Long-time peace activist and proud Irish-Australian lesbian Dr Zohl de Ishtar is one of a group of 1,000 women from around the world in the running for this year’s Nobel Peace Prize.
De Ishtar, a researcher at the University of Queensland’s Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, is one of six Australians to join the 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize 2005 list.
The group represents all women working in all peace-related fields, and the nomination aims to raise awareness of the largely unrecognised work women do. Just 12 women have been recognised since the Nobel Peace Prize started in 1901, compared to 80 men and 20 organisations.
The -˜1,000 women’ is symbolic of thousands of women around the world who are doing peace work in the broader sense, de Ishtar told Sydney Star Observer.
De Ishtar, who has spent more than 20 years campaigning for peace and women’s rights, said she was honoured by the nomination. She is one of six nominees from Australia, from an original list of 40. The strength of the women she worked with -“ combined with her unique life experience -“ sustained her commitment to equal rights.
I’m always inspired to keep going, she said.
I’m Irish-Australian, which means I identify as a descendant of a still-colonised people -“ the northern counties of Ireland are still occupied -“ and also as a result of English colonialism in Australia I identify as a benefactor of the colonisation of Australia. I’ve got a foot in both camps.
And that’s what informs my work with indigenous people. My lesbian experience tells me what discrimination is and what it feels like. And that gives me the passion to work towards a more just society right across the board.
Her involvement in the nuclear-free and independent Pacific campaigns stretches back to 1983. She also founded the Lesbian Cancer Foundation in 1993 and helped establish the Lesbian Community Cultural Centre in Sydney in 1996. During the famous Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp protests in England during the 1980s de Ishtar was jailed nine times.
She has also written three books, two about nuclear testing and the struggle for Pacific independence, and the third -“ due out in September -“ is a critique of white culture inspired by two years spent living with Aboriginal women elders in Western Australia.
The way I deal with adversity is to actually get involved and get my hands dirty, de Ishtar said. Having confronted death and survived it [she survived cancer in 1991], I can’t imagine living any other way.
I definitely feel like I’m on bonus time. I’m very aware of the women in the Marshall Islands where they had nuclear testing, or in Polynesia, different places where nuclear testing is, or where uranium mining is, power stations, I’m very conscious of all that.
The list of 1,000 Women includes several HIV/ AIDS activists, as well as Charlotte Bunch, from Human Rights Watch, a US-based lobby group at the forefront of global gay and lesbian rights activism. De Ishtar said the group included women whose activism stretched back decades.
In the period leading up to the nominations I was constantly aware of the whole history of women in the peace movement.
We all have to engage ourselves in changing the world. As a lesbian, one of the things we have to do is try and make the world a better place for lesbians to be in.
The 1,000 Women for the Nobel Peace Prize are up against 196 other nominees. De Ishtar said the entry was not really about winning the Prize.
We’re in this to raise visibility of what we’ve been doing around the world, and we’re already achieving that, she said.