Jody Williams


Nobel Prize Conversations

”I have been fortunate to be able to live my life doing what I believe in. Not everybody has that fortune”

In this podcast episode, peace activist Jody Williams tells us how she has tried to use the power that was given to her after being awarded a Nobel Peace Prize. She is a strong advocate for working across organisations to solve global challenges such as banning nuclear weapons and eliminating the use of sexual violence in war. She also speaks about her work within the Nobel Women’s Initiative, an organisation established by herself and other fellow female peace laureates. 

Listen as we take you back to this conversation with Williams, recorded in 2014 as part of the series ‘Nobel Prize talks’. The host of this podcast is’s Adam Smith, joined by Clare Brilliant.

Below you find a transcript of the podcast interview. The transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors.

Portrait of Jody Williams during an interview at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm
Portrait of Jody Williams during an interview at the Nobel Museum in Stockholm, 14 September 2013.
Copyright © Nobel Media AB 2013
Photo: Niklas Elmehed

Clare Brilliant: Hi, Adam. 

Adam Smith: Hi, Clare. 

Brilliant: What are we listening to today? 

Smith: We’re listening to an encore presentation of a podcast we recorded for Nobel Prize Conversations back in 2014, which contains the quote. It’s not magic, it’s just getting up off your ass. 

Brilliant: That’s quite an intro. I can’t wait to listen now. Who are we hearing from? 

Smith: Jody Williams, 1997 peace laureate who got the prize for spearheading the campaign to ban landmines and getting an international treaty together, a global international treaty. 

Brilliant: It’s really interesting to hear Jody talk about how she managed to get that campaign together. 

Smith: Absolutely. You know, she calls herself a grassroots activist. She, of course, recognises that she has an ability to pull people together, but she doesn’t identify herself as a leader so much as somebody who just can’t stand injustice and is a good person for coalescing energy around herself. In fact, she goes as far as saying that she doesn’t really like the cult of the leader. She thinks it disempowers everybody else who’s trying to get the same thing done, which is a fascinating perspective. 

Brilliant: I found that so interesting, her belief that it’s really important to get civil society involved and for people not to feel that only a single person is important. 

Smith: Every campaign I think is the same. She’s good at starting things off. She’s good at recognising things, that one she started with her husband to regulate the development of autonomous weapons, which are more and more a problem now as drone use is increasing and AI and surveillance is everywhere. And there’s a real danger that weapons are going to start making their own decisions and there needs to be a regulation of that. 

Brilliant: She was also a founding member of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which works with women’s organisations all around the world for justice and equity and peace. I thought it was really interesting that it only took a few women to be awarded the Nobel Prize for that initiative to be set up. 

Smith: Indeed. It was also fascinating to hear her observation that since 1901 and the creation of the Nobel Prize, there hasn’t been a similar men’s Nobel initiative. 

Brilliant: For Jody, it really seems to have started young, her campaigning drive for justice. 

Smith: Yes, indeed. She seems not to be able to let injustice stand and that’s that comes over right at the start of our conversation. Let’s indeed listen to Jody Williams. 


Jody Williams: Hi, Adam. This is Jody.  

Smith: Hi. I just wanted to start with the sort of thought of how much you’ve done, because there must be people all around the world, myself included, you see injustices, you see problems you want to confront, and yet you’ve end up thinking, well, what can I possibly do about that? Do you seem to have not had that lack of confidence? You seem to have felt that you could do something about things.  

Williams: I think we all can. I believe we all can. I think it’s a matter of choosing to use the individual power that each and every one of us has to work on an issue of injustice, of any type that particularly seizes your conscience, if that makes sense. I’ve been accused occasionally of being full of anger and how can such an angry person be an advocate for peace? It kind of makes me laugh. I can be angry like anybody else at trivial things, but what fires me to try to bring about change in the world is the righteous indignation I feel at injustice, period. 

Smith: But it’s hard. It’s hard to get past the anger, isn’t it? Sometimes.  

Williams: No. If you want to get past the anger, you have to take that and turn it into positive action to change what is upsetting you. If you don’t do anything, yes, then it’s hard to get past the anger. You have to feel that you have the right and more than the right, the responsibility to be an active participant in life. That’s just how I feel. I believe very firmly that if a person recognises an injustice to such a degree, that it makes them either angry or fearful or that the world will never get better and then they do nothing.  By doing nothing they’re also making a choice. They’re giving up their ability to participate with others, to bring about change. It’s not magic, it’s just getting up off your ass – excuse my English, but I do cuss – getting up off your butt and participating with others to bring about change. One of the things I have the hardest time with is the mythologies that a single person changes the world. That is just simply not true. Change happens because many people come together in common cause and work together in a variety of ways to bring about change. 

Smith: But a single person, though, so often is the catalyst. We seem to like following single people.  

Williams: I don’t mind that to a certain degree, but mythologizing that an individual change the world, disempowers people. Like Martin Luther King, for example. How could I ever be Martin Luther King? You’ll never be Martin Luther King, be better than Martin Luther King. We’re all flawed human beings. I don’t care if your Mother Teresa. No Nobel Prize laureate is a perfect human being, and we don’t do things by ourselves. King’s movement about racial injustice in the US is now boiled down practically to being recognised as the work of King and Rosa Parks who sat up front on the bus. What does that do to the concept of social movement? What does that do to inspire individual people to recognise it? By working together, they can confront an issue that needs to be changed. That’s why I fight very strongly against allowing myself to be described in such ways. 

Smith: But do you feel like a leader? 

Williams: Yes, but I feel like I lead in certain ways. Others of my colleagues lead in other ways when we work together. I have a skill for, God knows what reason, helping coalitions get together and work fairly well together. That’s my leadership skill. Others in our campaigning efforts have fabulous skills at all the creativity that goes around the movement to capture public imagination. That’s a different kind of leadership. You need all of them in a global effort to bring about change. But sure, I’m a leader. I think it’s partly because I’m not afraid to say what I believe, and I will not lie. People are so used to being lied to, that when somebody speaks straight to them in normal language, it’s quite stunning. 

Smith: Is that something you had to learn? Not lying. 

Williams: No, I was raised Catholic. Lying was a sin.  

Smith: Yes. 

Williams: And my parents didn’t lie. My parents were very straightforward. My grandfather, my God, couldn’t lie if his life depended on it. He was a forceful human, my mother’s father. I think I identified with them, of course, in ways I couldn’t express when I was a kid, but I certainly recognise it now. 

Smith: Not lying is interesting because I suppose most people are brought up being told that white lies are okay. It’s okay to lie, to help people and things. I suppose a lot of us develop into thinking that a lot of the lies that we tell in life are white lies. 

Williams: Yes. I recognise that occasionally a white lie is okay. For example, I left the Catholic faith at 17. My mother is a lovely Catholic, and I say lovely, because she’s not oppressive. It’s her religion. She takes solace in it and all those good things. When I was leaving the faith myself, I tried to shake the foundations of her faith, thinking that I was being honest and righteous. Then I realised that that was not okay. It was my own journey. She had her journey, and I stopped beating her with my truth. If that makes sense. But issues of public policy, issues of a movement for change, I would never say a white lie. I believe it’s inappropriate. I don’t think it motivates people to want to participate in change if they think people who are trying to include them are lying to them in any way. 


Smith: Apart from speaking straight to people, what do you think it is? What in your character allows you to bring these coalitions together? Allows you to bring people together? 

Williams: I am not sure. I think you’d have to ask the people I work with. You know what I mean? I don’t know. If I see people not communicating well, and they’re all working on the same issue, and you know that they can accomplish more by working together, I don’t know. I just start talking to different groups about possibilities of working together. And that doesn’t sound good. For example I was instrumental in creating a new campaign to stop killer robots. I was writing an article about the US military, the CIA, their mercenary groups, and the use of drones by the US in extra judicial execution. In other words, in breaking international law quite a few years back. In the research for the article, I came upon the fact that drones soon will be like the Model T of so-called technologically advanced weaponry. That the move is toward increasing autonomy and ultimately weapons that on their own can make target and kill decisions. I was horrified and terrified, and came into my kitchen and started speaking about it with my husband, who is Steve Goose, who runs the arms division at Human Rights Watch. We had met banning landmines, and then he went on to be one of the leaders of the coalition to ban cluster munitions. I just started talking to him about killer robots, and that I thought they were horrifying, and they scared me more than nuclear weapons. I grew up in the duck and cover generation, if you know what that is. So we actually had to practice ducking and covering under our desk in like grade school and junior high school, rolling up into a ball under the desk to protect ourselves during direct nuclear attack. 

Smith: How terrifying.  

Williams: How terrifying and mindless. But I really grew up as a kid, terrified of nuclear war. My family lived on the ragged edges of the middle class, and if my family ever had money, I didn’t want like a matching skirt and sweater set. I wanted those to be able to build a bomb shelter in our backyard. I’m completely serious. To feel the killer robots are more terrifying than nukes was startling to me. But the thought of so-called technologically advanced countries, and the countries that do the right thing, creating weapons that on their own can kill human beings and thinking that’s okay, made me ill. So I started talking with Goose and convincing him that we needed to bring together organisations that we knew from other campaigns and try to create a steering committee to launch a campaign to stop killer robots. We did that. It was really because I thought it was an issue that nobody would deal with if we didn’t push, and it needed to be dealt with. Some organisations had individually been making statements, but nobody was bringing people together to work on it. So we did.  

Smith: You make it sound very straightforward. It’s obviously what needs to be done. Go ahead and do it. 

Williams: That is how I feel about it. That’s why when people say to me what makes you a good leader in campaigns, I don’t know, maybe it is because I see something needs to be done, and I have no problem going out and convincing other organisations working on similar issues that this is an issue worthy of being worked on, and what can we do together? Then they either say yes or no. 

 Smith: It is interesting that you keep stressing other organisations. You keep stressing working together. It’s obviously natural to you to think that you should get like-minded people together and you should work collaboratively. I suppose not everybody thinks like that. I suppose some people tend to take a lot on themselves. 

Williams: You mean their ego gets in the way of thinking they should work with others? 

Smith: I might be trying to be a bit polite, but yes.  

Williams: I know politeness is one of my challenges. Sometimes I can be very gracious, other times not.  

Smith: But yes. That’s what I mean.  

Williams: I find that oftentimes it is ego and turf, even in the non-governmental world that keeps people and organisations from working together. In our issues being landmines, sequester, munitions, and now killer robots, we had a certain advantage that I hadn’t thought much about until after the fact of the landmine campaign in that nobody was working on the issues. There were people doing demining, human rights watch was carefully documenting the impact of landmines on civilians after war, et cetera. But nobody was coming together to take political action to try to deal with the issue, which meant when we talked about launching a campaign, there weren’t organised organisations with established turf that felt like they would lose something by being part of a coalition. 

Smith: Sure. Yes. 

Williams: For years, I have criticised the old line of anti-new groups for not for exactly what I’m talking about. Having worked on the issue for so many decades, having developed an established way of working with governments, that obviously resulted in nothing happening, that telling them that the only way they would actually bring about change is working together as a coordinated effort to press governments to do what they should do anyway. They could not do it, which is why organisations like ICAN, it’s a global campaign. They stop nuclear weapons and it is working in a coalition fashion. But a lot of the older groups, I might add they’re all led by old white men, just have not been able to get out of their thinking of decades that you have to work with the governments and gently push them. Nukes will not be gotten rid of if you gently push the nuclear powers.  

Smith: I suppose it is very difficult that if you establish a way of working and you try because you believe in something to make change, and you don’t necessarily succeed, but you do something, then for somebody to come along and say, well, let’s do it a different way, sort of implies that you’ve been doing it a bit wrong, perhaps, or you can take it that way. Then that is a challenge.  

Williams: I would say I said it straight out. I didn’t leave it to their imagination. I said, clearly you guys, it’s not working. 

Smith: Yes. 

Williams: In your little silos, you’re not accomplishing what 70% of the planet wants to see. You can accomplish more by working together and pushing the envelope. As long as governments are comfortable with your little incremental movement, nothing’s going to change. 

Smith: Yes It’s a worry because I suppose the world is made up of silos and we have the odd exception perhaps, such as the International Campaign to Ban Landmines where people got out of their silos and something happens, or got pushed out of their silos. But it’s the exception. 

Williams: Well, I don’t know. Look at the 350 movement for the environment. It’s huge. It’s global. There’s a 350 Vermont in my home state that I participate with. It’s tons of organisations, big ones even with established history, which is kind of interesting, I’ll have to think about that, who have come together to work to try to stop the destruction of our environment. It wasn’t just humanitarian disarmament like we practice. There’s the coalition effort against child soldiers, the NGO coalition in support of the creation of the International Criminal Court. There are lots of things out there happening that a lot of people don’t know about. Because it’s not in the interest of the media to talk about it. 

Smith: Yes.  

Williams: The official story, war violence, we’re conditioned to believe that war and violence sell newspapers. How could you prove otherwise when all they do is highlight war and violence? The people you always hear who are always quoted are the same 25 officials in government or the institutions that support them. 

Smith: That’s true. It’s a very small pool of people, isn’t it?  

Williams: Because they keep it small. I mean, there’s a huge pool of other opinion. 

Smith: It’s true that war and violence is the daily diet and also the daily diet of entertainment for the majority. 

Williams: That’s because the same companies that own the so-called free Media of America, also own the corporate institutions that create film. It’s a little cabal. They work closely with the Pentagon, actually on many of their war movies. 

Smith: Yes. That figures. Would you call that a conspiracy or? 

Williams: No, I would call it “a war makes money, war movies make money, so why not promote it? ” 

Smith: It’s just good business. 

Williams: It’s good business, yes. It may not be like, I’m evil. I’m going to promote this because I know I will make money. It just makes money. You get into it, you don’t think about it. You wrap yourself in the flag. People have to lie to themselves to be able to do much of what they do in the world of war. 

Smith: Which brings us back to the question of the killer robots you mentioned because this is something that I suppose people haven’t thought much about. Autonomous robots that are making their own kill decisions and you feel this is, not around the corner, but coming for sure. 

Williams: It’s in progress now as we speak. There’s robotic equipment already in use on the battlefield. I’m not talking just about drones, they aren’t weaponised robots, but they’re robots that can carry equipment for a platoon. So the platoon doesn’t have to carry it itself. They’re little things that can go around a corner in an urban area and look to see if there are combatants hiding there. The movement toward increased autonomy we are told is inevitable. That we should just shut up and watch how it develops to make sure it isn’t evil. 

Smith: Yes. 

Williams: I think that that is patently absurd because the military never restrains itself. It needs to be forced to remember that it’s part of a larger society. 

Smith: In some ways, it’s a rather different challenge to the landmine challenge because landmines were, although still in use, a little bit the weapon of the past, whereas now you are tackling the weapons of the future. 

Williams: It’s true. Those weapons of the past weren’t worth much money. These weapons of the future are billions of dollars for the researchers, the beltway bandits, which are the companies in the so-called defense industry. A lot of the robotic work is being pushed by the industry, not by the needs of the military, which is also an issue that needs to be addressed. 

Smith: Do you feel that you are making good headway with this campaign? 

Williams: I’ll tell you, nobody was ever talking about it. I really believe the military and the industry thought it would just kind of sail right along. Suddenly over a space of a decade probably or so, we would have robotic weapon systems that can target and kill. I think they had no inkling that people might be agitated by this and create a campaign. They are aware of the public horror at the thought. We launched the campaign in April of last year. Within seven months, governments had decided to begin talking about killer robots in Geneva, this coming May. I’d say that we’ve made quite a bit of headway. I’m startled that that is happening. 


Smith: In 2006, you decided to get together with some other female peace laureates form this group, the Nobel Women’s Initiative, which basically is that, isn’t it? It’s lending your powerful voices to campaigns to help.  

Williams: It’s lending our powerful voices to women’s organisations around the world working for sustainable peace with justice and equality. We also helped spearhead a campaign to stop rape and gender violence in conflict. We just turned eight years old. I think we launched that campaign in May of 2011. But our, for example, there was just a Nobel Women’s Initiative delegation to the Democratic Republic of Congo. We brought women primarily from the US to meet with women’s organizations. They’re fighting against rape and gender violence and war. Then the Nobel Women’s Initiative people went on to Nairobi to meet with the many of the organisations in Africa that we work with to strategise for actions in Africa, as well as to prepare for the upcoming summit this June hosted by William Hague, the foreign secretary of the UK. I don’t know if you know about the Hague initiative to deal with rape and conflict. Our being with these organisations helps bring them together, helps them strategise, helps their voices be heard in ways they just otherwise wouldn’t be. It makes me happy. It’s the first time that I really felt thrilled about having the Nobel Prize. Because I felt like I was really sharing it with women around the world doing great work and who needed support. 

Smith: It certainly seems to be putting the prize to good use in a most palpable way. It really makes something of that prize. 

Williams: Absolutely. 

Smith: We often ask Nobel Prize laureates, how has the prize changed things for you? Sometimes the answer is that, it’s great but it sort of interferes in the business of getting on with research. Other times it sort of turns one towards a public audience. But this is something fairly different.  

Williams: I also note that, how many men have received the Nobel Peace Prize? Many of them I’m very close friends with, but there’s never been a Nobel men’s movement where they coming together to use that influence and access to support people around the world. I do think it’s quite fascinating that when we recognised there was sort of a enough women recipients alive today, that we could be something of a force that we immediately decided to create the Nobel Women’s Initiative. It has had a significant impact that is not measurable in today’s world, of trying to turn everything into corporate measurability, which makes me ill. I’m a grassroots activist. When somebody calls me a social entrepreneur, I do get angry. I’m not an entrepreneur, I’m an activist. In the philanthropic world, wanting every single thing to be measurable and accountable, some grassroots activism is not measurable like the corporate world. 

Smith: Yes. What’s your key performance indicator? 

Williams: Exactly. Mine is when women and women’s organisations write and say, thank you Nobel women for coming together and being a force with us and for us in the world. Those emails make me thrilled. You have no idea how much you influence us to and inspire us to do whatever. It’s fabulous. That’s what the Nobel Prize Peace Prize should be about, in my view. 

Smith: You described yourself as a grassroots activist. Where did that come from? You’ve mentioned your Catholic upbringing so you weren’t brought up an activist. 

Williams: No. But my father was an avid democrat in a Republican state. Vermont was, although it’s one of the most progressive states in the union now, when I was a kid growing up in a teeny town, it was a Republican state. My dad was vocally Democrat. 

Smith: Indeed, there’s a lot of activism in the Catholic church. There’s no reason why it shouldn’t have been, but it wasn’t. 

Williams: Not, not Catholic, I didn’t know Catholic activism till I was working in Central America and came upon the nuns and priests motivated by liberation theology. The Catholicism of my youth. It was hell, fire and damnation. It certainly wasn’t activism. 

Smith: So where did it come from? 

Williams: Vietnam. My first public protest was in May of 1970 against war in Vietnam. I was a 19-year-old university student. As anyone who knows anything about the Vietnam period, it was a war that affected everybody in one way or another. For me, it helped shatter my belief in the mythology of that America was great and good, and only did things for the best of people everywhere. If the military went anywhere, it was like World War II, to save the world. I learned then that that is a myth. 

Smith: Did that feel like a betrayal at the time? It must have been quite a shock to realise that. 

Williams: Of course, it was a shock. I don’t know if it felt like a betrayal, but it made me angry and it made me want to find a way to work to try to change US foreign policy. For me, it wasn’t in the State Department. 

Smith: Yes. 

Williams: Here I am, three decades or four decades later, still in my own way, attempting to deal with US foreign policy. 

Smith: Did you find that you were good at it, or did you find that you enjoyed it? Is there a taste for activism in there? Because of course, it’s primarily driven by driven the sense of injustice and needing to change things. But do you also like being an activist, I suppose? 

Williams: I wouldn’t do it if I didn’t. I have been fortunate to be able to live my life doing what I believe in. Not everybody has that fortune. I love being an activist, but I get burned out like everybody. There have been times where I wanted to walk away from it and just have the IQ of a large head of lettuce, which is zero and not care, but it’s not possible. 

Smith: To sort of catch light at 19, because there’s Vietnam to object to is in a way a sort – it’s awful to describe and I don’t mean to describe Vietnam as a lucky circumstance – but it’s a lucky circumstance to find that at 19, a pretty good time. You find out sort of what you’re made of. 

Williams: That time in US history, it was also the Civil Rights Movement with Martin Luther King. It was Vietnam. It was the re-emergence of the woman’s movement. It was just bubbling social change. You’d have to have the emotions of a box of rocks to not respond in some way to all of what was going on around you. You couldn’t not see it. If you turned on the television every night, which my parents did, you would see the Vietnam War in your face. Unlike the wars today we’re not allowed to see them because it might distress the American populace, which needs to be distressed. We saw it, and friends were getting drafted. There’s no way you could escape it. I didn’t want to escape it. I wanted to embrace it fully. I never stopped wanting to embrace it fully. 


Smith: Somehow during your time in El Salvador, you became the person who then would start the campaign to ban landmines, or rather bring people together to that campaign. How did that come about? I mean, how did it come about that you took on the landmine challenge? 

Williams: One little thing before that even when I was doing work on El Salvador, I wanted organisations working on the different wars in Central America to coordinate their activities. I actually tried to coordinate with other groups, and it just went nowhere. Somehow in my guts, I even knew then that if you work together, you could do more. Then I was hideously burned out after 11 years working on Salvador in a couple years, Nicaragua and Honduras. I was actually thinking about getting a straight job for a while. I was saved from myself when I was asked by Bobby Mueller of the Vietnam Veterans of America Foundation, and Tomas Auer, a man I knew from my Central America work. Auer ran Medical International, which is a German humanitarian relief organisation, if I wanted to create a political movement of non-governmental organisations to ban landmines. I thought about it for about 37 seconds and agreed. I wanted to try. And here we are with a treaty that has changed the world on landmines and a way of working together with governments and international institutions and NGOs that can face challenges in the world and bring about change. The model we created in many ways is more important than the treaty. I mean, obviously the treaty is an important treaty in the world, but the sense that we have given to ordinary people around the world that they can make a difference, it’s huge. The experience of work, governments and non-governmental organisations working in partnership also has been a huge thing. I’m very proud of that part. 

Smith: The treaty is exactly 15 years old now. 

Williams: Yes. It entered into force 15 years ago on March 1st. 

Smith: What do you see as the end point of that campaign? Does it have another endless time to run, another 15 years to run? What do you think? 

Williams: I hope not. I hope it isn’t still around in 15 years. I believe that it has been fundamental in the countries actually obeying it, complying with it. The stockpile mines destroyed the mines out of the ground, the survivor assistance the stigmatisation of the weapon to such a degree that countries that haven’t signed it pretty much obey it, including the US, China, Russia. Certainly at some point, I think it should end. I’m not sure when that is. We certainly talk about it. 

Smith: How active does the campaigning have to be? Is it almost a self-sustaining movement now? Or do you still have to keep pushing? 

Williams: I honestly am not very involved in it. I show up for events when my colleagues think it’s youthful. My energy now really is the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Stop Rape campaign, the Stop Killer Robots Campaign. For example, this summer though, there will be every five years of the Mine and Treaty, there is a general review of the treaty language, the obligations, how they’re being met, what challenges there are. This year, it will be this summer, I think in June in Mozambique. It’s kind of like closing a circle because Mozambique was the first country where we did have a mind band treaty meeting. I’ll go to that. That’s the kind of event that I participate in these days. I would certainly hope by the time the next five year review happens, the landmine campaign won’t need to be there. 

Smith: Do you think the weapon itself will ever cease to exist? 

Williams: Sure. They’ll always be improvised devices, but I mean, hardly any nation in the world today uses it. The country that has consistently used it is Burma. Both the government forces and the gorillas. But there’s been amazingly limited use of landmine since the treaty. 

Smith: That is a massive success story, that something can become a pariah that people just have to avoid it, even though it must be very tempting for in many circumstances.  

Williams: Yes, absolutely. We want to do the same thing with killer robots. 

Smith: Tell me a little bit more about the model, the model you devised. 

Williams: We didn’t devise it on purpose. It emerged out of our work. At first, our position with governments was somewhat adversarial. When I first went to New York City and tried to meet with governments at the UN missions there, every single person I met with said essentially, go away, girl. They didn’t say it that way, but, you’re crazy. This will never happen. Over time, as governments began to pay attention to the information we had, and look at the long-term result, impact of the weapon, and they started to respond by taking domestic steps, national legislation, and as more countries did that, we worked closely with them and they became the core group of governments that ultimately pushed forward the mind being treaty. It was through that whole process of working with them as they passed national legislation, and then getting them talking to each other to move it forward, that the model emerged. It wasn’t something we sat down and plotted out. 

Smith: One can see how that model, for instance, would be the way forward with killer robots. 

Williams: That’s what we’re doing.  

Smith: With the other campaign. You mentioned against rape. It’s a very different model, isn’t it? 

Williams: Yes, it’s harder for sure. Violence against women is accepted. Protestations of the contrary. You go and beat your wife, it’s a domestic, it’s something that happens in your home, and it’s nobody’s business interfere. The objectification of women and all of that, that we’ve heard about a million times. But all of that supports a feeling of men, that they have the right to do whatever the hell they want, and they won’t suffer the consequences. Impunity for rapists, whether it’s in war or in peace, is appalling. Instead of the emphasis being on stop rape, it’s on telling women how to avoid rape. It should be telling men that they should not rape and that when they do, they will go to jail, period. Instead of looking how the woman was dressed, or even if she’s a prostitute, it doesn’t give you the right to rape her for God’s sake. Why do we never look at the men who do the raping? It always becomes a double, triple trauma for the woman because she has to defend herself, prove that she wasn’t provocative. Talk about her past sexual life, which has nothing to do with anything. It’s appalling. Given that point of view in much of the even “civilized world” tackling it during war is that much harder. But I think by tackling it in war, we have leverage to tackle it across the board, which is why I find it interesting. 

Smith: Start at perhaps the hardest point. But again, I suppose, it may be a silly or simplistic parallel but a bit like land mine, it’s a question of making it unacceptable. It’s a question of making it something that public consciousness is not prepared to put up with. 

Williams: It’s also making men instead of feeling uncomfortable when they hear the word rape because they don’t want anyone to think they might be a rapist,  How about men getting up and being proactive? Go and join women’s organisations that are trying to stop rape. Don’t just sit there and cower and worry about how you’re going to be seen. Get up and do something. Women need men to stand up and say, I’m not a rapist. I don’t beat my wife. I’m training my sons to not be rapists and beat their wives. I stand with women. Who does that? 

Smith: Good question. 

Williams: There you go. We’re trying to work with men’s organisations that do that. There aren’t many. 

Smith: I suppose if you go, for instance, to the webpages of the Nobel Women’s in Initiative it’s not immediately apparent perhaps that this is for men also. Perhaps in some ways it is but in some ways it isn’t. It’s also a another barrier to find ways to make men understand that they’re included. 

Williams: It’s something we’re working on in the campaign leadership group, which is something like 28 organisations that are on the coordinating board or whatever it’s named. I can’t remember. From all over the world, from Burma, from Africa, central America, everywhere. Because it’s a problem everywhere.  

Smith: There are many fronts to be fighting on. 

Williams: I still have the energy to do it, so there you go. 

Smith: You said you occasionally want to feel like switching off, but do you ever get tired? 

Williams: Of course I get tired. 

Smith: You don’t feel you’ve done enough ever. 

Williams: Sometimes I feel like I haven’t come close to doing enough. Sure. I’m a normal human. I don’t sit here and think, oh wow, I won the Nobel Prize. I’m magnificent. I’ve done all these great things. I never think that.  I think, what can I be doing now that now helps bring about change? Yes, I get tired of thinking about that. My fantasy is a full calendar year in which I have to go nowhere. That I can’t go in my own car. I don’t want to get on another airplane. I don’t want to go be inspiring. I don’t want to have to feel the pressure of being inspiring, which is one of the things that comes with the Nobel Prize. Yeah, I’d like to just do nothing. But that isn’t going to happen. 

Smith: For how many hours of the day do you get to be normal each day? 

Williams: Oh, I’m normal all the time when I’m home. My husband and I are very normal. I think it’s hilarious. Sometimes people say to us, oh, the conversations you two must have. Yeah, occasionally. But normally that’s when we’re in campaign meetings. When we’re home. It’s dear, I already cleaned the cat boxes, what are we having for dinner? Who’s cooking? You? Me or both of us?? You need to add that to the grocery list, we’ve run out of raisins or whatever. It’s normal stuff. I’m very normal at home. For example, right now I’m still in my lounge wear. 

Smith: That’s nice.  

Williams: It’s because right before you and I started talking, I spent an hour on my recumbent bicycle exercising. Sorry, that’s obviously the clocks.  

Smith: Gorgeous to hear the grandfather clock in the background. 

Williams: Isn’t that beautiful? It’s actually a wall clock, but it’s a pendulum clock. And I love it. Yes, I work out. It helps make me less crazy. 

Smith: It’s been a real pleasure listening to you. Thank you. I have to say, being inspirational for an hour. Thank you. 

Williams: Alright, thanks. 

Smith: Thanks again. 


Brilliant: This podcast was presented by Nobel Prize Conversations. If you’d like to know more about Jody Williams, you can go to Where you’ll find a wealth of information about the prizes and the people behind the discoveries. 

Nobel Prize Conversations is a podcast series with Adam Smith, a co-production of FILT and Nobel Prize Outreach. The producer for Nobel Prize Talks was Magnus Gylje. The editorial team for this encore production includes Andrew Hart, Olivia Lundqvist and me, Clare Brilliant. Music by Epidemic Sound. You can find previous seasons and conversations on Acast or wherever you listen to podcasts. Thanks for listening. 

Nobel Prize Conversations is produced in cooperation with Fundación Ramón Areces.

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