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A Woman’s World―and the Challenge of Peace

26 October 2009 No Comment

Kimberly WeichelGuest Commentary by Kimberly Weichel

Last week began with the release of The Shriver Report and ended with United Nations Day, October 24. The report, short-titled “A Woman’s Nation,” documents the growing importance of women in the economic life of the United States. The day is dedicated to the global pursuit of peace.

I know from long experience that women are just as essential to world peace as we are to the economy of this nation. I have been fortunate to know extraordinary women in my career, whether working for change under apartheid in South Africa, standing for peace in the former Soviet Union, or being on the frontline in war and conflict zones. My experience says that the power of women can heal the differences that divide us. At a very deep level, I know that the power to bridge and connect is far stronger than the power to divide, and I know that women carry the wisdom and responsibility to be the peacebuilders.

This awareness and experience is a recurring theme in my work with women who are on the forefront of change in many societies around the world, leading grassroots efforts, organizing communities, and modeling the kind of feminine power that is so needed today.

Why are women well suited as peacebuilders? The reasons that follow are based on my own experience and that of the Women Waging Peace Network.

  • Women are adept at bridging ethnic, religious, political, and cultural divides. Social science research indicates that women generally are more collaborative than men and thus more inclined toward consensus and compromise. Women often use their role as mothers to cut across international borders and internal divides. Every effort to bridge divides, even if initially unsuccessful, teaches lessons and establishes connections to be built on later.
  • Women have their fingers on the pulse of the community. Living and working close to the roots of conflict, they are well-positioned to provide essential information about activities leading up to armed conflict and record events during war, including gathering evidence at scenes of atrocities. Women thus play a critical role in mobilizing their communities to begin the process of reconciliation and rebuilding once hostilities end.
  • Women are often at the center of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), popular protests, electoral referendums, and other citizen-empowering movements whose influence has grown with the global spread of democracy. Because women frequently outnumber men after conflict, they often drive the on-the-ground implementation of any peace agreement.
  • Women have access because they are often viewed as less threatening. Ironically, women’s status as second-class citizens in some countries is a source of power, increasing women’s ability to find innovative ways to cope with problems. Because women are not ensconced within the mainstream, those in power consider them less threatening, and allow women to work unimpeded and “below the radar screen.”
  • Women are highly invested in preventing, stopping, and recovering from conflict. Women are motivated to protect their children and ensure security for their families. They watch as their sons and husbands are taken as combatants or prisoners of war. Many do not return, leaving women to care for the remaining children and elders. When rape is used as a tactic of war to humiliate the enemy and terrorize the population, they become targets themselves. Despite—or because of—the harsh experiences of so many who survive violent conflict, women generally refuse to give up the pursuit of peace.
  • Women use their feminine wisdom to bridge differences, be inclusive, communicate, listen thoughtfully, be open and collaborate. We share information rather than hoard it as a source of power, place less emphasis on status, and build our authority from connecting to others. We build a web of inclusion and use circles as we do our work. Our decisions relate to the larger effects upon the family, community, environment and even world peace.

“If we’d had women around the table, there would have been no war; women think long and hard before they send their children out to kill other people’s children.”
—Haris Silajdzic, former Prime Minister of Bosnia

Kimberly Weichel is a social pioneer, educator, author and specialist in global communications, leadership and peacebuilding. She is director of the Institute for Peacebuilding and co-author of “Healing the Heart of the World”.

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