Women as peacemakers

by Antonella Notari Vischer/Womanity Foundation
Thursday, 5 March 2015 21:14 GMT

U.S. first lady Michelle Obama plays table tennis as Peng Liyuan (R), wife of Chinese President Xi Jinping, looks on during a visit of Beijing Normal School, a school that prepares students for universities abroad, in Beijing March 21, 2014. REUTERS/Andy Wong/Pool

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* Any views expressed in this opinion piece are those of the author and not of Thomson Reuters Foundation.

To give world peace a chance, we must strengthen the resilience of local communities and, importantly, of women and women’s organisations

Whenever I ask women in Afghanistan, Brazil, India and Palestine what they wish for above all, they mostly reply: “peace and safety”.  If we have peace, we can build all else upon it, bit by bit, together. But here we are, surrounded by violence - at times of gruesome brutality - threats and insecurity. The ground under our feet threatening to swallow us; the streets and our very homes unsafe.

War, terrorism, wide-spread and unpunished aggression are crippling many communities around the world, and particularly affecting women in their capacity to realize their aspirations and contribute to public life in a meaningful way.

We need to concentrate our efforts on building peace, not only between nations and warring factions, but also within societies. A lasting peace made of justice, equality and freedom.

This peace will not primarily come from UN conference halls and government chancelleries; it will grow from within the communities, nurtured by men and women united around humanistic values.

To give peace a chance, we must strengthen the resilience of local communities and, importantly, of women and women’s organisations, who are often the bedrocks of stability in a wavering environment.

The key components of the sort of grass-roots resilience that will resist threats and destruction and counter them with respect, solidarity and humanity are, in my view: access to education and knowledge; access to power and agency; connections with allies and supporters.

However, in many parts of the world, North and South, East and West, great efforts are being deployed to keep women from accessing precisely these fundamental entitlements that could give them the means to take part in the negotiations, decision-making processes and endeavors affecting the socio-economic development of their communities.

Women and girls are willfully hindered from accessing the levels of education that will prepare them to participate in public affairs and rise to positions of leadership; they are too often blocked from obtaining knowledge that gives them an informed stance in the important conversations around their communities’ future; they are kept in isolation, frightened into retreat and cut off from decisional fora.

We must counter these obstructions in determined, unrelenting and creative ways. Through laws that guarantee the same citizen’s rights to all, men or women; through civil action that insists that such laws are implemented everywhere, even in the most remote and isolated communities; and through the allocation of public and private means and resources in favor of women’s education, their professional and social ascent. We must also weave relations with women and women’s organisations wherever they face hardship and opposition, and extend our support in all ways accessible to us, across boundaries.

Lasting peace and safety is not brought about by force, and prosperity and progress can only grow in communities where everyone is treated with respect, acknowledged for the roles they can play and allowed to realize their full potential.

Let’s make sure women and girls are given the possibility to be today’s and tomorrow’s peacemakers. 

Antonella Notari Vischer is director of the Womanity Foundation.