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Why women need a seat at the table to make peace last

In the years after Rwanda's genocide, how did women come to make up a large portion of the nation's parliament? Author and activist Swanee Hunt says their women's movement that grew out of necessity. Hunt, a former ambassador and founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School, gives her Brief but Spectacular take on women waging peace.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Next, we turn to another installment of our weekly Brief But Spectacular series, where we ask people about their passions.

    Tonight, we hear from author and activist Swanee Hunt. She is the founding director of the Women and Public Policy Program at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government, and she's a former U.S. ambassador to Austria.

    Hunt's latest book is called "Rwandan Women Rising."

  • Swanee Hunt:

    After Shock and Awe in Iraq, I went to meet with the general at the Pentagon.

    I said "You have got to bring in women now. They're so invested in having peace because of the cost to their children. They're your best allies on the ground."

    And this wonderful general, so polite, poured me some coffee, and he said: "Oh, Madam Ambassador, thank you so much for coming by, and, you know, it's been a wonderful hour with you, and we will be sure, after we get the place secure, we will be able to think about women's issues."

    And I thought, what are you talking about? This is not cervical cancer. This is security.

    I was ambassador to Austria, and, right next door, Yugoslavia was falling apart. And there was a genocide going on. And I was tormented trying to figure out how to intervene.

    So I hosted negotiations, 14 days. And it wasn't until I walked into the room at the White House where the peace agreement was going to be signed, and I thought, holy cow. This is a room full of suits, and I didn't realize that there were no women involved.

    I was invited then to go to Rwanda a few years after the genocide, and I looked around and said, how did these women come to be, eventually, 64 percent of the Parliament? Like, no place in the world is near that.

    Rwanda is a case where women have, in fact, come in and waged peace, and they have so much to teach us, not just people in conflict, but the United States. This wasn't a women's movement by design. It was organic. It grew out of the necessity.

    When you have so much suffering in a conflict area, usually, it's the women who are more sensitive to what's happening on the ground. Like, in Colombia, it was the women involved in the peace talks who insisted that victims would be at the table. It might be a minority group. It might be people from a certain area of the region.

    I mean, that's the beauty of it, that the women, perhaps because they have been outsiders, they look for other outsiders to be there. We have got the research now. When women are significantly involved in a peace talk, there's a much greater chance that that peace agreement is going to last.

    My name is Swanee Hunt, and this is my Brief But Spectacular take on how women wage peace.

  • Judy Woodruff:

    Something to think about.

    And you can watch more Brief But Spectacular videos on our Web site, PBS.org/NewsHour/Brief.

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