As the executive director of the UN's leading agency to promote women's empowerment and gender equality, Noeleen Heyzer has made a difference in the lives of women throughout the world. Since Noeleen's arrival in 1994, Unifem has expanded its resource base, formed strategic partnerships and grown in visibility and impact. Her leadership helped the organization to identify three central themes: building women's economic capacities and rights, engendering governance and leadership, and promoting the realization of women's human rights, with the elimination of violence against women.
Noeleen Heyzer believes that peace is a mindset and a way of living. She also believes peace is security. Her beliefs inform her vision and her vision gives strength to pioneers of peace. For example, on a recent trip to Rwanda she met with widows of the genocide, many who live with HIV/AIDS and care for orphans who also live with the disease. Noeleen noticed that Hutu and Tutsi women had come together to weave baskets. While basket weaving has been a tradition in Rwanda for many years, the partnership of historic enemies allowed the baskets to provide a different purpose. The women told Noeleen that they represented hope and peace, a means to reconcile differences and to heal the wounds of a devastating conflict. Noeleen returned to New York, met with businesswomen, and shared the story. Less than six months later, the baskets were marketed in the United States with the profits going back to Rwandan widows. Today, the baskets have become a national symbol of peace and the second largest export for Rwanda. A sustainable peace must begin in homes and communities before it can flow out into the world, says Noeleen. "What people tolerate in peacetime determines what they will tolerate in war. We can only start building peace by ending the violence in our homes, our schools and our streets. Violence as a personal and political strategy is no longer compatible with human survival at this stage of our evolution. Sustainable peace hinges on the presence of economic and social systems that put the majority of people and their needs at the center of development, not the greed of the powerful minority."
United Nations Development Fund for Women (Unifem) Development Alternative for Women for a New Era (Dawn) Asia Pacific Women in Law and Development