Making the Invisible Visible: Women Leading Nonviolent Movements at USIP



In celebration of Women’s History Month 2020 One Woman One Vote Festival and U.S. Institute of Peace (USIP) presented the symposium Women Leading Nonviolent Movements, featuring multigenerational perspectives by nonviolent change leaders and activists from Venezuela, Afghanistan, Uganda, Syria, and the United States. #WLNVM was trending in the top 5 on Twitter and featured footage from the series “Eyes on the Prize”, and a trailer from the PBS series “Women War and Peace II.” The following post is by Kat Manouchehri, a graduate student at American University who attended the symposium.

As I left the Women Leading Nonviolent Movements Lecture, I felt a tightness in my chest. Not the kind that constricts your breath, but the fullness that comes from a sense of pride. I felt connected to the women and men in that room; it was as if we all felt the need to fight for women, whose voices are usually silenced and invisible, to become stronger, prevalent, and most importantly, visible.

The story that resides with me the most from the panel was a personal experience shared by Scovia Arinaitwe, Team Leader of Rhizing Women Uganda. Arinaitwe was brutally arrested in 2017 during a nonviolent protest. She was beaten and pushed down a flight of stairs during the arrest, causing her recent C-section scar to tear open. She said she did not receive medical assistance for five days. The point of her account was not the brutality, but that it was a lesson— she said it gave her a sense of why women do not risk fighting for their rights; it can be painful and dangerous. However, she said her experience made her a stronger leader, and that she wants to encourage and lead women so that they can rise too.

The panel brought together women from the United States, Syria, Uganda, Venezuela, and Afghanistan, solidifying that the unity of women is stronger than any race. Sitting in the same room as these women, hearing their stories and learning from them, made it visible to me just how silenced women can be. However, hearing these stories gave me hope that by empowering and uplifting one another, women can build solidarity across the world. Conversations like this encourage women and men to stand together against injustices.

Kathleen Kuehnast, Director, Gender Policy and Strategy, USIP; Judy Richardson, Civil Rights Activist and Producer, "Eyes on the Prize"
Kathleen Kuehnast, Director, Gender Policy and Strategy, USIP; Judy Richardson, Civil Rights Activist, Producer for Eyes on the Prize

Top photo: LtoR Marie Berry (University of Denver), Mahbouba Seraj (Afghan Women's Network), Isabella Picón (LaboCiudadano - Venezuela), Scovia Arinaitwe (Rhizing Women Uganda), Mariam Jalabi (Syrian Nonviolence Movement), Maria Stephan, Director, Nonviolent Action, USIP) Photo credit: United Institute of Peace

Kat Manouchehri is an International Peace and Conflict Resolution graduate student at American University. She has an undergraduate degree in journalism and political science from the University of Kentucky. Her areas of interest are political psychology, crisis management, and risk analysis.