Creators of Peace UK presented an afternoon on women and peacebuilding as part of the International Women’s Day Festival in Oxford. Kate Monkhouse, Executive Officer of Creators of Peace International, shared this message for International Women’s Day, 8 March 2018.
I was born on the 8 March, so International Women’s Day is really a special day for me! And of course, 100 years since the first women were able to vote here in the UK is most definitely worth acknowledging. Creators of Peace is just over 26 years old, but we stand with women over the ages who have worked for their own empowerment, for social change and for peace.
As we meet, our Creators of Peace President, Amina Dikedi-Ajakaiye, is celebrating 10 years of Creator of Peace Circles in Kenya. Women peacebuilders from all over the country are getting together this week to one honour one another, celebrate the difference their peace circles have made and think about their contribution in the future.
As Creators of Peace we are part of a worldwide network of women. I’d like to introduce to three of them.
Meena, from Nepal, has been an activist at heart since her teenage years, when she had to explore the whole range of her negotiating skills to persuade her parents to let her continue studying, rather than get married. She has worked for 8 years in human rights organizations and took part in fact-finding missions during the Nepalese Civil War, where she witnessed cross fire, brutalities and extreme violence. This led her to explore ways of bringing peace and healing to victims of armed conflict. Then worked for almost 10 years with a peacebuilding organization (Search For Common Ground, Nepal).
When Meena attended a Creators of Peace Circle in 2011, she recognized it as a powerful tool for peace and healing and began her journey as a facilitator. She now has two children, and before and after the earthquake has helped coordinate peace circles in different parts of Nepal. Nearly a third of Nepal’s politicians are now women, and Meena now wants to offer Creators of Peace Circles to newly elected women politicians.
Daphrose had to leave Burundi during the genocide in the 1990s and lived as a refugee in Switzerland for many years, working in a university. She met Creators of Peace at a conference in Uganda and became convinced that the Peace Circle was a tool that she could use to help heal and rebuild Burundi. Following her own profound experience of healing, she and her husband developed a plan to establish Creators of Peace across each region of the country.
In 2012, they piloted their first Peace Circle with a local NGO. In 2013, they packed their bags and returned to live in Burundi. Since then they have organized more than 60 Peace Circles. Burundi is the hungriest country in the world with a life expectancy of just 52 years, so the Peace Circles are run in conjunction with a development project. Over a six-day residential, participants dialogue during the afternoons and share their stories in the evenings. They commit to work together across community divides on joint reconciliation and anti-poverty projects.
Iman is a teacher from Damascus. Despite several years away in Canada, she has chosen to stay in Syria throughout the war. In the midst of very challenging circumstances, she has been able to facilitate Creators of Peace Circles or gatherings with teenage girls and women from different denominations and religions. These gatherings provide a lifeline and a space where it is safe to talk about peace.
Iman has been supported by Marie & Lina, neighbours across the border in Lebanon, who have committed to accompanying her, in spite of the difficult history between their countries. Iman has brought Syrian women to Beirut for respite weekends. These breaks have been transformational for women who never thought they would be welcomed by Lebanese women.
What do these three women have in common? It is not just their courage and clarity of vision. They have each taken part in a Creators of Peace Circle, a small community gathering to explore what giving leadership for peace means to them as individuals and for their own communities. They have each committed to nurturing their own sense of self and spirituality so that they can find the wisdom they need and the refreshment or guidance they seek.
How does the anniversary of the first women securing the right to vote in the UK relate to Nepal, Burundi and Syria?
Peace in the city of Oxford might not relate to earthquakes or genocides or civil war, but it might involve relations between different faiths, dialogue between homeless people and housing policy-makers, or planning for environmental sustainability. For me it means a commitment to accompanying refugees in the UK, and also building trust and supporting healing across the divides between LBGTQ people and churches. In each of these areas there is the possibility that we can create stories that heal rather than harm and offer hope to ourselves and others.
Wherever we live, we can all become ‘advocates for a new story’, providing more hopeful personal and community narratives from the stories that surround us in our families, neighbourhoods and the media. There are many examples of where women’s actions – as suffragettes, as campaigners for employment rights or as members of the #metoo movement – have made or are making a huge difference.
May we continue to give leadership for peace in friendship and build community as we do it. I have found there is nothing quite so joyful as working with other women for peace.