to identify solutions
Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, former president of Liberia and a Nobel Peace Prize winner

“The continuation of war is for all people all over the world an unacceptable condition,” said the 85-year-old, who won the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize for fighting for women's safety in the West African nation.

“We must all take a role to find a means to be able to stop this,” she said.

Call to action for peace

The former president hoped that world leaders would co-operate to find a solution to the conflicts so that “no nation would stand alone”.

“My call to action is for peace in all nations where the innocent suffer from war,” she said.

“In the conflicts going on in Palestine and Ukraine, the concern is what happens to innocent people, the death, destruction, hunger of poor people who are the victims.

“There is need for a leadership that can bring the parties together and talk about the reasons for conflict and try to identify solutions.”

Nebal Farsakh, head of communications of the Palestine Red Crescent Society, told of the pain of speaking to colleagues in Gaza who had lost relatives during the Israeli bombardment.

“On International Women's Day, we should remember the unprecedented suffering of the Palestinian women in Gaza,” she said.

“Most mothers are going hungry. Ninety-five per cent of mothers skip meals to ensure their children have something to eat.

“The suffering is unprecedented because people are not only dying because of bombardment but because of hunger.”

About 31,000 Palestinians have been killed and more than 72,000 injured in Gaza from Israeli bombings, after the October 7 Hamas attack on Israel in which 1,200 people were killed and 253 taken hostage.

Ms Farsakh said Palestinian women continued to take care of their families despite shortages of food, clean water and medicine.

“We need to celebrate the resilience of the Palestinian women in Gaza. Despite unimaginable losses, they are the source of hope for family members and their communities,” she said.

Her message was to support a ceasefire to allow life-saving aid to enter the Gaza Strip.

“I think everyone can make a difference. We should try to educate others, call for a ceasefire that will allow us to get sustained humanitarian access to all areas of Gaza,” she added.

Speak up for survivors

Nadia Murad, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate and UN goodwill ambassador, appealed to people to speak up for rape victims in conflict situations.

She was taken captive by ISIS terrorists in 2014 in Iraq, forced into slavery and repeatedly raped until she was able to escape.

“The most important is for survivors is to face their perpetrators in court,” she said.

“That is what ISIS and like-minded groups are afraid of. They are not afraid of being killed but they are scared of facing survivors in a courtroom.”

Ms Murad is working to document the mass killings and brutality carried out by ISIS militants, so they can be put on trial for atrocities against her community, the Yazidis, a minority group in northern Iraq.

“As we speak today on International Women’s Day, we still have 2,800 Yazidi women and girls missing in captivity,” she said.

“We cannot let ISIS get away with the crimes and genocide of women and men.

“To prevent this happening again is only possible through accountability and justice.”

Ukrainian actress and peace activist Ivanna Sakhno also called for peace while praising the spirit of the women in her home country two years after the Russian invasion.

“The women are the beacon of hope to me,” said the actress who fears for the safety of her father and other relatives who continue to live in Ukraine.

“I’m reminded of the resilience of the women, their undying spirit despite the psychological stress they have been enduring.”

Speakers at the four-day conference said there was cause for hope if the world came together to protect the survivors.

“My message is that we look at each other and stop saying things that hurt,” said holocaust survivor Aliza Erber, who hid for almost two years in an underground bunker to escape capture by the Nazis.

“Hate leads to destruction and that’s why I talk to different groups, different religions to say that underneath our skin we are all the same.

“I’m hopeful that in the hands of the young, there will be change, there will be peace.”

Updated: March 08, 2024, 4:56 PM