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June 2003 

Women's World's contest, "Women’s Voices in War Zones," co-sponsored by the Nation Institute with support from the Puffin Foundation, received 290 entries from 45 countries in answer to such questions as "Do you live in a war zone or state of terror? Is it personal or public?" Prizes were given in three categories: citizens/residents of the United States; citizens/residents of other countries; and immigrants or refugees. The judges were Ammiel Alcalay, Katha Pollitt, and Paula Giddings.

Although the contest organizers did not originally plan to give third prizes or honorable mentions, there were so many good entries they decided to do so. Says Meredith Tax, President of Women’s WORLD, "This outpouring of writing shows the level of women’s concern about what seems an inexorable drift towards a state of constant war. The essays from outside the United States are efforts by women around the world to communicate with us here; people who have experienced war are begging us to stop and think before we act."

The first prize winners are:

Barbara Hanneman (USA), a homeless woman living in a Bronx shelter, whose essay describes the daily humiliations of "undeclared war" against the poor where a $10 camera without film is considered such a danger to the system it must be confiscated by the guards, a life in which "the terror is diffuse and pervasive rather than immanent."

Monica Arac de Nyeko (Uganda), who writes of conditions in the North where the Lord's Resistance Army is waging war upon the population with their pangas (machetes): "We are a generation of thorns. Memories of nights in rain and gripping fear creep to our dreams . . . The ones we watched pangas hack. Those we heard from our hiding places flogged to death. Those we see headless, limbless, noseless, lipless when we blink."

Shahrzad Mojab (Iran/Canada), an Iranian Kurdish refugee who recalls giving birth to her son during the second year of the Iran-Iraq war, in a hospital full of wounded soldiers: "The police were monitoring the emotional reaction of family members; even while mourning the death of loved ones, no one was allowed to criticize the war . . . As I waited, I could hear the nurses yelling at women to hurry up so they could attend to the soldiers. . . . I was scared of the unknown, of giving birth. And I was terrified of the police—of being identified, of being arrested."

Second prize winners are:

Dierdre McKee (USA), who writes of domestic violence: "I lived in a war zone once . . . and I learned that in war the only thing that matters is survival, and that the . . . enemies want you to be grateful to them,even as they steal your food or torture your children or rape you or kill your family or set your hair on fire while you sleep or carefully cut every stitch of clothing you own into shreds or beat you where it will never show."

Daphna Baram (Israel), whose essay, "My Safe Child," tells why she is glad she has no children "The child I won't have will never feel the guilt of being an occupier, or the fear of becoming a victim. I will never tell him not to be scared, when fear is the only rational thing to feel. I will not have to teach him that the Palestinian child is a human being just like him, while everybody else will tell him that it is not so. The child I will never have is going to be the only safe child in the Middle East."

Kathy L. Nguyen (Vietnam/USA), who tells of her father, once an artillery commander in the South Vietnamese Army, and the consequences of loss: "the loss of family, parents and grandparents, aunts, uncles, cousins, and friends. Loss of home, country, status and dignity. Loss of power, language, culture, heritage past, dreams, hopes. The loss of tranquility, a sense of belonging. And for my father, the loss of his mind, because for people like him, a war zone is a state of mind. It is a place of fear. The mind cannot function because of the traumas of the heart."

Third prize winners are:

Sherien Sultan (USA), whose essay "Subway Negotiations," describes what happened when she tried to read the Koran on the subway.

Nastaran (Iran) and Anonymous (UK), who tied for third place in the foreign category; Nastaran's "Life in a State of Terror" describes the feelings and actions of an Iranian feminist over the last twenty years; the essay by Anonymous, a British writer from an Asian immigrant background, has been removed at her request because of threats to her security.

Nasrin Parvaz (Iran/UK) tells of the battles over veiling, within Iran and in exile communities, in her essay, "A War Against Womanhood"

Honorable mentions were given to the following writers:

Asale Angel-Ajani, who writes of life in a "peace village" in Columbia, caught between the FARC and the military

Mildred Barya, who describes the way the men prey upon the women in the refugee camps of Northern Uganda

Juanita R. Ramirez, of the Philippines, who imagines the horrors that war would bring to her village and begs America "please don't come here"

Naw Zipporah Sein, a Karen tribal refugee in Thailand, who details the Burmese Army's attempts to exterminate her people

Nzitonda Elousa of Burundi, who writes of the daily terrors of life in a Tanzanian refugee camp