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She is one of the 1000 women proposed for the Nobel Peace Price 2005.
She says: “Women, cherish yourselves and engage in acts of passionate resistance and resilience for this can create a force so potent that it banishes the darkness and brings peace back into the world”.
She says also: “I have chosen these strategies because it is my responsibility as a White person to work with and encourage other White women / people to realize and undo the damage caused by our colonialism, our racism and xenophobia. Being Irish by heritage affords me insights into what it is to have one’s lands, language and lives stolen by an invading and occupying dominant society. I feel a deep rage at the injustices perpetrated by colonialism (historical and contemporary) and I have learnt to turn that rage to the advantage of the Indigenous peoples in whose lands I was born and live as a result of the Irish diaspora caused by English colonialism”.
And she says: “I have been taught, and sometimes challenged, by their determined insistence to name injustices I had not yet perceived, including my own unsuspected behaviors and attitudes. Above all I have been inspired by the determination of the women elders to strive against all odds to pass their cultural knowledge onto their young ones, so that they might grow proud of who they are and strong in their cultural heritage. I continue to hold the Indigenous women in admiration for their ability not to hate, despite the terrible destruction wrought upon their peoples by White society. These women are my guides and mentors, and for that I am blessed”.
Zohl de Ishtar – Australia
Zohl de Ishtar works with indigenous women in indigenous-led and initiated projects at community and international levels. She has campaigned on abolition of nuclear weapons and militarism, eradication of colonialism, promotion of inalienable sovereign rights of all peoples, protection of cultural integrity, and ending discrimination in any form, including that based on sexuality.
Born in 1953 in South Australia’s capital city of Adelaide, Zohl is an Irish-Australian lesbian. She has worked with Indigenous women in Indigenous-led and initiated projects at the community and international levels since 1979. For many years, Zohl has been active in local political issues and campaigned in 27 countries.
She has committed to raising public awareness through writing / editing pioneering books: Daughters of the Pacific (1994, Spinifex Press, Melbourne); Pacific Women Speak Out for Independence and Demilitarisation (1998, Raven, Christchurch) and (forthcoming) Holding Yawulyu: White Culture and Black Women’s Law (august 2005, Spinifex Press, Melbourne).
She conducts workshops, educational outreach programs and speaking tours in many countries, and organizes international tours for Indigenous activists. She established “Pacific Connections” to advise non-Indigenous organizations and individuals in networking with Indigenous Australian and Pacific peoples.
Zohl felt strongly about peace and environmental issues from an early age. In 1972, her last year of High School, she joined a protest against French nuclear testing in the Pacific and camped for one month on the steps of the South Australian parliament in Adelaide. The incident made her conscious of the “pain and damage being caused by national and global politics”.
In 1979, she played a leading role in Australia’s first environmental campaign, the successful “Save Terania Forest” campaign to stop logging of virgin rainforests. “I experienced the potent energy which can be created when 300 people actively engage in a shared social justice action.” She joined the World Bike Ride for Peace, Disarmament and Nuclear Free Future, an Australian bicycle ride around the world to raise awareness about the nuclear issues in the Australia-Pacific region. The riders gave public talks at local community centers in many countries, including Denmark, Germany, Czechoslovakia and Hungary.
Zohl researched and spoke on the situation in the Pacific. She says, “Until then I had not known that women in Marshall Islands feared childbirth because of the terrible effects caused by irradiation from the United States’ nuclear testing program in their country, which ran from 1949 – 1958. The harmful effects of the radiation were evident in the malformed babies that almost had no human characteristics. The harsh reality that the radiation was wiping out an entire generation affected me deep within.” It was here that the seeds were sown for her long-term commitment to work with Indigenous Australian and Pacific women in the Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Movement.
In 1983, on her 30th birthday, Zohl moved to Greenham Common Women’s Peace Camp in England; it became her home until December 1988. Greenham was a major nexus of women’s creative energy, which drew hundreds of thousands of women together for over a decade (1981 – 1994) and encouraged them to step beyond their limitations and engage together in actively creating and experimenting with a new way of living on this planet.
During this leading social justice campaign of the 1980s, when the politically conscious people of the world feared a nuclear holocaust, tens of thousands of these ordinary women, including Zohl, were arrested and imprisoned for their passionate political commitment to non-violence. It was during these nine short-term imprisonments that her heart went out to those thousands of political prisoners and refugee detainees, who are locked up. “To hear the prison doors clang shut and to be deprived of even the right to look at the sky, really shook my soul and strengthened my resolve. While I knew that I was there by choice, countless other women around the world are imprisoned in institutions and family homes against their will.” Living in Greenham with other women taught her the importance of freedom and also of fun.
While at Greenham, Zohl initiated the British network, “Women for a Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific”. She organized tours for 11 Indigenous Australian and Pacific women to tour Britain and Europe, thus providing Indigenous women a platform to speak for themselves. She then traveled to many countries in the Pacific and lived with these same women and their families.
It was here that she witnessed the impact of colonization and militarization on their lives. The women’s resilience and their dedicated resistance to oppression of their peoples inspired Zohl, who was soon invited to work with them and support their campaigns. Zohl recalls, “As I experienced the courage and vision of Indigenous Australian and Pacific women, I became aware of the urgent need for me to work with my own people and other non-Indigenous people to help challenge our cultural baggage, which makes us a part of the colonialism which impacts Indigenous lives.”
In 1989, Zohl returned home to Australia and became the administrator of the Sydney Pacific Committee office and established its education outreach program.
Two years later, Zohl was diagnosed with cancer and had to undergo surgery. While she was still recovering in hospital, her mother died of breast cancer. In 1992 through 1995, Zohl founded and administered Australia’s first lesbian cancer support group. In 1996, she became the first coordinator of Australia’s first lesbian community cultural centre in Sydney. Despite her personal battle with cancer, there was no stopping Zohl’s steely will.
In 1995, she was one of the few Australians to sail to Moruroa in French Polynesia to protest French nuclear testing, joining the New Zealand Peace Flotilla.
Three years later, she was the woman representative for Oceania for the International Peace Bureau and in that capacity became Pacific Coordinator for the end-of-millennium UN Citizens’ Centennial Conference at The Hague. She raised the funds and organized and hosted the tour of 20 Indigenous Pacific delegations representing eight countries, and organized and chaired six major Indigenous panels.
She shared the stage with United Nation’s Secretary General Kofi Annan and 50 Indigenous activists, who received a standing ovation from the 10,000 participants.
From 1999 – 2001, Zohl lived with a group of Aboriginal women elders in a remote desert community, assisting them to establish the Kapululangu Women’s Law and Culture Centre. This was a vibrant cultural revitalization program, comprising cultural classes for children, hunting and dancing instructions for young women, ceremonies at sites of religious significance, and participation in national and international cultural exchange tours with other Indigenous people.
Zohl was invited by the women elders to assist them to develop this women’s organization and to help them create opportunities to pass their customary practice and religious beliefs to their grandchildren. “The elders were worried that their grandchildren and youth were losing their pride in their Aboriginality. They saw this as the cause of extreme trauma, which was tearing their families apart and rendering terrible psychological scars within their communities.”
Zohl received a doctorate for her fieldwork with the Aboriginal women elders and was awarded Deakin University’s Isi Liebler Prize 2003 for advancing knowledge of racism, prejudice and multicultural affairs. She is currently a postdoctoral research fellow at the Australian Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies, University of Queensland.
As an Irish-Australian, Zohl feels she has some insight into what it means to be both colonized (the Irish struggle against English colonialism) and also a colonizer (White Australian colonisation of Aboriginal Australia). This dual consciousness has been the motor driving her to work with Indigenous Australian and Pacific women. Her awareness of cultural diversity and of the necessity of political struggle also comes from her own experience of living in a “homophobic society”.
“Fortunately, I have been blessed with a family that respects me and my sexuality but many other Australian lesbians have not been so lucky – nor have lesbians living in other countries where they are imprisoned, tortured, maimed, raped, and murdered for their determination to identify as women-loving-women.”
The main tactic of all her work has been to engage in, and encourage others to engage in, “non-violent acts of passionate resistance”. She perceives her main role as being that of a teacher and a cultural translator, assisting non-Indigenous people to better communicate with Indigenous people. As a White woman, Zohl feels it is her responsibility to reset the imbalanced allocation of resources which currently favour White Indigenous / black. To this end, she has put her skills in organizing tours for Indigenous people to Britain and Europe and in raising funds for their campaigns. Most recently, she helped raise over A$700,000 for the Kapululangu Women’s Law and Culture Center’s cultural revitalization project.
Zohl feels the clarity of purpose and passionate resilience of the Indigenous women has helped her achieve her goals. (1000PeaceWomen).
Read: Nuclear Free and Independent Pacific Day, 2001.
Read: Australian Lesbian and Gay History, a bibliography, 1999.
In 1981 Greenham Common Air Base became the target of an anti-nuclear protest that was to last for 19 years … (full text).
Documentation: Greenham Common Peace Camps Songbooks;
LGBT social movements on wikipedia;
The Lesbian and Gay Christian Movement.