Women Who Changed History


Jody Williams

Jody Williams
Question: How did you get started as an activist?
Jody Williams: I was in college during the Vietnam War. I was concerned about what was happening in Vietnam so I began to learn that I could ask questions about foreign policy and try to take action to make a difference.

Question: What is your job relating to landmines?
Jody Williams: I actually was one of the people who started the International Campaign to Ban Landmines; in November of 1991 two organizations asked me if I thought I could bring together non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to do something about the landmine problem. One of them was in the U.S., the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and the other is Medico International, out of Germany. So we are obviously able to call it the International Campaign to Ban Landmines because we had one in the U.S. and one in Europe. There was a staff of one; that was me. And from that rather inauspicious beginning, we've grown to a global movement that won the Nobel Peace Prize in 1997.

Question: How does it feel to have won a Nobel Peace Prize award?
Jody Williams: When I think about some of the other recipients of the prize, it can be humbling. It's also wonderful because it validates our belief that ordinary people can achieve extraordinary things if they work together.

Question: Has your life changed since winning the Nobel Peace Prize?
Jody Williams: In many ways, yes, and in many ways, no. I don't believe that I am any more or less important than I was before. It isn't about me personally, it's about the amazing work that many of us around the world have done together to help mine victims. So in that way, it doesn't affect me. In other ways, obviously, it gives the campaign and me much higher profiles, much more credibility, and high access to governments, which helps us achieve our goals.

Question: Why are landmines so dangerous?
Jody Williams: Because no human being monitors their action. The soldier plants the landmine and walks away, and that weapon just sits and waits for someone to step on it or touch it. It has been called "the perfect soldier." You don't have to feed it, you don't have to put a uniform on it, you don't have to keep monitoring its activities. It sits and waits for its victims for up to 100 years. Landmines from World War I and World War II still claim victims from Europe and North Africa today. Obviously, after the end of the war, every victim is a civilian, a man, a woman, a child trying to live a normal life; instead they live with daily terror.

Question: What areas in the world are in the most critical need of attention, in terms of unexploded landmines?
Jody Williams: The most mined continent in the world is Africa. The three countries that are considered to be the most mine contaminated in the world are Angola, Afghanistan, and Cambodia. Some 70 to 80 countries in the world today have landmines in them.

Question: How do you clear landmines?
Jody Williams: Mine by mine. It's a labor-intensive effort; it's very dangerous in essence. Mine clearers poke the ground with sticks or a prodder to try and touch the side of the landmine. And then they dig around it to reveal what kind of landmine it is, then they either blow it up in place or sometimes take it to a central place where they blow up many at the same time.

Question: Has the U.S. government banned landmines?
Jody Williams: No. Which is very surprising because the U.S. was an early and important leader on the issue. We are so close that we hope President Bush will take the logical step and ban the weapon. The U.S. has not used landmines since 1991.We have not exported them since 1992. We haven't produced them since 1997. We have destroyed about 3 million landmines in our stockpiles, and we are among the countries that give the most resources to clear mines and help mine victims in the world. We're almost there; we should just take the last little step and sign the treaty.

Question: Has anyone ever objected to your campaign to end landmines?
Jody Williams: Yes, when we started every country in the world essentially thought it was a lovely, crazy, utopian dream. But we captured the public conscience and generated enough political will by government to create the mine-ban treaty. It is the first time in history that a conventional weapon used by almost all militaries in the world for a 100 years has been banned.

Question: Why doesn't every government just sign the treaty? Isn't it in their best interests?
Jody Williams: One would think so; 142 countries in the world do think so. Every country in the Western Hemisphere, except the U.S. and Cuba, has signed the treaty. All of our NATO allies have signed the treaty, except the U.S. and Turkey. In Africa, 41 of I think 47 of the countries on the continent have signed the treaty. Japan, Cambodia, Thailand, Bangladesh, and the Philippines have signed the treaty. Countries that have not signed include the U.S., Iran, Iraq, North Korea, Syria, Sudan, Libya, Russia, and China.

Question: Once they have signed the treaty, what do governments need to do?
Jody Williams: The first step is signing; the next step is ratification. So far 122 have ratified. When they ratify, it means that it is legal in their country, they have to obey it. They have to stop production of the weapon, they have to destroy their stockpiles, and obviously they can't use it or export it. And if they are contaminated they need to de-mine the country.

Question: Why do you think the U.S. hasn't signed?
Jody Williams: One of the reasons that they say is it's needed on the Korean peninsula. I don't believe that is the real reason. They are afraid that it is the beginning of a slide down a slippery slope and maybe others will want to take away other weapons. But the campaign to ban landmines is about landmines; it is not the campaign to eliminate all weapons in war, which would be a nice thing, but that is not our goal.

Question: In terms of the facts, this is a pretty depressing issue. Is there anything that gives you hope or reason to think we're making significant progress?
Jody Williams: I think that we've made tremendous progress. When we started the campaign, nobody thought about the issue or talked about the issue. Today 142 countries are banning this weapon. Fifty-four countries used to produce landmines, today 12 or 13 do. There has been no significant export of landmines in over six years. The number of landmine victims is falling in most countries. The amount of resources given for mine clearance and victim assistance has gone up and remains high. Even China, which has not signed, has stopped producing landmines for export, because it recognizes how important this is for the world community. We've made tremendous progress on an issue that people didn't even talk about ten years ago. Imagine how much more we can do with everyone's help. This is a problem that can be solved in years, not decades.

Question: And how can we help? Write our president and legislators?
Jody Williams: Yes, you can. If you go to our web site at www.icbl.org there is a section about what you can do, and it will give you sample letters, and the addresses and if you want to help us get the mines out of the ground, you can help us by supporting a mine-detection dog. This is a new effort that the ICBL is starting. In many countries an important partner in a landmine team is a mine-detection dog. Maybe some of you have seen dogs in airports sniffing your luggage. One of the things they are looking for is explosives. Dogs can smell the explosives in a landmine; they signal to their human partner where the mine is in the ground. Then the dog sits down and its partner reveals the kind of mine. They are a very effective team. The ICBL is initiating a project to help support these mine-detection dogs; you could help feed him for a day, feed him for a week, support him and his human partner for a day a week a month, for however long you want. For example, if you were to give $10, that might feed a mine dog for a week in Afghanistan. You would be helping that dog by supporting him to find mines so that Afghan children don't get blown up. We are in the process of naming this "support the mine dog program." We are looking for a catchy name. If you have any ideas, let us know. An example would be, "Save a Life: Support a Mine Detection Dog."

Question: What kind of dogs do you use?
Jody Williams: We don't use them personally; there are NGOs that are part of the ICBL, whose job is mine clearance. One of them, for example, is Norwegian People's Aid, obviously out of Norway. Individual members do different tasks related to the mine problem. Some take the mines out of the ground; some help the mine victims; some educate people and governments and militaries about why they need to ban the weapon; and we coordinate all of these activities so that we have continuous progress on all of the aspects of the mine problem. So the organizations that takes the mines out of the ground are the ones who have the mine dogs. When I received the Nobel Peace Prize, a Swedish dog-training center gave me a beautiful black German shepherd; her name is Golda. I donated her to Norwegian People's Aid. She has helped remove landmines in Kosovo and she is now working in Bosnia. I have a picture of Golda. I will have them put her on our Web site so you can see her. There are many other kinds of dogs that are used, for example, Belgian dogs; German shepherds are the most common I've seen.

Question: Are women more often hurt by landmines than men?
Jody Williams: It depends; it varies from country to country. In some cultures where the women stay home, they fall victim less frequently; in cultures where they collect firewood, get the water, plant or gather the crops, they frequently fall victim. As do children who have to perform those daily survival tasks for their families in many countries.

Question: I read that in Cambodia there are still as many landmines as there are people. Is this true?
Jody Williams: It is likely to be the case. When I first went to Cambodia in 1993 (or 1994), 1 out of every 236 people in that country are mine victims. It is very hard to contemplate, even though I've seen it. It seems impossible, but it is true. No country should have to live with that after the end of a war. It makes a mockery of peace.

Question: Are there any other weapons you are trying to ban?
Jody Williams: No, we are focused on anti-personal landmines. Other organizations are concerned about some weapons, but this campaign focuses on landmines.

Question: Is it helpful being a woman in your line of work?
Jody Williams: I don't believe it has mattered one way or the other. I'm a competent person doing a job reasonably well; it doesn't matter if I am a woman or a man.

Question: What is a typical day for you like?
Jody Williams: It depends on whether I'm traveling or working from my office from home, where I am right now. I will give you an example of a traveling month. The first week in April, I'm going to the People's Republic of China, invited by the Chinese government and the United Nations to participate in a conference on disarmament. From there I will go directly to Los Angeles for the second week in April, where I am working with a new committee called The L.A. friends of the ICBL," which is a group of people in the entertainment industry helping raise awareness and support in Los Angeles for our work. From there I go directly to Paris for a week, where there will be an important campaign meeting to assess our progress and the challenges still facing us. I come back on the 21st of April, then on the 25th through the 28th, Saskatoon, Canada, where I will be with the Saskatoon children's choir in support of their singing to raise support for mine victims. This is April. Many months are like April.

Question: Can the Internet, especially e-mail and Web sites, help bridge the gap between organizations in developed and developing countries?
Jody Williams: Absolutely. E-mail was a powerful tool in helping us develop the landmine campaign. It made communication immediate and extremely inexpensive, which is particularly important for our campaign in developing countries. As we all know, information is power. And through our Web site and e-mail, everyone in the campaign has the same information, which makes us all in theory equal in the ability to bring about change.

Question: Do you ever advertise in the newspaper or TV?
Jody Williams: The campaign itself doesn't, but different members of the campaign have. Right now in the Washington, D.C. area there is an advertising effort to encourage President Bush to take the last step and sign the ban treaty.

Question: How much does it cost to support a campaign like ICBL?
Jody Williams: Do you know the expression "chump change"? In terms of how much people pay on campaigns today we are incredibly inexpensive and efficient. We estimate that in the entire time from launching the campaign to when the country signed the treaty in December of 1997, we probably spent a total of 6 million dollars. Today the basic campaign budget is about $950,00 and our landmine monitor, which researches and monitors if countries are obeying the treaty or not, is about a million. It's an amazingly small amount of money for an international movement.

Question: How is most of that money raised?
Jody Williams: For the campaigning activities, a lot comes from the governments of Norway and Canada, which have been critically important partners in our work to eliminate landmines. We also raise money from foundations and individuals. I think about a dozen governments and the European Union support the landmine monitor project because governments are extremely interested in ensuring that everyone obeys the treaty, and that project of ours monitors their compliance.

Question: Had you ever been to Afghanistan before 9/11?
Jody Williams: No.

Question: Do you think that the U.S. public is more aware of landmines since 9/11 and the conflict in Afghanistan?
Jody Williams: I think that it has reminded them that there is the problem of landmines. I think there is quite a bit of awareness since 9/11. Our own soldiers have fallen victim to landmines in Afghanistan. They are as dangerous to our troops as they are to the Afghans who have been living with them for 20 years.

Question: I really admire what you do. How does someone get involved on an international level? You are really making a difference! Any advice for our class?
Jody Williams: Do you mean how does someone get involved in the campaign or how does someone become an activist? To get involved in the campaign, go to our Web site, you will see the section What You Can Do. You will also see in our menu on the left an item that is called Youth; that youth section is a link for a youth campaign against landmines and war. It has tons of information about what you can do. It is lead by a young Cambodian woman who lost her leg when she was four years old and who has been an active campaigner since we began the campaign.

Question: Could you suggest some ways for students to get social action programs off the ground?
Jody Williams: I think it begins with an individual or a small group of individuals caring about a particular topic. Whether it is the environment, violence in the schools, gender issues, and informing themselves about the facts related to those issues. Finding organizations in the community that deal with those issues and volunteering time at those organizations to bring about change. If no organization exists that deals with the issues you care about - create it yourself. Change doesn't happen just because we want it to; we have to get up and take action. You can't wait for the other guy or the government to solve your problems. I believe each of us has the right and the responsibility to take action to create the world we want to live in.

Question: Do you know any students who are actively campaigning, protesting, and attending press conferences for the ICBL?
Jody Williams: Lots. One of my favorite groups is young students from Morgantown, West Virginia; they are from the St. Francis School. They created Students Against Landmines. When I was in Iowa, during the Iowa caucuses, they drove all the way to Iowa to help educate the candidates about landmines. Then in March of last year, they came to Washington, D.C., for a week of activities to raise awareness for the new Bush administration. These kids are amazing activists today. Imagine what they'll be like when they are adults?

Question: Hi Jody! St. Francis here...as a teacher I just wanted to let everyone know how much my students respect you for all your efforts on this issue. We have learned so much by being involved in the campaign to ban landmines. I would strongly encourage all students that are interested to do what you can...EVERYONE working together can make a difference!
Jody Williams: I'd like to tell these St. Francis teachers and students that they are also an inspiration to me. Anyone who takes a little bit of time out of their own life to do things to make life better for people they may never know, are awesome people. The teachers and kids of St. Francis are awesome in that regard.

Question: How do students so far away from third world countries become so actively involved? Do you have any advice for these students?
Jody Williams: I think that they originally became involved because they see something about the landmine problem, they imagine what it would be like to be afraid every day walking to school that you might step on a landmine. They have expressed their outrage that kids anywhere have to live in such terror. And they want to take action to make a difference. Some of these kids have written letters to their congressional representatives, they've written to the President, they've had various events to raise money for mine clearance, they do school projects about landmines to educate the other students and their parents about landmines. The only limit to what can be done is the limits of one's own imagination and creativity.

Question: Are there any women de-miners? If so, where do they work?
Jody Williams: Most of the de-miners are men, but I know there is a team of women in Cambodia, and I met a women involved in de-mining in Croatia. There are a lot of women involved in mine awareness programs, teaching communities to avoid the dangers of landmines.

Question: Do you have any goals that you have not accomplished?
Jody Williams: Of course. I still want to continue to do things that I think are important to make the world a better place for everybody — including myself. I don't spend much time worrying about what I've already done. I'm much more concerned about what I need to do. I'm a very lucky person, in that I have the privilege of creating a world that I want to live in. It makes me happy every day.

I want to thank you for taking the time to join us at Scholastic.com, and I thank Scholastic for inviting me to chat with you all. I hope that if you've learned anything from our talk today, you will believe that what you do matters. That any citizen can achieve extraordinary things. You don't have to be a senator, or a president, or a general, or a princess, or somebody with a title, it's what you do that counts. Not the title that you have. Please create the world you want to live in. Don't wait for the other guy to do it. Thank you.