Special Event on the International Day of Peace
21 September 2015
WOMEN’S STRATEGIES FOR PEACE FOR FUTURE GENERATIONS
On the special occasion of the International Day of Peace, the United Nations Office in Geneva (UNOG) Library brought together eminent women speakers to discuss «Women’s Strategies for Peace for Future Generations ». The event was sponsored by the Permanent Mission of Ecuador to the UN, the World Future Council (WFC) and the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU).
The event was opened by Charlotte Warakaulle, Director of UNOG Library, who shared the purpose and objectives of the UN Library Talks series and the prestigious events hosted in this 70th anniversary year of the UN. She welcomed the four founding members addressing this Geneva launch event of ‘Rising Women Rising World’ (RWRW) : a global initiative of women experts united by their aim of co-creating a world that works for all. In introducing the opening performance by Dr. Rama Mani, she invited the audience to cultivate new ways of thinking about building peace.
Through an intense performance on «Women’s Voices and Visions for a Peaceful Future», Dr. Rama Mani (Senior Advisor of the Right Livelihood Award Foundation, Co-Founder of RWRW) showed how women in conflict zones around the world are redefining leadership and shaping a new paradigm of power to build peace. Her testimonies focused on four women survivors from the Holocaust, Palestine, DR Congo and Syria to illustrate four paradigm shifts: from the old paradigm of ‘avoiding pain to cling to power’ to the new paradigm of ‘confronting pain to find power’; from ‘crushing the enemy with force’ to ‘facing the enemy with humanity’; from ‘the love of power justifying anything’ to ‘the power of love enabling everything’ and from ‘divide and conquer’ to ‘unite and protect’. Their stories showed the resilience and courage of ordinary women in the face of extraordinary crises and that “every darkness contains a point of light”.
Connecting to Dr. Mani’s performance UNOG’s Director General, Mr. Michael Møller, reminded that the International Day of Peace is an occasion to reflect on the fact that the strategies of the international community in the pursuit of a more peaceful future do not always work and that it therefore should be used to debate on a new way forward: “We have an obligation to try every strategy to bring an end to conflict and this must include women’s strategies.”. The Director General also presented the Geneva Gender Champions initiative by which organizations, permanent representatives, and, soon, civil society partners can tangibly commit to promote gender equality.
After this inspiring start, the Chairperson, Ambassador Maria Fernanda Espinosa Garcès (Permanent Representative of Ecuador to the UN in Geneva and Councilor of WFC), posed critical questions to frame the panel discussion. What is the role of women in the creation of peaceful societies? How to build a culture of peace and foster multiculturalism? What can women do to improve the capacity of the UN system to respond to the current challenges for peace? How can the UN system address the critical issue of the economy of war, and what is the specific role of women on this issue? As a former Ecuadorian Minister of Defense, she shared her insights on how to overcome the war economy. She highlighted the contradiction between the will to build peace and the enormous financial and human investment that is still being made in the destructive weapons industry and arms trade. Building on Piketty’s theory that the concentration of wealth and its unequal distribution exacerbates conflict, she stressed that: “Peace is not only the absence of war. Inequality, racism, injustice, poverty and hunger are perhaps the biggest threats to peace.”
In introducing the panelists, the Chairperson noted that five were Councilors of the WFC, in addition to four being founding members of RWRW. Thus, this event marks a real creative collaboration between the UN, institutions and civil society working for future generations.
Dr. Scilla Elworthy (Founder of Oxford Research Group and of Peace Direct, and Co-Founder of RWRW) delivered a passionate and compelling speech presenting first RWRW and then outlining four strategies for peace. She highlighted the unique approach of RWRW to co-create a world that works for all through 12 ‘Constellations’ of women experts who propose clear visions and tested strategies for transformation in each of the key sectors. She then explained four key strategies for peace: first, enabling more qualified women in countries in conflict to occupy key positions in peace agreements; second, building infrastructures for peace, as in Kenya; third, teaching children the skills of non-violence starting at nursery schools; and fourth, getting the media to give recognition to heroes and heroines of war prevention. Such heroines and heroes are the ones who, for instance, mediate between warlords in Sudan, rescue child soldiers in DRC, persuade young people to not become suicide bombers in Pakistan, or build bridges between people who hate each other in Sri Lanka. She stressed the importance of having their stories told on the front pages of all newspapers. She invited the audience to “imagine a world where peace builders, in every part of the planet, were systematically trained in the skills of Gandhi, Mandela and Aung San Suu Kyi. Imagine if graduating from such a course became a basic qualification for standing election to any public office.”
The next captivating intervention was by Zahira Kamal (General Secretary of the Palestinian Democratic Union Party) on “Reimagining Political Leadership for Troubled Times”. She shared her powerful first-hand experience as a woman politician and activist who became the first ever Minister of Women’s Affairs of Palestine and first female Secretary General of a political party. After touching on the crisis in the Middle East and the current challenges faced by the Occupied Palestinian Territories, she exposed women’s roles in the struggle for peace and reconstruction. She mentioned several key initiatives she has led: identifying qualified women suited for leadership; encouraging women to pursue different studies and convincing conservative families to allow women to pursue higher education; empowering women by raising awareness on their rights, and supporting victims or so called ‘losers’ (those who lost their homes, family members or even hope) to get their voices heard in policy debates. She finished her intervention by sensitizing the audience that under the Occupation “going to school is an act of resistance, going to the hospital is an act of resistance, whatever you are doing in life is an act of resistance!”
Next to share her views, was Thais Corral (Co-Founder of Women’s Environment and Development Organization), who started by paying tribute to Wangari Maathai for her invaluable work in the Green Belt Movement, which showed the interconnectedness between peace and the environment. She focused on “Securing Environmental and Food Security for Future Generations” by presenting a vital initiative that empowered women in the semi-arid region of Brazil. This movement led by women revolves around the licuri palm tree, a tree that is part of the identity of the women and the communities, and also a source of livelihood. This initiative not only gives a key role to women, but also fights against deforestation, protects the environment, addresses food scarcity, and contributes to the livelihood of the communities and peace. It is an initiative that deserves the Nobel Peace Prize, according to Ms. Corral as it showcases the interconnection between development, gender equality, peace, food and environment. “We live in a world where everything is separated – Democracy, Peace, Environment, etc. – So we get confused and fail to see how everything is interconnected.”
These interventions were followed by an interactive discussion with the audience during which several speakers from diverse UN agencies, permanent Missions and non-governmental and academic organisations shared their perspectives and asked pertinent questions on the topics raised in the panel. Amongst them was Jakob von Uexkull (founder of WFC and the Right Livelihood Award) who delivered a powerful statement on the WFC’s Global Policy Action Plan, which comprises concrete and tested policy solutions responding to the most urgent peace-threatening challenges we face. He also highlighted the annual Future Policy Award, which his organisation, in partnership with the IPU and UN agencies, annually celebrates policies that create better living conditions for current and future generations.. In 2014, the award recognized best policies to end violence against women, and its 2015 edition will celebrate, on 20th of October 2015 in Geneva, the world’s best policies strengthening children’s rights, in partnership with UNICEF and IPU.
In her concluding remarks, Ambassador Anda Filip (Inter-Parliamentary Union Director for Member Parliaments & External Relations) captured the gist of the discussions and interactive dialogue with the audience. She stressed the importance of creating an enabling environment for women to become agents of transformation. She shared her experience at the Inter-Parliamentary Union where gender equality is a key component, by presenting figures and initiatives aiming to increase the active involvement of women in parliaments and in the political process in general. She noted that there has been considerable progress in the world, especially in Africa and in South America. However, on the downside and despite the international effort and gains, at this rate of progress, at least another 20 years will be needed to attain the targets of the 1995 Beijing Conference. She closed the event with her forward-looking statement: “What do we do now? Learn from these initiatives and strategies, build and enhance partnerships, and disseminate the good practices as widely as possible so that women can claim the role that is rightfully theirs.”
Watch Women for the World in action at : https://goo.gl/XuxXbe