Unveiling the Bertha von Suttner Statue by Nobel Peace Prize Winner Leymah Gbowee

On August 28, 2013 a bust of Bertha von Suttner was unveiled at the Peace Palace. This historic moment marked the first time that a statue of a woman was placed in the Peace Palace. 2011 Nobel Peace Prize Laureate Leymah Gbowee unveiled the bust. Gbowee was the last woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize, an honor that she shared with Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and Tawakkol Karman.  

Gbowee's unveiling of the bust was a last event in a series of events organized by Professor Hope Elizabeth May (Central Michigan University) as part of her Centenary project "Piece of the Palace" designed to educate audiences both inside and outside of The Hague about the importance of the Peace Palace, The Hague tradition, and the ideas of Bertha von Suttner.  In introducing Gbowee at the official Centenary Celebration, May focused on how both von Suttner and Gbowee have broadened our understanding of education, noting that this deeper view of education should be considered as we continue to build a more peaceful world and implement Ban Ki Moon's -who was in attendance- recently launched "Education First" initiative which includes 'the promotion of global citizenship' as a component. 

Von Suttner stressed that the real agents of education are not textbooks and the classroom, but rather life and experience. Von Suttner further observed that education does not stop with formal schooling, but continues throughout one's life.  In her 1912 speech to the National Education Association, to which May referred, von Suttner wrote "every grown man or woman who wishes to deal with one of the great problems of the time must practically and unceasingly educate himself or herself in order to grasp its multifarious aspects".  Gbowee's work with peacebuilding in Liberia, as May noted, has further deepened our understanding of education. The success of Gbowee's campaign to organize thousands of women - both Christian and Muslim - to participate in a non-violent campaign to end the Liberian civil war has helped us to understand that empowerment, personal narrative and identity development can help heal the fabric of society and hence are also important to education for global citizenship, May noted.  Indeed, Gbowee's unveiling of the statute is in itself educational since von Suttner - the first woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize - was unveiled by Gbowee - the last woman to win the Nobel Peace Prize.  With that simple gesture one is educated about progress of peacebuilding during the last century, and the role of women in all continents, therein. In unveiling the statue, Gbowee warned against a militaristic solution to the problem in Syria - expressing her concern that such a solution would primarily be a display of military might of powerful countries.  Gbowee dedicated the statue to the women and children who have suffered due to armed conflict."   

To learn more about Bertha von Suttner, visit the Bertha von Suttner project, here.

Gbowee's visit to The Hague was generously funded by the Department of Philosophy & Religion and the College of Humanities and Social & Behavioral Sciences of Central Michigan University (CMU). CMU’s sponsorship of Gbowee's visit continues the legacy of the early leaders of CMU whom, in von Suttner’s time, were deeply involved in promoting cosmopolitanism through public education programs.  One such program included the celebration of Peace Day on May 18 - the day on which the 1899 Hague Peace Conference opened.

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