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Somehow, the Word ‘Peace’ Got Lost


Afghan women
Afghan women voting in presidential and provincial council elections in 2009, exercising their constitutional rights. In her essay, Cora Weiss says that Afghan women must be part of peace-making negotiations. ERIC KANALSTEIN/UN PHOTO

This essay was adapted from a speech that Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, a network of peace and justice groups, read as a panelist on the “Women, War and Peace” debate held during the 56th Commission on the Status of Women this month at the UN. The debate that Weiss spoke at, on March 1, showed a film, “Peace Unveiled,” about women in Afghanistan.

Who comes from a place where there has been violence or war?

I have enormous admiration and respect for the women of Afghanistan. I mourn with them for the loss of life, the wounded, the babies frozen to death in refugee camps, the destruction to their homes and communities. And I celebrate their determination to be at the peace table.

The question after so many years of war and waste is: When will we stop making war? When will the currency of foreign policy stop being weapons? When will be become exhausted from exhausting all nonlethal means of resolving conflict before resorting to violence? When will we implement the Charter of the United Nations, dedicated to preventing the scourge of war? When will women be at all the decision-making tables to prevent war and to design the peace?

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Humanity has abolished slavery, colonialism, apartheid and the prohibition of women voting. Why can’t we abolish war?

We gather for the annual Commission on the Status of Women conference at this time of year because March 8 is International Women’s Day, voted by the General Assembly in 1975 to be the United Nations Day for Women’s Rights and International Peace.

Somehow, peace has gotten lost.

The theme for the conference is rural women. Yet there is not one word on the draft final document that I saw that recognizes that rural women are affected by war, by the spending for military budgets when the budgets for human security are starving. Women are raped on their way to fetch water and firewood by men with guns; their fields are bombed to prevent planting crops, which contributes to famine; war has everything to do with women, rural and otherwise. Paying for wars is a killer. And what do we do after the war to heal the wounds? And what do we do about hate and reconciliation?

I firmly believe that we cannot afford war anymore, that we must multiply our efforts to prevent war, we must stop rewarding governments with weapons, and one way to reach this goal is to bring women to all decision-making tables and to fully carry out Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security. The resolution has three P’s: participation, prevention and protection. It was unanimously adopted by the council, so all member states must carry out it out. What can we do to make sure women sit at all decision-making tables?

We need to do many things at the same time. We cannot wait for all women to be educated, before more women are elected to government, before national action plans for Resolution 1325 are carried out.
Most important for me is peace education. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon has called for “catalyzing a global movement to achieve quality, relevant and universal education.” What is relevant? Learning about human rights, gender equality, disarmament, nonviolence, sustainable development, human security and traditional peace practices must be integrated into all education systems.

How did your grandmother resolve problems with your grandfather? Did she kill him? My grandmother used to say, if she saw me crying or with a black eye, eat first and tell me later. She should have taught conflict resolution. We need to bring peace education to formal and informal learning for girls and boys, women and men. We need to teach through participation, welcoming critical inquiry and reflection so we can prepare everyone for democracy and an active role in society.

The Norwegian Nobel Committee referred to Resolution 1325 in awarding three women laureates this year, demonstrating that it is not a white Western resolution but a universal declaration unanimously adopted by the Security Council.

In her Nobel Peace Prize acceptance speech, Tawakul Karman of Yemen said, “Resistance against repression and violence is possible without relying on similar repression and violence.”

Leymah Gbowee, the second Nobel laureate, from Liberia said, “We knew the end of the war would come only through nonviolence. Rape and abuse is the result of a larger problem, the absence of women from decision-making. Women are no longer begging for peace but demanding peace, justice, equality and inclusion in decision-making.” (The president of Liberia, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, was the third Nobel laureate.)

I have marched, petitioned, written letters, gone to jail, spoken out and joined organizations, and I have concluded that peace education may be the most sustainable work we can engage in. To reach peace, as our mentor, Betty Reardon, the founder of the International Institute of Peace Education, says, we need to teach peace.

ellen johnson sirleaf
The Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, at her inauguration in Monrovia on Jan. 16, 2012. Sirleaf shared the Nobel Peace Prize with two other women this year. UNMIL PHOTO

When we gather together to rebuild our communities, and when women and men, young people and former combatants are part of the planning process, those communities cannot be destroyed.

As the late defender of human rights, Archbishop Dom Hélder Câmara of Brazil, said, “Another word for development is peace.”

My last contribution to this discussion asks, what kind of women are we calling for? Is just being a woman enough to sit at the peace table, to be in the government?

In the developing world it might still be enough, because most women have shared the terrible experience of poverty, violence, abuse, hunger and exclusion.

But in the developed world, we now have many women who have climbed the testosterone ladder to success, women who have ambitions like many men, and if elected they would behave like many men. They would go to war rather than be exhausted trying to prevent it; they would vote for contracts for weapons manufacturers, instead of thinking of ways to convert their products into domestically useful materials.

So when we speak of empowering women, we need to speak about women who are dedicated to peace and justice, gender equality and sustainable development; about women who would integrate peace education into schools and believe in all human rights for all people.

It’s time to get more sophisticated and discriminating about whom we select to make decisions. It’s time for us to make big circles of women so that many are part of the process. That’s what democracy should be, participation of everyone; that’s why there are occupy movements in most countries; people are protesting greed, protesting authoritarian rule, calling for inclusion. That’s why there has been an Arab Spring, and it’s not over. That’s why women have been organizing in Afghanistan to be part of the peace-making table.

We have a lot to do, and we need to work together to get it done.

We welcome your comments on this article.  What are your thoughts?

Cora Weiss is the president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, which is dedicated to ending war. She has been a peace activist since the early 1960s, when she became an early member of Women Strike for Peace, a group that worked to end nuclear testing in the atmosphere. She was also a leader in the anti-Vietnam war movement; as a co-chairwoman and director of the Committee of Liaison With Families of Prisoners Detained in Vietnam, Weiss arranged the exchange of mail between families and POWs in Vietnam.

As a trustee of Hampshire College, she started the campus campaign to divest stocks in companies doing business in South Africa. Weiss has supported the United Nations since the 1950s, when she hosted Africans who were petitioning for independence of their countries.

Weiss has received the Peace Studies Medal of Manhattan College and the George F. Kennan Award of the New Jersey Peace Action. In May 1998 she and William Sloane Coffin were honored at the Riverside Church of New York on the 20th anniversary of their founding of the Riverside Disarmament Program, which Weiss directed for 10 years.

She lives in New York City.

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Somehow, the Word ‘Peace’ Got Lost
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12 years ago

Even in this country, US, women are not included in a debate on contraceptives! Thank you for your wise words.
12 years ago

Thank you for these wise words! Yes, working for peace is exhausting. Commitment to peace is challenging. We are all tempted to give in to the system, and give up our work. We must never give up. I especially like your statement “another word for peace is development”.

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