The Common Good
November 2004

Women Building Peace

by Rose Marie Berger | November 2004

Worldwide, women seek to reclaim their countries from violence

In October 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security. It was high international recognition following years of work by women’s groups and peace activists on the ground worldwide. "Civilians, particularly women and children, account for the vast majority of those adversely affected by armed conflict," the resolution read, "including as refugees and internally displaced persons, and increasingly are targeted by combatants and armed elements."

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Three years later, the U.N. Development Fund for Women was treated to the world premiere of Peace by Peace: Women on the Frontlines, a feature-length documentary profiling women peace builders in places of conflict. For one year, an all-women camera crew followed women in action in Afghanistan, Burundi, the United States, Argentina, and Bosnia. The film includes footage of the devastating violence each country suffered, but it is surprisingly—and effectively—hopeful.

In Afghanistan, director Lisa Hepner trained her cameras on women who for years were forced to educate women and girls underground, because of the Taliban. They are still educating other females. Almost two-thirds of illiterate adults in the country are women, according to UNESCO, and the education of women and girls makes them less likely to be led into violence. "In Paghman (Afghanistan), the girls were willing to risk their safety for the possibility of joining their male counterparts and shaping their own destiny," said cinematographer Sandra Chandler. In Burundi, viewers meet Hutu and Tutsi women running a radio station and working to overcome the "radio hate" that fuels ethnic violence.

In the United States, Colleen Kelly, founder of Sept. 11 Families for Peaceful Tomorrows, stands at Ground Zero in Manhattan. "[The terrorists] took my brother, and they were not going to take...the way I view the world," asserts Kelly, "the way I want my children to see the world, the way I want to teach my children. I was not going to let the terrorists do that."

In Argentina, filmmakers interviewed recent presidential candidate Elisa Carrió about working for peace as a vital condition for protecting the economy and democracy. "The moral obligation is to build peace by not lying, not stealing, and not voting against the poor," said Carrió (who will run again in 2007). "Peace is a militant fight for truth and justice." In Bosnia-Herzegovina, Seida Saric, director of Women for Women International/Bosnia, demonstrates how 2,500 women in one micro-credit program are reweaving their communities—one cow or sewing project at a time.

Swanee Hunt, philanthropist, ambassador, activist, founder of Women Waging Peace, and author, is another ardent advocate for women and children caught in the trip-wires of war (see "Replacing Hatred with Hope," page 39). Her new book, This Was Not Our War: Bosnian Women Reclaiming the Peace, lifts up the unique voices of women on all sides of the Bosnian conflict.

In the course of her work as a diplomat, Hunt interviewed Bosnian women from every ethnic and religious tradition. Many lost husbands, daughters, parents, or sons, their livelihoods, and their homes. This Was Not Our War is a narrative account of the war told through the eyes of 26 women. They are journalists, heads of nonprofits, pediatricians, businesswomen, mothers, and wives, all of whom are actively engaged in rebuilding their country.

Hunt wrote the book to bring "the extraordinary message of ordinary women into earshot of those who shape the world order. The women in this volume disavowed the violence, yes, but they leaned forward, rather than pulling back, to confront the challenges of post-war Bosnia. It is precisely because this was not their war that they could shape the peace."

Getting women to the peacemaking table is the major focus of Women Waging Peace, an organization Hunt began in 1999. The group not only connects women in conflict-ridden areas to each other, but to policymakers. Peace X Peace, the group responsible for Peace by Peace, works similarly; both groups have significant educational resources on their Web sites.

If the United States continues to be the largest exporter of violence around the world, then we have a responsibility to examine the fruits of our decisions. Many of us are excessively undereducated in peace building; our national diet does not provide us with enough diverse nonviolent nourishment to maintain a healthy perspective. We need regular supplements of peace experiments; these examples get us well on our way toward a recommended daily allowance.

Rose Marie Berger is an associate editor of Sojourners. For more information, see www.peacexpeace.org and www.womenwagingpeace.net.

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