In 2006, Swinburne PhD candidate Dimity Hawkins helped to create the International Campaign to Abolish Nuclear Weapons (ICAN). This month, the organisation won the Nobel Peace Prize, making it the first Australian organisation to do so.
ICAN is a coalition of non-governmental organisations in one hundred countries that was founded in Melbourne. The organisation works to bring an end to nuclear weapons.
“Although we instigated ICAN here in Australia, it really is a global movement,” says Ms Hawkins.
“ICAN was built off the backs of generations of people and has always been about trying to build a grass roots movement to share with the people.”
ICAN was awarded the Nobel Peace Prize in recognition of their role in achieving the Treaty on the Prohibition of Nuclear Weapons.
The treaty outlaws the worst weapons of mass destruction and establishes a clear pathway to their total elimination. The agreement, adopted on 7 July, has the backing of 122 nations.
While ICAN has been nominated for the Nobel Peace Prize for the past few years, Ms Hawkins was completely blown away by the win.
“It’s completely bizarre,” she says.
Campaigning for change
Ms Hawkins has spent the majority of her life campaigning for the disarmament of nuclear weapons, working as an activist for a number of years before working for the Medical Association for Prevention of War, which was pivotal in instigating ICAN.
“Any progress on nuclear weapon disarmament after the cold war had just dissipated,” she says of the time before she decided to start working on ICAN.
“It was starting to go very much backwards and we needed to take a new approach.
“We wanted to take these conversations out of the hallways of the UN and to bring them back to the kitchen tables, to the classrooms, to the streets and to the lecture theatres.”
It was out of this that ICAN began.
ICAN campaigners in front of the Central Park skyline in New York | Photo: Ralf Schlesener
Studying at Swinburne
After choosing grass-roots activism over university when she was younger, Ms Hawkins decided to pursue a Bachelor of Arts (Politics) in 2009 at Swinburne and fell in love with the world of academia.
“I felt it was really important to study as I’d worked for a long time with really eminent academics, doctors and other highly qualified professionals while I had no degree of my own,” she says.
“I was one of those typical mature age students who just never shuts up.”
While she says it was initially a pragmatic choice to study, she found herself learning so much more than she expected.
She is now undertaking her PhD on the topic of how Pacific nations responded to the shifting nuclear power politics in the period of 1966 to 1974.
“I’ve had the most remarkable amount of support from the politics and history team at Swinburne,” she says.
Continuing the fight
Ms Hawkins says that the threats of nuclear weapons are far from over.
“There are currently around 15,000 nuclear weapons in the world, with around 93 per cent of these in the arsenals of the USA and Russia.
“Seven other nations - the United Kingdom, France, China, India Pakistan, Israel and North Korea - also have nuclear arsenals.”
With the current tensions and dangerous rhetoric between North Korea and the United States, Ms Hawkins believes ICAN is more important than ever.
“For many victims of nuclear use, particularly the Hibakusha (atomic bomb survivors of Japan), and nuclear test survivors from Australia and across the Pacific, to imagine nuclear war is unacceptable.
“It is their voices within the ICAN campaign that have led understandings of the humanitarian impacts of nuclear weapons use, and their experience that helps drive the campaign to ensure nuclear weapons must never be used again.”