“Feminists have redefined peace through gender relations,” explained Jacqueline Pitanguy of CEPIA in Brazil. This shift brings into focus an imbalance of power, inequality between partners, and domestic and sexual violence; it calls attention to “the war inside the home.” These threats to peace, Pitanguy explained, must be avoided, managed and constrained. Extending from the private sphere, Lina Abou-Habib described how Women’s Learning Partnership (WLP) promotes peacebuilding in the MENA region by “open[ing] the public sphere for women’s participation [through] demonstrations, sit-ins [and] policy dialogues.” WLP works to demystify concepts of leadership, participation and democracy, making women, their work and their voices more visible.
Mahnaz Afhami, founder of WLP, elaborated: “To keep the status quo is patriarchy.” The order and the structure of hierarchy posits men as the heads of families, communities and the religious domain, which is extended to the realm of political parties and power. Dismantling these entrenched structures may seem impossible, she acknowledged. But, quoting from Alice in Wonderland, she advised us to “see” the impossible, because “we can only change [it] once we believe in it.”
Alice Nderitu, 2012 Woman PeaceMaker and a commissioner on Kenya’s National Cohesion and Integration Commission, described her work to build peace following the election violence in her country, painting a full picture of the “complexities of women and war.” Women were not only innocent victims, but also took up arms that had flooded the northern part of the country from the neighboring countries of South Sudan and Somalia. Women also took charge, organized meetings, took men off the street and created sanctuaries for those who had been affected by gender-based violence. Nderitu concluded, sharing the words of Dekha Ibrahim Abdi, a Somali activist and peacemaker; “an egg, like peace, is delicate and fragile, but given the right conditions it gives life.”
The peacebuilding panelists illuminated the hidden structures of oppression and the “burden of peace;” yet their words also created a sense of hope and optimism that is necessary to be the change we wish to see in the world.
Stay tuned in the coming months for the full report from the international conference “Breaking Barriers: What it will take to achieve security, justice and peace.”