Mothers and Children: Voices for Peace
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
May has been our month of mothers, and news stories about women and peace this week are also largely tied to the experience of mothering and families. The thousands of pregnant women in internally displaced persons (IDP) camps in northwest Pakistan who are due to give birth in the next month but who lack access to medical facilities and caregivers are at the front of my mind. Women in these camps, displaced by the ongoing violent conflict between Pakistan security forces and Taliban militants in the Swat region, face a plethora of challenges from adequate health care, to providing food for their families (even navigating the transportation systems to get them to the places where they can buy food is a struggle in this unfamiliar place), to language and cultural barriers within host communities, to pursuing education for their children. While the conflict rages on, IDPs in Pakistan and other conflict regions have nowhere to stay and nowhere to go.
The words that stick in my mind about the situation in Pakistan come from Malalay, an 11-year-old girl from Swat who poetically spoke on behalf of her classmates at a recent peace conference in northwest Pakistan. She says:
Education is my basic right
My books have been burnt
My pen has been broken
My school has been torched
O’ the protector of human rights and justice,
Come out! Stand by us!
Give my books back!
Give my pen back!
I am the daughter of the Eve!
I’m a mother, I’ m a sister, I’m a daughter…
I am an honorable part of this global village…
Is there anyone to hear my voice, to hear Swat??
Help us and protect us!
Malalay’s poetry gets right to the heart of why it’s important to engage young people in peacebuilding processes. We are all mothers, sisters, and daughters in this global village. What’s more, some of the wisest words I’ve heard in my life have come from children. My four year-old niece, for example, is filled with pithy bits of insight like “You can’t choose whether you have a baby girl or boy, but you just have to love what you get.” Connecting with, and listening to, the children in our lives inspired This Week’s Peace Action, “Share a quote about peace with a youth in your community.” Post your quotes for peace in the comments section of this blog or check out the (new!) This Week’s Peace Action blog. Either way, now is the time to reach across generations to build peace.
It was the shocking number that caught my eye in this next mother-related story: More than 536,000 women die in pregnancy and childbirth each year by pregnancy and childbirth—more than half of them in Africa. It’s a tough time to be a mother, so it’s all the more important for mothers to use their experience and influence for peace. And what better time? This Monday marked the International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament and this coming Saturday is the International Day for United Nations Peacekeepers.
We observe those commemorative days, and share wisdom with young people, while North Korea aims nukes at the sky and the world community searches for a response. Meanwhile, women like Peace X Peace member and 2006 Women’s Global Roundtable participant Suraya Pakzad are building peace on the ground. Pakzad, who was recently recognized as one of the Time 100 “Most Important People in the World,” entered an arranged marriage at 14, had two children by 16, and founded underground schools in Afghanistan at the height of the Taliban’s power. Today her organization, Voice for Women, operates a wide range of programs with international assistance.
Malalay,” the protector of human rights and justice” may be closer than you think!