First published 28th January
Interview with Priya by Julie Tomlin
Author Priya Basil, who launched Authors for Peace in July last year has come up with a brilliant idea for writers around the world to join together on a ‘Virtual Bridge’ on 8 March and share video messages about the significance of International Women’s Day to their lives.
We’ll be talking a lot more about the virtual bridge project in the coming weeks. Here Priya explains why she decided to Join Women on a virtual bridge:
I was struck by Zainab Salbi’s passion, eloquence, and her commitment to helping women when I heard her speaking on the radio.
When I heard Zainab Salbi speaking on The Forum programme, on the BBC World Service I was also captivated by her 60-second idea to change the world – something which one guest on The Forum is asked to come up with each week.
Zainab’s idea was that the manufacture of all weapons should cease worldwide, and that existing ones should start being recycled. She suggested this could be done by making it compulsory for all manufacturers to incorporate at least 25 per cent of recycled weapons in the steel they use.
I loved this idea because it echoes my own concerns about the Arms Trade. My second novel, The Obscure Logic of the Heart, partly explores the illegal arms trade and its consequences. I’m a supporter of the Control Arms Campaign, and am keen to be a more active advocate for curbing the manufacture and trade of arms.
When The Forum was over, I went online and read about Zainab Salbi and Women for Women International. I was moved and impressed by what I learned, and felt compelled to get involved with the organisation.
The virtual bridge will be a place where women can come to connect and share through the power of words and stories.
Last year my partner and I founded Authors for Peace. It is intended to be a platform from which authors can actively use literature in different ways to promote peace. Through Authors for Peace, I’m helping Women for Women International to create a virtual bridge online as part of their ‘Join Me on the Bridge’ campaign.
We’re inviting published female authors to contribute specially recorded video messages, and share poems or stories related to women’s issues for inclusion on the Women for Women International website. From 8th March 2011, and beyond, these contributions will form a virtual bridge, where women can come to connect and share through the power of words and stories.
I’m also working with the internationales literaturfestival berlin to organise an event in Berlin on 8 March to celebrate International Women’s Day, and raise awareness about the work of Women for Women International.
I don’t need to look very far to find examples of inhumanity towards women
There are so many – too many – terrible stories about the mistreatment of women. I did a lot of research on South Sudan for my last novel, and I was horrified by the plight of many women there. It’s chilling to know that a woman risks rape each time she leaves a refugee camp compound just to gather firewood so she can cook and feed her family. The use of rape as a weapon of war in places like Sudan and DRC is horrifying.
But . In my own family there are female victims of abuse and domestic violence. And the problem is widespread throughout the UK. Women are suffering even in societies that we consider enlightened and stable.
At the same time, there are movements for change being championed by extraordinary individuals – often women who have survived awful experiences themselves – and these stories uplift and inspire, and enable us to be hopeful about the future.
There is something wonderful about joint enterprise
Even though the act of writing is implicitly one of reaching out, the process is necessarily solitary. For much of my life, I have privileged this aloofness, thinking it the most worthwhile way for me to give to society. I still believe that literature is the greatest art form, and I still revel in the power of stories to connect us with other worlds even as we sit alone to read or write. Nevertheless, through my Authors for Peace work I have also come to know the great joy of acting with others, of working collectively for a common goal. There is something wonderful about joint enterprise – it is simultaneously humbling and empowering. Humbling because you have to acknowledge the limits of your individual reach, and empowering because you sense the great possibilities that come from joining forces with others.
Then, of course, there are the very simple joys of coming together: holding hands, singing in harmony, sharing time and food, experiencing one another’s tears or laughter. These intimate exchanges are as significant as the greater symbolism of occasions like International Women’s Day.
I hope that the virtual bridge will enable more women, from more countries than ever before, to participate in International Women’s Day
I also hope that by doing so they will find inspiration for their own lives, and maybe even the motivation to reach out in some way to help women who are worse off.