REDIRECT REQUEST, BY MARY LISTON LIEPOLD
Hello! We’ve moved to a new home on the Peace X Peace website. Week X Week will still feature commentary on each week’s news through the lenses of women, peace, and human development. Molly Mayfield Barbee and I will still be the principal bloggers, though we hope to feature more member and staff guest bloggers in the months ahead. And the format―well, Gentle Reader, that’s up to you.
Please, go to http://www.peacexpeace.org/Peace_X_Peace_Blogs/
now and tell us what you think. Many thanks!
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
Quick: What images come to mind when you think of mothering and Mothers Day? Ads and greeting cards feature cuddly infants, tender smiles, comfort food, and flowers. Indeed, the job wouldn’t be so popular if it didn’t have a sunny side. American First Mom Michelle Obama told reporters on Monday that she’s surprised at how much fun she’s having in her new role. While prime outlets obsess about her clothes and shoes, she’s busy talking sense about the flu and setting a good example for her daughters and the nation. Setting an example is one of the most important tasks in a parent’s job description, and it isn’t always easy.
Moms know the requirements go far beyond an apron and a lap. They nurture minds and spirits, often against the grain of a culture that tells us we are what we own. They listen, clean up, get up, and wait up at all hours. Worldwide, many go hungry so their children can eat, wait up for children who never come home, even bury children and go on to mother the world, like a remarkable number of my personal sheroes. There’s a fierceness to maternal love that probably surprises most of us. I’ll never forget coming home from the hospital with my newborn second son and suddenly, for just a moment, seeing the tot who had been my baby a few days before as a large and potentially dangerous stranger.
The true, fierce, planet-protecting spirit of the day shines out in Julia Ward Howe’s 1870 proclamation to the mothers of the world, which parents and children should all read at least once a year: “We, the women of one country, Will be too tender of those of another country To allow our sons to be trained to injure theirs.” And: “Let [women] solemnly take counsel with each other as to the means Whereby the great human family can live in peace…”
Peace X Peace was established as a virtual, and therefore borderless place for women to take counsel with each other. While wars continue to rage across the planet, we focus on our power to connect and act together for peace. Right now we invite mothers and others to take This Week’s Peace Action, to attend our Mom X Mom virtual celebration on Facebook and contribute to the cause, and to join the conversation inside the Global Network and on Voices from the Frontline. We invite women, men, and children to nurture peace and human rights and insist that governments shift their priorities from waging war to meeting unmet needs. The information age brings us all daily opportunities to extend our caring past the kitchen, school, or office door.
With a click or two we can petition for the release of Zimbabwean activist Jestina Mukoko or Iranian American journalist Roxana Saberi. So far, more than 300 people around the world have joined Saberi’s hunger strike, abstaining for a day or longer in solidarity with this young woman from North Dakota who was arrested in January for buying a bottle of wine. Saberi now has Iranian Nobel Peace Prize winner Shirin Ebadi on her legal defense team, though she hasn’t been able to see her yet. An appeal of her eight-year sentence for espionage comes up next week. You can join the fast or send a letter to the Iranian government at http://freeroxana.net/.
Please tell us what you’re doing to mother the world. Tell us about your mother, your mother heroes, what surprises you about being a mother, and anything else you care to share. If you note in your comment that we can carry it over to Mom X Mom, it will do double duty and you’ll make this mother-blogger happy. To all the mothers and others who read this post, a most happy, peaceful, and connected Mothers Day.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
I’m torn. I want to spend this post just gushing about all the cool stuff going on at this year’s Nonprofit Technology Conference in San Francisco. Our fearless Membership Coordinator, Kay Robinson, is there to represent, absorb, schmooze, and connect with the thousands of good souls who are researching, testing, and using high-tech tools to make the world a better place. It is an exciting, empowering time to be in this field. . . But since other important women-led things are happening in the world this week, let me get on to other stories.
Like: yesterday was Equal Pay Day. Did you wear something red to make your statement about women’s wages still lagging below the bottom line? If you’re in the US, you remember when the Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act passed this January—and we’re still finding that women’s salaries seriously lag behind men’s across the board. Of particular concern is the way the gap widens for minority women. A study analyzing data from the American Association of University Women released April 23rd shows that African American women are earning 67 cents and Hispanic women only 58 cents for every dollar earned by a white male worker. Financial equity is an essential element of peace. We just can’t build the peace-filled thriving communities we seek without it.
And this news comes not long after the release of a report from Pepperdine University, which finds that companies with more female executives also have significantly higher profit margins. Commenting about this notable correlation, the author of the study writes “There are several possible interpretations . . . [we offer that] firms exhibit higher profitability when their top executives make smart decisions. One of the smart decisions those executives have consistently made at successful Fortune 500 firms is to include women in the executive suite — so that regardless of gender, the best brains are available to continue making smart, and profitable, decisions.” What more could I say?
When women are included, they elevate other fields as well. Take politics and the environment. All month you’ve been seeing earth-themed This Week’s Peace Actions and reading posts about the inseparable link between justice for women and justice for the environment. This week, President Johnson-Sirleaf got serious about cleaning up her city. Starting in May, the first Saturday of every month will be “Monrovia Clean-Up Day.” I hope other civic leaders will be inspired to do the same. In fact, don’t be surprised to find “host a community clean-up” as a This Week’s Peace Action coming soon.
Another positive step for the world’s women took place last week in Kabul. The bill so casually and quietly signed into law several weeks ago that allowed husbands to rape their wives and prevent them from leaving the house without their permission is now back in question. A group of women activists met with President Karzai at the Presidential Palace and they, along with several international groups, have reportedly pressured him to review the law once again. Perseverance and creativity cannot be over-valued in these situations, and that’s exactly what this Afghan women’s movement is bringing to the table.
Since we’re talking about the unique contributions women bring to the mix, I’d like to leave you with a little treat this week. The writer and illustrator Maira Kalman is back with her series of stories on the American experience, “And the Pursuit of Happiness,” which is currently featured in the New York Times. This month’s installment, “May It Please the Court,” focuses on systems of justice and some of the unique roles women have played in the development of judicial processes. Even if the general topic doesn’t catch your interest, her drawings and reflections on personal experiences surely will. Her voice and the women she depicts make me thank my lucky stars that these women have stepped forward to show the value they add to their field. And it redoubles my commitment to get those other women’s voices, stories, and solutions out there and shared with the world.
Comment by Mary Liston Liepold
It’s Earth Day. My co-blogger and I have already written about the connections among women, peace, and the environment. We’ve barely scratched the surface, of course. We’ve said nothing about the Chipko women’s movement in India, the Indigenous Grandmothers whose wisdom holds out both hope and warning, or many other loving and daring women and men around the world who work to heal the world. Please, comment on this blog or last week’s to share how those vital connections work for you. Join in This Week’s (green) Peace Action. And if it’s information you’re after, read our Page X Page Peace Papers on the environment―and let me know if you can volunteer to update one or several.
We’re proud of the resources on our site! Still, on the great planetary scale, inspiration surely outweighs information. And here in the USA, it’s National Poetry Month. So rather than more words of mine, this week I offer some timeless ones that the poet Richard Wilbur published in 1961, when the willful destruction of life by earth’s inhabitants seemed far more remote than it does today.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
Forty-seven years ago this past Sunday, Rachel Carson published Silent Spring, her groundbreaking study of the impact of harsh chemicals and pesticides on surrounding ecosystems. Decades after its publication and her untimely death from breast cancer in 1964, some still criticize Carson for her “preservationist hysteria” and “bad science,” while others hail her as the mother of the modern environmental movement. The lessons of her book have stayed with me since I first read it as an adolescent.
What is the connection between ecological awareness and peace? It goes beyond the simple fact that if we used up all the resources on this planet we’d have nowhere to build our healthy, free-from-conflict, thriving communities of the future. Learning to live in harmony, engaging with the other, and actively seeking mutually beneficial ways to co-exist are peace principles that apply to interpersonal relationships, but also to our relationships with our environment. Rosemary Radford Ruether rocked my world as a young adult when I read her writings that connect the destructive effects of a patriarchal or anthropocentric society on women and the damage that society does to all who are oppressed—human or not.
We who call for a paradigm shift toward equitable treatment of women are de facto contributing to an earth-healing movement. True justice, equality, and empowerment for women liberate all those who have been excluded, marginalized, exploited. Eco-feminism, like Circle principles, connects us to our ancient roots, our interdependence with the earth, and our potential to reach for the sky. Ruether wrote about powering women to unlock a more balanced way of life, and her work draws on her experiences in some of the toughest conflict zones today, including Latin America and Israel and the Palestinian Territories.
Our challenge to find equitable ways to use our earthly resources is again at the front of my mind this week as US special envoy for Middle East peace George Mitchell returns for his third visit to the region since his appointment earlier this year. This persistent dispute over land, rights, and history highlights the inseparable connection we have with our environment and home. At this tenuous time when a two-state solution seems to be slipping from our reach, I believe sages Rachel Carson and Rosemary Radford Ruether can be our guides. They remind us that lethal means applied to one species (community) in an ecosystem (society) poisons all those who participate together and inhabit that space.
Peacebuilding, eco-feminism, and environmentalism have much in common, not least their coinciding concerns for the future while in the present. Investing in these fields brings about social, political, and health benefits; moreover it can stimulate the ailing US economy as evidenced by on the rapid rollout of the environmental provisions in the Recovery and Reinvestment Act.
What’s your take on the connection between peace and the environment? What other conflicts are on your mind that could benefit from a more holistic, ecologically aware perspective? How do you see women influencing the outcomes? Please share your thoughts with us in the comments section of this blog.
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
I spent 15 of the best years of my life as a family day care provider, feeding and reading to young children, ordering their days, and cooperatively creating an environment where we all found it fairly easy to get along. It’s no surprise, then, that I tend to see events in the adult world through a playroom prism. This week, with news sites full of reactions to North Korea’s provocative missile launch, it seems I’m not alone.
Kim Jong Il’s North Korea is throwing things. Observers around the world describe the recent launch as a bid for attention, depicting North Korea as a bully and a problem child in the family of nations. Indignant voices are calling for punishment. China, one of North Korea’s best friends, urges patience, while Japan is reportedly furious. South Korea’s people favor kindness, though its leaders are more in step with Japan. The United Nations are divided, and President Obama, who seems to be everywhere this week, takes an appropriately adult tone of severity while side-stepping calls for a harsh reaction.
With North Korea, as with playground bullies and disturbed young people, it’s the exceptional observer who looks away from the victims or presumed victims to ask what’s ailing the offender, though some have connected the rocket launch with the country’s urgent need for food assistance. A Japanese newspaper noted that the cost of the launch would have fed people now on the edge of famine for an entire year.
Nations that feel isolated and shunned by their peers may behave like individuals who feel shunned. Consider the young men who carried out the Columbine and Virginia Tech massacres, ten years ago and two years ago this month. Metal detectors in schools were one response, but training peers to identify and help angry classmates has arguably done more good. By the same token, former US Secretary of State Madeline Albright believes that the Bush administration’s refusal to talk with the North Koreans allowed this situation to deteriorate. President Obama’s policy of talking through disagreements and his commitment to aid may well make future outbursts unnecessary.
I am not excusing the young perpetrators, any more than I excuse North Korea’s leaders. (Where are Laura Ling and Euna Lee, the two TV journalists who have been imprisoned since March 17 for trying to investigate the conditions of hungry refugees? The launch seems to have blasted them out of the news.) Still, a small nation may help us to see the big picture, just as children so often reflect the wider world. South Korea’s missile launch is more than a tantrum; it’s an extravagant show of force that diverts resources and attention away from a looming crisis. In a world where military expenditures vastly outpace the amount spent on human needs, large nations have small cause to claim grown-up status.
Former President Eisenhower said it clearly in 1953: “Every gun that is made, every warship launched, every rocket fired signifies, in the final sense, a theft from those who hunger and are not fed, those who are cold and not clothed. This world in arms is not spending money alone. It is spending the sweat of laborers, the genius of its scientists, [and] the hopes of its children…”
Women reporters being held hostage
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
This week the mainstream media is atwitter about tomorrow’s G-20 meeting: which countries have joined up, which didn’t get the invite, protests in the streets of London, and the Obamas preparing to meet the Queen of England. Surely what happens at that summit on “The Global Challenge: Recession to Recovery” is important, but I’ll leave it to the old standby news sources to deliver that to you. If you’re interested in the stories that didn’t “make the fold” in the past few days, then I have other highlights for you.
Tomorrow is also the first World Autism Awareness Day. Coinciding with the announcement about this day were disconcerting reports about the wide variations in occurrences of autism across different ethnic groups. The UN’s decision to designate April 2 as the day to encourage increased understanding about the disorder and people who suffer from it could not be more timely. Secretary General Ban said that the goals of World Autism Awareness Day “ . . . can be attained by promoting positive perceptions about autism, as well as a greater social understanding of this growing challenge.”
This message from the UN resonates strongly with me—not only because it matters to mothers, sisters, daughters, and friends of people with special needs, but because its strategy of acceptance and inclusion corresponds with basic principles for peacebuilding. Tackling the fear of the unknown, normalizing those who are different from ourselves, reaching out and at the same time looking inside: This is how we build thriving diverse communities. Forwarding this post to a friend can contribute to peace, not only by spreading the word about a disorder that affects increasingly more families and loved ones around the world, but also by suggesting ways different people can coexist in peace, health, and wellbeing.
On the theme of family wellbeing, women’s rights and family law in Afghanistan face another hurdle in a law signed last month by President Karzai. It includes clauses that prohibit women from refusing to have sex with their husbands and limit their ability to seek work, education, or healthcare without their husbands’ permission. This news is also accompanied by the release of a BYU study that draws a “strong and significant relationship” between peace and women’s security. Director of BYU’s Women’s Research Center Bonnie Ballif-Spanvill states, “From the overall data, it’s clear that where there is devaluation of females in the society, there is a greater tendency for conflict, both inter- and intrastate conflict.”
The experience of many women in the conflicted areas of Sudan would certainly corroborate the conclusions of this study. But thanks to UNICEF, the care and protection of women and families there has been significantly upgraded in recent weeks. A new pilot program sends motorbike ambulances into remote areas to bring pregnant women and critically sick people to healthcare centers. So there are rays of light.
We care for our families and work to ensure others the right to provide for theirs. The hubbub in the UK this week reaffirms my belief that all families deserve the royal treatment—at the very least equal treatment—and access to the resources they need to live in peace. Promoting positive perceptions about the other does increase our understanding of the vast diversity of people with whom we share this planet. Let us apply the lessons we learn at home to our interactions with those from other cultures. Programs like This Week’s Peace Action demonstrate that the actions we take, large and small, can add up to peace-filled changes at all levels, from the personal to the international, when we work together. It starts with valuing women and men equally and ripples out through the actions we take together to care for friends near and far.
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
Earth Day is still a few weeks away, but it’s officially springtime in Washington, DC. That’s Mother Nature’s time to shine. A number of this week’s news stories suited her flowering mood, starting with coverage of the brand new vegetable garden on the White House lawn.
This garden that belongs to a nation is one conspicuous version of a communal gardening trend that is popping up in France, Canada, and England as well as the US. It’s fun! It’s what women in other parts of the world have always done. And it’s about time, since yesterday the dangers of eating red meat made headlines, in the US and Canada and beyond.
Most of us have known at least since Frances Moore Lappé’s Diet for a Small Planet appeared in 1971 that eating low on the food chain is kindest to Mother Earth and all her children. Even vegetables have their problems, though. In the US, overproduction of corn and soy has drastically reduced biodiversity and (when they end up in snack foods and greasy fast foods) contributed to obesity as well.
In Argentina, Cristina Kirchner Fernandez is in trouble with the farmers for refusing to lower what they see as a punitive tax on soybeans, that country’s main export crop. Overall, global trade is expected to fall off by 9% this year, so meat-loving Argentineans and Americans both will be tightening their belts. Add a global drop in prices paid to farmers while consumer prices increase, a global financial crisis, and a drought here and there, and a harvest of violence becomes more likely.
Mother Earth loves peace even more than she loves flowers. Financial equity and adequate nutrition are among the things that make for peace. And malnutrition disposes to disease. Yesterday, World TB Day, the World Health Organization released shocking statistics on the link between TB and HIV/AIDS. It is most grievous in hungry Zimbabwe, to no one’s surprise. But last week, DC’s HIV/AIDS office broke the news that at least 3% of the population here is HIV-positive, putting the capitol of the world’s wealthiest superpower on a level with parts of West Africa.
It’s just one more reminder that on our round green planet, everything comes around. We’re all in this together. Fortunately, small things can have mighty impact when we do them together. That’s the inspiration for www.planetarysurvival.net, which is aiming for a billion signatures on an earth manifesto to be presented at the UN. It’s also the inspiration for This Week’s Peace Action, at
http://www.peacexpeace.org. The current suggestion brings us back to the table: Sharing a meal with someone you don’t usually break bread with. Call a friend or relative who you have lost touch with right away. And don’t forget to eat your vegetables!
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
Yesterday was not only St Patrick’s Day—tip o’ the hat and wishes for peace to all our Irish friends—but for other hagiologists and/or faithful out there, it was also the Day of St Gertrude of Nivelles. Most days, I might not have given St Gertrude a second thought, but I learned today that she’s the patron saint for travelers in search of lodging. Now that my husband and I have returned from Sudan, and as we await concrete plans for our next home, I find her rather appealing. I bet those of you who are away from your homes right now due to business, political unrest, or personal circumstances might also like to know that there’s “someone up there” looking out for you.
In fact, without getting overly theological here, there is always someone looking out for you. That’s why Peace X Peace is the powerful force that it is—we’re leveraging that natural need to look out for each other to reach a global scale. And that’s why we can all celebrate with the 1,000 Women Initiative and the Small Enterprise Foundation, recipients of this year’s Champions for Change Award from the International Center for Research on Women. These two organizations exemplify the effectiveness of empowered women as agents for change, and they got some of the recognition they deserve just before last week’s International Women’s Day.
Another coalition of forces for positive change made the news this week, when 45 organizations from five continents representing Baha’i, Buddhist, Christian, Hindu, Jewish, Muslim, Shinto, Sikh, Zoroastrian, and indigenous traditions gathered in New York to advance a “United Nations Decade for Inter-religious and Intercultural Dialogue, Understanding, and Cooperation for Peace.” About the coalition, Stein Villumstad, deputy secretary general of Religions for Peace, said, “This is a unique opportunity for religious traditions, so easily hijacked for destructive purposes, to work with the United Nations and jointly mobilize their communities and organizations for urgent and compelling actions for peace . . . Time and space created by the decade should make a difference for the poor, marginalized, and oppressed peoples of the world.”
Great things are possible when we work together. Now if we can just ensure that the G-20 leaders keep collaboration, inclusion, and other essential Circle Principles in mind when they meet in a few weeks to discuss an international response to the global economic crisis. Shifting the paradigm for the structure and process of groups like the G-20 is one of our great global challenges. Perhaps the recent pledge by the President of the Maldives, announcing his country’s commitment to becoming carbon neutral within ten years, can be a guide and an inspiration. Wondering why a small country like the Maldives would come out as such a strong leader in the movement to address climate change? A rise in sea levels of just one meter would put that entire country under water. Even a rise of just a few inches will cause catastrophic damage for many coastal areas from the Maldives and the Netherlands to Tuvalu, Florida, and beyond.
Thinking about an entire country facing the threat of drowning brings me back to the very real needs we face as a global community today. We cannot turn our backs on one another. There is just too much to lose. What new stories caught your eye this week that should have received more attention? What stories would you post about someone you’ve been looking out for, or about someone who’s been caring for you? Please share them with us here and help raise our awareness. Sustainable peace starts with each one of us when we care enough to look out for one another.
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
Womanpower is in the air this week. Though International Women’s Day (IWD) 2009 was officially observed on Sunday, March 8, it occurred partway through the 53rd annual Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) meetings at the UN, which end tomorrow, and during Women’s Week and Women’s History Month. And on March 7 in Monrovia, Liberia, President Ellen Johnson Sirleaf and President Tarja Halonen of Finland co-convened the International Colloquium on Women’s Empowerment, Leadership Development, International Peace and Security.
Women and Men United to End Violence against Women and Girls is the theme the United Nations chose for IWD 2009. We heartily endorse the calls coming from almost every quarter to end the epidemic of violence against women, and we particularly applaud the recognition that men are integral to the solution. The wider scope of the Monrovia conference, though, reminds us that violence against women is embedded in the context of violence overall, which is in turn embedded in the larger context of global structural violence.
Putting women in power is considerably easier than ending poverty and injustice. The day before Johnson-Sirleaf and Halonen opened the Monrovia Colloquium, squatters on the beach were evicted to improve the view for the 800 foreign and domestic guests. I was reminded of Indian past-president Indira Gandhi’s slum clearance projects. And I was reminded once again that I’d rather be the woman who comments on the news than the one who makes it.
The UN sessions call for new laws—especially in those parts of the world where domestic violence is still perfectly legal—and also for more women peacekeepers. “For policing to be effective, it needs to be reflective of the society,” said Andrew Carpenter, chief of the strategic policy and development section of the U.N.’s police division. “Do you know of a society that is 92 percent male?”
I’ve seen evidence that women are the most effective peacekeepers in many situations, and that a critical mass of women in police work can change the culture of the force and the society itself. Peacemaking and peacebuilding are one thing, though, and peacekeeping is another. Pacifist parents in World War I used to sing “I didn’t raise my boy to be a soldier.” I didn’t raise my girl to be a cop.
But maybe I’m just squeamish. What do you think, readers? Would you want to be president? Would you want your daughter to join the police?
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
This week’s stories bring out that leonine mood that has come to be associated with the beginning of March. Or maybe it just feels like a week of roaring-ly big news from where I’m sitting—in an airplane on my way back from our two-year term in Sudan.
One reason this week feels full to overflowing with stories is that the long-awaited decision from the International Criminal Court (ICC) on whether or not to indict Sudan’s president Omar Al-Bashir for crimes against humanity is scheduled for this afternoon, March 4th. Now, as that country stretches farther and farther away below me, I am worried about the people we’re leaving behind. I fear not just for our colleagues and friends, although threats against westerners and humanitarian groups are rampant in the Sudanese press, but for those civilians (read: women and children) most likely to bear the brunt of violent uprisings and/or the ratcheting up of the repressive power of the state.
It will be hard to know what’s really happening there, since the press in Sudan is not free. The only side of this situation that national news monitors allow to be distributed is the rhetoric of defiance from Bashir and his entourage and those Darfuris and other minority groups who claim that the ICC is just one more meddling western influence. Unfortunately, the local news sources that inform the “word on the street” in Sudan come from the Sudanese News Agency, Sudan Vision, Al Watan, and Al Khartoum—none of which are available online or outside of the country, and most of which are in Arabic. Secondhand commentary about those reports from international news sources is all I can share with you.
Now, in the international press, we’re seeing heated debate about what happens after the ICC’s decision is announced. Will it be peace at the expense of justice? Or justice on the pathway to a more sustainable and comprehensive peace? It seems everyone has an opinion on this. What’s yours? Bring it to the table in the comments section of this blog.
While we hold our sisters and brothers in Sudan in our hearts today, big news has been breaking in other locations as well. As the assassinations of President João Bernardo Vieira and Chief of Staff Tagme Na Waie in Guinea Bissau hit the airwaves on Monday, that already fragile nation edged closer to a precipice of chaos. And in Afghanistan, President Karzai raised further questions about the security and stability of his leadership when he announced an earlier date for this year’s elections, challenging the standing decision of the Independent Election Commission (IEC).
But that’s a lot of news about male leaders and their power structures, so let those not be the only stories to claim our attention this week. With International Women’s Day (March 8th) just around the corner and Women’s World Day of Prayer this coming Friday (March 6th), we have more than a few good reasons to put women in the international spotlight.
The lack of coverage of women’s stories and accomplishments around the world is one of the main challenges we at Peace X Peace are committed to counteract. So in this first week of March, as I adjust to a new setting and an entirely different set of local issues and friends, I will be reflecting on what I’ve learned from these past two years in Khartoum. One thing I carry with me is the enormous strength of the social fabric that women weave together even in the midst of great upheavals. So this week I invite you to share your opinion about the peace and justice debate in Sudan, and I invite you to submit stories about what you and women you know are doing in the three countries in conflict that dominated the news of this post, or wherever you are. Those stories need to be told. It’s up to us to speak out and listen up.
It’s Ash Wednesday, the day Christians begin six weeks of preparation for Easter and you can pick the observant Catholics out of a crowd by the smudges on our foreheads. When I was a kid in parochial school Lent meant giving up sweets because Mom and the nuns expected me to. Then Vatican II came along, and I rejected the old “if it hurts it’s good for you” line of reasoning . . . until I joined the peace movement. One of my heroes, the late Dick McSorley, SJ, posed a provocative question. “How can you know you won’t lash out in a crisis unless you practice some form of self-denial?”
I knew how to use words as weapons, and I knew I didn’t want to. Peace itself was countercultural in those days, so fasting now and again only put me a little further out of the mainstream. Now peace blossoms online, and the mainstream is coming my way.
Our friend David Crumm is chronicling a range of Lenten observances on Readthe Spirit.com. The International House of Pancakes observed Shrove Tuesday (aka Mardi Gras) for the fourth time this year, despite the economic downturn, by giving away short stacks and asking for charitable contributions in lieu of payment. I was amazed (as well as shocked at my own parochialism) when I discovered about 10 years ago that Protestants give up things for Lent too. And we’re hearing from a number of quarters that financial crisis and impending environmental catastrophe might be good for American bodies and souls. I only heard the word sacrifice once in President Obama’s major policy speech last night, but it’s a word we’ll all hear more and more in the months ahead.
Fasting makes simple things sweet and feasting sweeter. Even the ancient Epicureans knew that. But fasting and feasting both have to be freely chosen. This is a world where in many cultures girls eat last, and seldom eat enough. Yet in traditional areas of Mauritania, some girls are still force-fed like foie gras geese to enhance their marriage prospects. And in the West, some girls and women assert control over their bodies by starving themselves almost to death.
Diverging views about women’s bodies and the balance between motherhood and other careers are complicating approval of two important policy pieces in the news this week. The European Women’s Lobby is negotiating for European Commission policy that grants generous parental leave and other pro-family breaks without making women less attractive as employees. In the Philippines, both houses have passed what is being called the Magna Carta for women, and some churchmen are raising objections. We may see decisions on both fronts in time for International Women’s Day on March 8.
Wasn’t it fun to see more of the men calling attention to their fashion choices at the Academy Awards on Sunday? Were you as provoked as I was to see the awards for documentaries and short subjects and know they’re not likely to turn up in the local theater? Do we need to put on some pressure?
Please let us know what you think about all these topics. Be sure to share your plans for March 8. And don’t forget, the Peace X Peace documentary is still “on sale” for a small contribution. It’s the perfect centerpiece for your celebration of women.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
In the sphere of international women’s and peace issues, this week opened against the backdrop of Israeli tennis player Shahar Peer being denied entry into the United Arab Emirates to compete in the Dubai Tennis Championships, and Hillary Clinton choosing to visit Asia in her first trip abroad as United States secretary of state. . . and a few other surprises.
Like Venezuela approving an end to term limits for president Hugo Chavez and his socialist agenda. But in a totalitarian state, that’s not the shocker. The real surprise is that this vote actually indicates a growth in the opposition. Could this end to delimited terms actually signify the beginning of the end for Mr. Chavez?
As for unanticipated but welcome results, King Abdullah of Saudi Arabia appointed the country’s first female minister, Nora bint Abdullah al-Fayez, this past Saturday. Another recent boon was the return on Iraqi provincial government elections, which bring forth significantly more women leaders as that country works to fulfill its 25% quota. If only that also brought with it the practical authority and all-important R.E.S.P.E.C.T. needed to get the job done. That’s the thing about quotas—they’re a great first step towards women’s equal representation, but then what? We’ve got to turn the tables on those old systems—and we know the women of Peace X Peace are just the ones for the job.
Speaking of turning things upside down, the story out of China this week about a spurned mistress driving her former lover and his four other paramours off a cliff makes a dramatic point. The combination of the global economic crisis and a patriarchal system that socially and financially disempowers women can have extreme and destructive outcomes.
And that brings me to bikes and britches. I learned this week that women in North Korea are not allowed to wear pants or ride bicycles. Seriously. That, even more than some of this week’s earlier surprises, disturbed me to the core. True, compared to other extreme violations of human rights these two items are pretty minor, but the enormity of the injustices they symbolize hits home.
So what’s to be done? While women in skirts can’t get to work to make a living . . . While homeless girl-mothers in Egypt still wander the streets with their numberless, identity card-less, birth certificate-less children and no means for recourse or a way out . . . While civilians in central Africa are killed in conflicts that go on day after day after day? Well, to care is a first step. To want to know how we can help. Then out of concern for others and the interconnected web of a world we share, we find a way to act together: one person, one positive relationship across an aching divide, one PEACE at a time.
If my husband is reading this: Honey, don’t skimp on the chocolate. Flowers are fine too. Valentines Day only comes once a year, and I confess to a certain fondness for the tried and true.
Tradition can be a beautiful thing. It can also be a shackle. So while we in the West go in for hearts and flowers, women around the world are asking for the same thing they ask for every day: R E S P E C T. (Thank you, Aretha.) And sisters, we are getting it.
As of Wednesday morning, Tzipi Livni was showing a slight lead in the Israeli elections for Prime Minister. Whoever wins, the coalition government is not going to be easy to manage. Still, Livni’s strong showing defies early predictions that the hawkish Netanyahu would benefit hugely from the Gaza escalation.
Women do have an edge when it comes to managing conflict. In Bontoc in the Philippines, a group of mostly elderly women have been maintaining civil order since 2002. They organized for change because alcohol-induced mayhem was getting out of hand and the police were unable to control it. Like the Madres of the Plaza de Mayo in Argentina, these women carried their traditional influence as wives and mothers into the public sphere when the situation called for it.
Sports is an area where women are moving beyond traditional roles in every culture. February 4 was National Girls and Women in Sports Day, dedicated to celebrating those accomplishments. And on February 8, fit, 56-year-old American Jennifer Figge became the first woman to swim across the Atlantic Ocean. (This is not the English Channel, friends.) It took her almost a month, and she plans to swim further after a brief rest.
In Great Britain, the stalwarts of the Aldermaston Women’s Peace Encampment just scored a victory in the nation’s highest court. Their 24-year-old anti-nuclear protest is an offshoot of the Greenham Common Peace Camp. It’s a sister in spirit to the Madres, the now-worldwide Women in Black, and other contemporary protest movements, and a direct descendant of the suffragists and all the foremothers who stood together for peace and justice throughout history. (Did you know you can meet the Madres in Patricia Smith Melton’s Peace by Peace, Women on the Frontlines? From now until International Women’s Day, you can request your DVD copy with a contribution of only $25.)
The Lilly Ledbetter Fair Pay Act, the first piece of legislation Barack Obama signed as President, honors a woman who demanded respect in the form of wages equal to those of men. Lilly will reap no financial benefit from this legislation, but she declares herself satisfied because other women will.
I count myself blessed because I don’t have to ask for respect at work or at home. If they could only remember to put the toilet seat down, the men in my life would be practically perfect. I hope, wherever you are, that you are similarly blessed. That frees our energy to stand with our sisters and make sure that all people everywhere get the respect they desire and deserve.
I’ll just take mine with chocolate on the side.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
The plan to create an “alternative USA,” the United States of Africa, was proposed (again) this week by Libyan President Muammar Qaddafi as he accepted his new post as head of the African Union. “King of Kings” will be one of his formal titles—an interesting, and perhaps fitting, choice for a president who took power in a 1969 coup and has been one of the longest-serving heads of state, among many long-serving African leaders and traditional kings. The president vowed to make his term a time of serious work, increasing productivity, and uniting African nations more effectively than his predecessors have been able to do. But Qaddafi’s legacy, and that of several of his peers, leave many questioning how real change can take place with so many of the same leaders in power.
Discussions at the World Economic Forum in Davos this past week did point the way to some alternative solutions for African development, and for improving the conditions of the world’s poor in general. For one thing, the global economic crisis that is pummeling aid agencies and corporations alike could be an opportunity to shift the development paradigm away from aid-based strategies toward more market-driven interventions that have been successful in Asia, Latin America, and elsewhere.
Additionally, and certainly not surprising to Peace X Peace members and supporters, the importance of investing in girls was a strikingly hot topic at the forum. Melinda Gates, Jennifer Buffet of the NoVo Foundation, UNICEF, and the Nike Foundation all had the spotlight in Davos as they reemphasized The Girl Effect on Development. How long will it take for young women and girls to claim our rightful place in the processes and systems that build national and international stability, prosperity, and peace? Dear readers, you are an essential part of that answer, and each time you spread the word, you bring that day closer.
One example of processes moving in the right direction was the relatively peaceful provincial elections in Iraq which were completed this past week. They included some 4000 female candidates! Although sadly not without bloodshed, that event marked an important turning point for the country and possibly for other conflict regions.
Which brings me to A Season for Nonviolence, which began this past Friday, January 30th. The Season is a 64-day educational, media, and grassroots campaign based in the United States that is dedicated to demonstrating that nonviolence is a powerful way to heal, transform, and empower lives and communities around the world. It offers daily practices that teach us how to be less violent and more compassionate. I can’t think of a better way to mark these months between the two days on which we remember the lives of Dr Martin Luther King Jr and MK Gandhi.
There is something—something simple, something daily or weekly—that each of us can do to move closer to the tipping point to which we aspire. We have daily choices to make: whether we will serve our own ambitions or each other. A disturbing story in the New York Times this week about common tendencies towards catty conflicts between female colleagues at work reminds us of the risks we take as we pursue individual goals without concern for others. Promotions and honorific titles are nice, but we can’t be the change we wish to see alone. Kings will be kings. Still, people-power alternatives are starting to get the recognition they deserve, and those steps in the right direction this week are cause for at least a little celebration.
One of the first news stories to catch my eye this week summarized a report from Susan Solomon, a Senior Scientist representing the US National Oceanic and Atmospheric Administration and its international partners, warning that the grim consequences of global warming will be with us for 1,000 years even if we reverse course now. One reaction to news like this might be: “We’re doomed, so what’s the use?”
Clearly, the Obama Administration is not taking this position. The federal requirements that were announced the same day, affecting new cars as of 2012, seem far from radical, but welcome nonetheless—especially considering that this report might have been suppressed or censored just two weeks ago. In Madrid, at a High Level UN Conference, Secretary General Ban Ki Moon proposed a Global Partnership for Agriculture, Food Security and Nutrition—the most essential of our environmental concerns after air itself. He and many others worry about how the financial crisis will affect rising food prices worldwide. Here too, the recommendations could be stronger. This isn’t food on the table. But with 126 nations AT the table, it’s the start of something good.
Or is it just hot air? Most everyone agrees that we have to show more respect for Mother Earth. Women of good will can disagree on the value of gatherings like this and on many other stories in this week’s news. Yet beams of light penetrate each dark corner of Earth’s domain.
Yesterday on the United Nations’ Holocaust Remembrance Day, established to coincide with the anniversary of the liberation of Auschwitz in 1945, came news that the fragile ceasefire in Gaza had been broken, just as new US emissary George Mitchell arrived in the Mid East. In England, passions run high over the BBC’s decision not to air an appeal for aid to survivors in Gaza. What do you think?
In Pakistan, we’re seeing new attacks on girls’ schools and more repression by the Taliban. And fearless, ingenious are women promoting peace with India through the healing arts and the lively arts. Open the link and read about them!
In a story that’s big on the blogs (especially those devoted to Iran and soccer) three officials of a top soccer club were suspended and a fourth was fined for allowing women to compete in a game against men. The evidence of the transgression was captured on cell phone videos. While the outrage on both sides is real, Iran is a country where women have not even been allowed to watch soccer games since 1979.
In the Philippines, though experts hold out little hope for peace between the government and the rebels who claim Mindanao, Muslim religious scholars are holding a national summit focused on peace and human rights—including the rights of women. And the call has just gone out for a peacebuilding institute under Christian auspices to be held in May and June. Perhaps there’s hope after all?
John Updike, the late great American novelist who had a lot to say about sex and the sexes and religion and other vital issues, once said that his answer to the universe was “Yes, but.” President Obama, who told us Yes We Can, also tells us what follows the but: It’s up to all of us.
Are we up to the task? Which of these challenges strikes closest to you? Please share your comments. We’re very grateful to all of you have commented on our postings in recent weeks.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
There we were, 50 or more of us—mostly men on their way to Abuja, Accra, Cairo, Johannesburg, or Nairobi, and me—crowded around the 8-inch television screen over a bar at the Addis Ababa airport. On any other day it would have been a football game (or “soccer,” as our US readers call it) that gathered such a crowd. But yesterday was no ordinary day. It is, in fact, A New Day.
Inauguration Day 2009 found me wrapping up from meetings in the UAE and making the journey back home to Sudan. Because of the, shall I say, interesting restrictions and flight patterns to Khartoum, my route took me back through Addis. And that’s how I found myself standing on tiptoes in that bar, stretching for a glimpse of CNN and the most important proceedings to take place in the United States for many years. We stood, watching the elated faces of many Americans and holding our breath while we waited together for Barack Obama to make his way up to the stage and take his oath of office.
We had just seen Hillary Clinton take her place when an Ethiopian Airlines agent bustled over and called out urgently for all passengers to Khartoum to board their plane now. Disappointed, I pulled myself away from the smoky bar and my chance to witness the swearing-in of the 44th President of the United States so I could get home . . . where I knew I could find late night activities from Washington, DC still being broadcast live in what would be my morning.
And now here I am on the couch in my living room, glued to CNN as it goes over Michelle Obama’s fashion choices, Chief Justice Roberts’ bumbling the lines of the oath, and the ongoing (for me) festivities of the inaugural balls. I am overcome by the feeling this morning, as I have been since election day, that it is a proud, proud time to be an American abroad.
Over the New Year holiday my husband and I were traveling in Southeast Asia. At first we didn’t understand what we heard people calling to us as we walked the streets, but as the shout outs became more frequent, we recognized it: “Obama!” In Phnom Penh and Bangkok, people who recognized us as Americans called out, “Obama!” Yes! As soon as we understood what they were saying, yes! They weren’t calling us names. “Obama!” was becoming a new international greeting.
People all around the planet were finding the occasion of this transition to a new president of the United States a uniting force for hope and joy. Even if we didn’t speak the same language, people were looking for a way to reach out to us and express their good wishes. “Yes, Obama!” we’d smile and cheer back.
During the run-up to the election we had seen t-shirts with Obama’s face and phrases of support in the local languages of Kenya and Ethiopia. Now that he’s elected, we find that people who peg us as Americans are bursting to connect with us and our new president. In Khartoum now there’s even a new Obama barber shop.
The departure of former president George W. Bush from the White House has not been missed in the world’s recent analysis of American politics. In the days leading up to this week’s inauguration, I was in the UAE reading the local papers. Along with their profuse coverage of the war in Gaza, and reports on how the current economic crisis is affecting booming development in Dubai and Abu Dhabi, commentary on the end of the Bush presidency was a daily recurring news item. The relationships between the United States and Middle Eastern countries will certainly be some of the most important for President Obama to improve and rebuild, so his words addressed directly to the Muslim world were heartening.
Now, what does this big day mean for the women and men of Peace X Peace around the world? Well, we’d like to hear from you directly. What are your reactions to the inauguration? Has anything changed about your perception of the United States in the world with the election of this new president? What are your expectations? What are your wishes? Have you been tuning in to “Obama Fever” or do you have other things at the front of your mind? Have your say right here in the comments section of this blog and/or share your story on our home page. You can post it yourself or send a photo (.jpg) and your text to email@example.com.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
As a peace activist, I spend most of my time focused on the intense present moment: What are today’s issues? Have we accomplished what we needed to on a tight deadline? What needs doing now? Give us justice NOW!
But this week, near the start of this fresh, new year, I’ve been thinking about the future. With the US presidential inauguration just around the corner, and 2009 resolutions still at the front of our minds, it seems only appropriate to spend a little time thinking about the time that is to come.
Also this week I’m attending the Future Capitals Summit in Abu Dhabi—a gathering of experts and innovators in economics, development, technology, education, and the environment, as well as investors and fund managers, business leaders, city mayors and heads of government from more than 50 nations who are creating the thriving cities of tomorrow. The summit asks “What do we need to have healthy, successful communities?” and it got me thinking about what it means to work for peace today, and what we hope this work will bring tomorrow.
Recent headlines bring more doom and gloom: ongoing violence in Gaza, the global economic crisis, ever-growing gaps between haves and have-nots, women and men, educated and uneducated. Peacebuilders like us would seem to have our hands full with just relieving the immediate pains and injustices in such a world.
But that’s not enough. The change we wish to see in our future cities, villages, and families takes more than removing obstacles that stand immediately before us in the present. It takes vision, inspiration for how the world could be—looking beyond solving today’s problems to a life that is utterly, mindblowingly beautiful. Yes, peacebuilding is about making conditions better, but what really powers our work is the belief that there is more than the absence of pain and hurt and violence.
Words from inspiring speakers at Future Capitals (like Patricia Smith Melton and the panel of “Wonder Women” she joined to speak about the role of women in building future societies) remind us that peace is possible, and that it is a positive, creative force in the world that is not limited to the resolution of conflict. Indeed, as my colleague and co-blogger, Mary Liepold, often quotes Johan Galtung, saying, “Peace is nonviolence plus creativity.”
We know that peace is not an abstract concept, but juicy creative mix of justice and equality, opportunity, holistic security, connection, and joy. So this week I encourage you to rediscover the dream you have for peace. What does it look like? How would you describe your thriving future city/village/town/country/world? Please share your vision with us in the Peace X Peace community in the comments section of this blog and in your Global Network connections. A powerful future vision frames our work today—your ideas nourish our hungry hearts and fuel our work for generations to come.
Comment by Mary Liston Liepold
It’s Christmas Eve, or the eve of the eve, depending on where you are. The world at large takes note of the coming holiday, even where other holidays matter more, because of British, Dutch, French, Spanish, and American colonization and our global media culture. So for all of us at Peace X Peace, I send warm wishes for the day when Christians celebrate the coming of the Prince of Peace—and for Hanukah, Kwanzaa, al-Hijira, the Islamic new year, and every other festival that lights your life.
Christmas Eve is the last day of Advent, the month-long period of prayerful preparation for the reign of God. Advent is a kind of pregnancy: a time to take extra good care of ourselves as we wait for something wonderful. It’s a time of openness, disponibilité. Since I first ran across that French word in a passage of Simone Weil 45 years ago, it has been a kind of personal touchstone. I forget many times every day, but I try to hold onto an attitude of being available to grace, believing that God has a plan for me, trying to stay out of God’s way and my own.
It’s not a coincidence that most of the peacebuilders I know cultivate openness and awareness through yoga or other mind-body disciplines. It’s not a coincidence that nine times out of ten, when I ask a person I admire to define peace, she or he tells me that it begins within and radiates out. The number of Americans who are being drawn to practice mindfulness is growing by leaps and bounds. Yoga has moved in my lifetime from something perceived as strange and cultish to a staple in community centers and even shopping malls across the US.
For anyone who still thinks it’s strange, or simply selfish, I offer a practical example. Earlier this year, the Wilson Center and its partners brought a dozen key Iraqi women to the US for two weeks to share their experience with each other, to meet people in organizations that can help them practice their professions, and to interact with experts in various areas. One of the women reported near the end of their stay that the most valuable experience had been a daylong workshop on breathing. She is a physician practicing medicine in an environment where drugs, equipment, and medical personnel are all in woefully short supply and post-traumatic stress afflicts 100% of the population. As she felt her own stress abate in the relaxation exercises, she realized this was something she could take back and train others to do. Together, they could help people cope and even energize them to take control of their situation.
It’s a situation that exists largely because 2,000-some years after the holy night, we still seem not to have heard the angels’ message of peace. It’s easy to wonder how our so-called Christian civilization got so far off track. But the number of those who believe peace is possible is steadily, irreversibly increasing. We believe it both because we experience it within ourselves and because we interact with a wider and wider global circle of friends who have become as dear as family.
In these last minutes before Christmas, then, let’s dwell in possibility; in the not yet, but soon. It is the darkest time of the year, in the Western hemisphere. We are waiting, together, for the light to dawn. We reach within ourselves; we reach out to each other; and peace by peace, we will reach a brighter day.
– Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
I learned to read at three, and I set my hair on fire reading under the covers, with a swiped cigarette lighter, before I turned four. Fortunately, my big sister was nearby to quench the flames, and hair grows back. My passion for print burned on.
All I’ve ever wanted to do is read. When I look back over 6 and a half decades, I’m rather amazed that I’ve managed to do anything else. But reading does lead to action. I read about people whose lives were harder than mine, and I wanted to help them. I read about families and careers, and I wanted at least one of each. Children need reading to, after all! And there are jobs tailor-made for bookworms.
Blogging is one of them. I get to read about what’s going on in the world and weave the story strands together into a narrative of my own. And I can invite YOU, Dear Reader, to offer your opinions on the joyful news items we celebrate this season, including the hope that good may come out of evil in New York City and elsewhere and continuing awards and media coverage for our founder Patricia Smith Melton and her stunning new book, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women. Please comment on the disheartening stories as well: retribution, civic unrest (and nature’s too) in Greece, the saga of the shoes, and ongoing femicide in the DRC. There’s so much more than we can begin to cover that I’m always grateful to those of you who respond with your own news and perspectives.
So please, do tell me what you think about these stories. But most important, tell me what YOU love to read. If you hurry – and skillfully delegate all the tasks that are calling you out of your cozy chair – there’s still time to buy a few delicious new books, read them very gently, and offer them up as pre-tested, sure-to-please holiday gifts to fortunate friends and family members. Shopping less this year? An old book, lovingly inscribed, can be a true gift from the heart.
I’m both too snobbish and too thrifty to buy lots of best-sellers. I’m still happily working my way through the best of last year’s bests, and those of the year before. (If you still haven’t read the 2006 Three Cups of Tea, by the way, put down whatever you’re doing and find a library.) Oprah’s Book Club generally picks titles worth checking out, though I have found a few of them disappointing.
The year 2000 brought out the millennial urge to list best books of all time, and most of the US lists were sadly ethnocentric, like this one from Time. Eight years into the internet age, we have no excuse to limit ourselves to what’s written and reviewed in our own language. Friends in other countries can offer suggestions, and if the translators oblige—or, if, unlike most Americans, we read more than one language—we can share and discuss our favorites inside the Peace X Peace Global Network.
What are the books you’d take along to the proverbial desert island? What books and fictional characters have stayed with you from your childhood? Will Kindle and its kin ever replace printed books? Please tell us what you think. I’m all on fire to hear.
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
Today is the third and final day of Eid al Adha, the Muslim holiday of the sacrifice. Here in Sudan, as in most of the Muslim world, it is the biggest holiday of the year—indeed it is sometimes also called Eid al Kabir, “the Big Holiday.” This week we were invited to the home of some dear local friends to join with them in the holiday festivities.
Eid al Adha occurs at the end of Hajj and commemorates the near-sacrifice of Abraham’s son. In Islam, that son is Ishmael. In Christian and Jewish traditions, it’s Isaac. Either way, the point is the same: Abraham is venerated because he was prepared to sacrifice his son, even though his son meant everything to him. Then at the last minute, God intervened and sent a lamb for the sacrifice. So this is a holiday about faith—faith that the sacrifices we make, or are prepared to make, are worth it.
Our holy books don’t tell us how the boy’s mother felt about all this. Mothers have been “sacrificing” their sons and daughters without being consulted for a long time now—mostly in the ungodly cause of war and conflict. But these days women are working together to end war, and some of them put themselves on the line in heroic ways. Take Aung San Suu Kyi, whose seemingly unending confinement has diminished neither her commitment to a free Burma or her power to inspire. Or the recently abducted Zimbabwean activist Jestina Mukoko. Benazir Bhutto also dedicated herself to the cause of others. Ordinary extraordinary women everywhere are taking actions great and small to build peace—at great personal risk. Today, on the 60th anniversary of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, we pause to remember those who have gone before, and those who are still struggling today, so we can have dignity, freedom from slavery and torture, freedom of movement and of religion, and the freedom to choose our sacrifices for ourselves.
So as we gathered around the Eid feast of lamb with our friends this week, I was pondering in my heart the contemporary meaning of a holiday about sacrifices. And it brought me to recognize generosity, hope, and equality, as well as faith, as the core values for these days of celebration.
At Eid, each Muslim family sacrifices a lamb or a goat—they do much of the intensive butchering themselves, often in the yards of their homes—and for those days, no one goes hungry. Rich share their meals with poor, Christians are invited to join with Muslims, educated elites feast alongside their illiterate neighbors. The lines that divide us become thin and permeable. During this sacred time we feel united. We are united, and that is the true power of such festivals.
Of course, bridging divides can happen outside of holy days as well, as in this story about young Muslims in New York City finding a place to pray in a nearby synagogue. I grew up in a church like that—different Christian, Jewish, and Muslim communities used our Lutheran church according to their worship and prayer needs. It was in that community that I was first exposed to other world religions. When our traditions, holidays, and sacrifices help us erase or overcome the lines that divide us, we experience the sacred, and that is truly worth celebrating.
Eid Mubarak! (Blessed Eid!)
Kul sena wa entum bikher! (Every year may you be well!)
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
After Thanksgiving, appropriately enough, comes giving. In the US and nations with similar calendars and customs, the harvest festival leads straight into the making of lists and checking them twice. We plan celebrations, send out greetings, and select the perfect gifts for family members, friends, neighbors, and others who have blessed our lives, some of whom we only connect with at this time of year.
Many rightly deplore the frenzy of materialism that grips Americans each December and propose inspired alternatives, including hand-made, simple gifts and contributions to top-flight nonprofits. Shoppers, non-shoppers, and anti-shopping activists like Reverend Billy all make donations, so civil society organizations like Peace X Peace receive the largest share of their life-giving contributions at year’s end.
This year, as recession tilts toward depression, donors are deciding how much they can afford to give and which charities to choose from, among the nearly 1.5 million in the US alone. Desperate situations cry out for our attention, from those closest to home (no matter where on earth that is) to cholera in Zimbabwe and HIV/AIDS around the world.
I’ll make some gifts to relieve suffering this year, and you probably will too. But the plain truth is that if I provide food for hungry people or medicine for the sick, I may restore them to the condition they were in earlier, but I do nothing to change the conditions that cause their pain. If we envision a different world—not just the old one with patches on the worn places—we have to uproot the domination paradigm and work for a future where war does not consume the largest share of the world’s resources.
The status quo works for some people. I guess that’s why disasters claim a larger share of the charity pie than opportunities for real change. It doesn’t work for women. Peace X Peace builds a world where women claim their full and equal share of resources and share equally in decisions at every level. And the first step toward that goal is supporting each other. Did you know that as of 2007, less than 7% of grants from major US foundations went to organizations working on women’s and girls’ issues? Yet women are on the leading edge where change is happening.
No matter where in the world you live, I think you’ll agree that it is time to support women-led change. As Yukika Sohma, who founded Japan’s first NGO, once said, “We all come from developing nations in the moral and spiritual sense.”
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
Last week the United Nations General Assembly hosted an interfaith conference on religious tolerance, promoting “dialogue, understanding and tolerance among human beings as well as for respect for all religions, cultures and beliefs.” Most notable about that event was how little press coverage it received. If you’re like me, you might have missed it altogether.
The conference had a few naysayers, but the general commentary has been positive—noting particularly the productive contributions of King Abduallah of Saudi Arabia. And although no one declared the event to be the missing piece that will end religio-political conflicts everywhere, some have called it “a breakthrough that could lead to peace.” Ban Ki Moon said that the initiative comes at “a time when the need for dialogue among religions, cultures and civilizations has never been greater.”
Truly, this is the time for Christian and Jew, Hindu and Muslim, believer and nonbeliever to work together. The Daily Star of Lebanon writes, “Peoples of all faiths around the world need to readjust their views of one another if the human race is to avoid becoming the author of its own demise.”
What is it about faith that seems to cause so much conflict? As one of my good friends and experts on interfaith dialogue reminds me, “We can’t keep blaming the problems of the world on religions. It’s the people who interpret and practice those religions in specific cultural and political circumstances who create violence.”
I also wonder if an abstract concept of faith, religion, and/or belief doesn’t contribute to the problem of blame. In my own life, it has been important to understand the etymology of the profession of faith, “Credo,” which breaks down (in both Latin and Greek) into words with straightforward and concrete meaning: “heart” and “I give.” To picture giving my heart to someone or something has transformed the way I think about and practice my faith.
So if people, and not religions, are responsible for what goes wrong in the world, then people are also the ones to make it right. Today Peace X Peace is celebrating the contributions of women who have done their part to build peace in perhaps the most lengthy and complex world conflict—one that is often blamed on religion—in Israel and the Palestinian Territories. Our founder Patricia Smith Melton has just completed a multi-year project, Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women, and is launching the publication of a book by the same title this evening at a special event co-hosted with the Embassy of Sweden.
We’ll put up lots of post-event press coverage on the Peace X Peace site so those outside of the local area can enjoy the accomplishments of these ordinary extraordinary women. You can also share in the project by ordering your own copy of the exquisite and inspiring book.
Continuing on the theme of multi-faith initiatives and peacebuilding, if you have a few extra minutes as you surf around the internet in the next few days, you might also check out the 20,000 Dialogues Project, a nationwide campaign designed to bring people of different faiths together using films about Muslims to stimulate discussion and promote understanding, and the Charter for Compassion, a collaborative that seeks to remind the world that while all faiths are not the same, they all share the core principle of compassion and the Golden Rule.
Til next week—keep the faith!
Comment by Mary Liston Liepold
In the news this week: man-made disasters and women joining forces to make the world new. Though violence rages in many places, today’s reports focus on eastern Congo, where already unbearable conditions have become unimaginable. The international community is understandably concerned that the DRC’s neighbors will be drawn in if the conflict continues. The conventional thinking calls for still more troops—though the Congo already has the world’s largest UN peacekeeping force.
And from the sidelines comes the voice of Barnard political scientist Séverine Autesserre (quoted, to its credit, by Newsweek), who predicted in Foreign Affairs last summer that more of the same would lead to more of the same. She suggests resolving the local inequities and divisions that fuel the conflict instead: peacebuilding rather than mere peacekeeping.
Peace X Peace members in the Congo like Michel Ngoy Mulunda are building local solutions, person by person and step by step. The same is true across Africa and around the world. In Cote d’Ivoire, the Association for the Defence of Women’s Rights (DWR) and other women’s groups will launch a national campaign this month that includes radio spots in local languages and a nationwide tour. The campaign has two purposes: culture change that makes violence against women unacceptable and pressure to bring women into peacebuilding. Nicole Doué, DWR vice-president, says: “They lifted this buffer zone [between north and south] without planning how to ensure women’s security… This is because of the absence of women in the peace process… From Lomé to Ouagadougou [referring to the numerous peace deals signed over the past five years] women have been shut out.”
Out, but moving steadily to the inside. As I scan the news, I find every outrage and atrocity balanced by a story about women who stand together to take matters into their own hands.
In Somalia over the weekend, a raped 13-year-old was stoned to death while 1,000 people watched, in a classic example of blaming the victim. The father of an Iranian-American jailed for working for women’s equality condemned her “illegal activity.” And in the US, two women and six men were pre-emptively arrested before the Republican National Convention and still face charges for “conspiring to riot.”
This same week, the Gruber Foundation honored three extraordinary women’s rights activists: Iraqi Yanar Mohammed; Nepali Sapana Pradhan Malla, and Palestinian Nadera Shalhoub-Kevorkian. And Glamour’s Women of the Year awards honored Nujood Ali, the 10-year old Yemeni who took the stand against her abusive husband in court and was granted a historic divorce, and her courageous lawyer Shada Nasser. The two are working together to save other little girls from too-early marriage.
It’s not surprising, then, that CNN’s search for the Hero of the Year has come down to seven women and three men. Come to think of it, we don’t talk about “doctorines,” scientistettes,” or God forbid, “activistesses.” We can all be heroes. What are we waiting for?
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
It’s finally here—the day after the first Tuesday after the first Monday in November, 2008. The world has been watching the buildup to this election day, and now we can finally say that Barack Obama will be the 44th President of the United States.
This longest, and most expensive, presidential campaign ever had stakeholders all over the globe. Newsweek and the BBC called it the World’s Election. Al Jazeera developed one of their signature photo montages with a dramatic soundtrack to provide its viewers with regular updates. From Germany to Japan, Australia to Albania, (and, of course, Kenya), it seems we’ve all been virtually glued to our screens as the more than 19-month-long journey finally reached its conclusion. (Interestingly, Latin America stands out as a region that claims indifference to this past Tuesday’s decision.)
The Economist created a global electoral college to see who would win if all those international stakeholders had a vote. But they don’t—at least not in this election. Campaign ’08 in the United States was watched by all, and then decided by some. But each person in our global community does have a voice. And this November, the voices of the world were heard!
So what does this decision mean for all of us? Sure, the United States just elected Barack Obama to lead the country out of a period dominated by the Bush Doctrine and into years of hope, engagement, and unity. Yet in spite of his charisma, inspiring rhetoric, and wisdom, the real power for making change in this next term lies with the people. And not just the people of the United States of America, but all people: everyone who recognizes the importance of gathering, organizing, and joining together in a cause. I was just in Kenya, (where people are feeling particular pride today), and I heard this traditional saying many times: “When you take a bamboo stick by itself, you can easily snap it over your knee. But when you bind two, or three, or ten together, then you will find it very difficult to break them.”
This is what is so exciting about today, the day after election day, for me. (Well, that and the cool tools that made it possible for people around the world to connect live all at the same moment: Will.i.am was beamed via hologram into the CNN studios for an interview as the votes were being counted, several international news stations ran live video feed from Kogelo, and here in Khartoum we received emails, sms messages, and mobile phonecalls from remote areas of Darfur, from Pakistan, and from friends and family around the world—just minutes after President-elect Obama finished his acceptance speech. Talk about feeling bound together!
But the point here is: Your choice matters. In fact in these times it makes all the difference. This election is not the end. It does not bring about the change we seek, but it does give us the chance to make that change.
We want peace, and we’re the ones who have to make it happen. We choose the words that give our values and ideals meaning. We choose the people who best represent our views. And we choose the actions we take to build a better world: block by block, brick by brick, calloused hand by calloused hand, Peace X Peace.
Commentary by Mary Liston Liepold
October 31 is Halloween in the Americas, in parts of Western Europe, and, thanks to the reach of both Christianity and US pop culture, in many other places across the globe. In the church calendar All Hallows’ E(v)en(ing), known in Latin cultures as the Day of the Dead, was the eve of the feast of All Saints. It was a time when the boundaries between the realms of life and death seemed temporarily dissolved; when the dead might return home and death itself might be domesticated, even played with.
And so we have the familiar witches and goblins, along with the ballerinas and the firefighters, the superheroes of both genders, the Obamas and the Sarah Palins—among the most-asked-for masks this year—and so much more. Children spend weeks deciding, then changing their minds, tickled by the scary options and tugged by the chance to try on a possible adult identity. My seven-year-old granddaughter in Hawaii (whose family happens to own a horse) found the perfect compromise this year. She’ll be a zombie cowgirl.
Since 1950, some of the fun has had a global dividend: Trick or Treat for UNICEF, the United Nations Children’s Fund. Kids can help other kids and still collect belly-busting amounts of candy, with no difficult decision required. According to the website, carrying a UNICEF box on their Halloween rounds is the first volunteer experience many children have, and it raises over $140 million each year. Like grandmas-at-a-distance everywhere, I can hardly wait to see those Halloween pictures. And I’ll scan them for the UNICEF box.
I just put my own picture on www.westandwithyou.org, opposing all efforts to make Muslims into Halloween images of bogeyman and “terrorist.” People of good will hold strongly differing opinions on the boycott strategy that Jewish Voice for Peace and the Presbyterian Church adopted some years ago, but this invitation strikes me as impeccable.
Our founder Patricia Smith Melton’s answer to the bogeyman strategy is Sixty Years, Sixty Voices, hot off the press and in our offices this week. The 60 women the book presents are Muslim, Christian, Jewish, Druze, and secular. Their diversity and individuality are as remarkable as their unanimity on the central theme: that peace is possible. Contact Liora@peacexpeace.org for your own copy.
This week, as every week, the news is full of scary stories: floods displacing thousands in Yemen; brave leaders of the organization Women of Zimbabwe Arise denied bail; the Pentagon taking 54% of US discretionary spending even without counting the ongoing wars. And it’s full of inspiring ones too. Today, October 29, is the 40th birthday of the National Organization for Women (NOW), founded here in Washington, DC, in 1966. That first meeting, which elected Betty Friedan as the organization’s first president, had just 30 attendees.
Peace people and people of faith understand that the dark scary evening is followed by the feast, and that death never has the last word . . . especially not when women’s voices are lifted up.
Comment by Mary Liston Liepold
Yes, the Nobel Prize surprises are over for this year, and the winners got lots of well-deserved press. But October is also the month for The Right Livelihood Awards, popularly known as the Alternative Nobels. Swedish-German journalist and philatelist Jakob von Uexkull sold his business to endow the first awards in 1980 because the six Nobel categories didn’t fully cover the fields of human endeavor that mattered most to him: independent journalism, peacebuilding, and social justice.
This year’s Right Livelihood Awardees are three women—Somali, German, and American—and an Indian couple. Krishnammal and Sankaralingam Jagannathan and their organization LAFTI (Land for the Tillers’ Freedom) (India) received the Award “for two long lifetimes of work dedicated to realizing in practice the Gandhian vision of social justice and sustainable human development, for which they have been referred to as ‘India’s soul’.” They work with the Dalit, formerly known as “untouchables,” and other landless people.
Asha Hagi (Somalia) was honored “for continuing to lead at great personal risk the female participation in the peace and reconciliation process in her war-ravaged country.” She worked with others to found a clan of women, called the Sixth Clan, that stands beside the five traditional, male-dominated Somali Clans. Together, the women have created a Ministry for Gender and Family Affairs and won a 12% quota for female representation in their Transitional Federal Parliament.
Monika Hauser (Germany), gynecologist and founder of Medica Mondiale, received the Award “for her tireless commitment to working with women who have experienced the most horrific sexualized violence in some of the most dangerous countries in the world, and campaigning for them to receive social recognition and compensation.” To date, she has helped 70,000 traumatized women and girls in Bosnia and Herzegovina, Afghanistan, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Kosovo, and Liberia.
Amy Goodman (USA), founder and award-winning host of Democracy Now!, a daily grassroots, global tv/radio news hour, was honored “for developing an innovative model of truly independent political journalism that brings to millions of people the alternative voices that are often excluded by the mainstream media.”
You may remember the campaign led by Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, beginning in 2003, to nominate 1,000 women worldwide for the Nobel Peace Prize. The portraits of the nominees went into books and videos and are now traveling as a photo exhibit, shown this year in Paris, among other sites. The organization, now called Peacewomen across the Globe, is mounting a new initiative for 2009, the United Nations’ Year of Reconciliation.
Two of the nominees were in the news this week. Zipporah Sein, an ethnic Karen who was elected general-secretary of the Karen National Union (KNU) in Thailand on Friday, is the first woman to serve in that role. And Muriel Duckworth, who founded the Halifax, Nova Scotia, Raging Grannies, is celebrating her 100th birthday with appropriate honors.
Here at Peace X Peace, we know some 1,200 women-led Circles and more than 6,000 individual women who deserve international recognition for the noble work you’re doing—quietly, patiently, day by day, and peace by peace. We want to hear your stories, and to let the world hear them. Please, post them on our home page, www.peacexpeace.org. Call us on Skype and tell us what you’re up to. Send an email. Or simply comment on this blog.
And tell us: Who would YOU nominate for the next Nobel Peace Prize? What alternative prizes would you like to create?
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
It’s Blog Action Day 08! This year’s topic is poverty—and that gives us 72 hours (or fewer, depending on where in the world you’re located and when you start reading this blog) to do our part before the 2008 International Day for the Eradication of Poverty on Friday, October 17th. On this day every year we have the opportunity to raise awareness about world poverty issues, and especially to recognize the actions people living in poverty are taking to overcome it.
The Blog Action Day campaign has a massive list of activities so each of us, wherever we are, can make a concrete contribution towards eradicating poverty. One theme throughout the list will come as no surprise to the readers of this blog: empower women. According to World Bank President Robert B. Zoellick, “Investing in young women is one way to break the intergenerational pattern of poverty . . . It’s the right thing to do, and it’s also going to be smart economics.”
This year marks the midway point to 2015, our target date for accomplishing the Millennium Development Goals (MDGs). And how much progress have we made? Gender equality is an essential determining factor for each MDG, yet UNIFEM reports: “the areas where progress has been slowest are women’s empowerment and gender equality.” The holdup comes not from a lack of well-intentioned language, but in the implementation of orders and resolutions related to women’s rights—something we’ve seen in the peace and security field as well as in economic development.
The 455th session of the Salzburg Global Seminar met last month with exactly this goal: to narrow the gap between policy and implementation on the full and equal participation of women and civil society in peace processes. This week, their final list of recommendations for more inclusive peace processes at all levels, from grassroots to the highest levels of the UN, was released. One practical step we can all take today is passing on that list of women’s empowerment recommendations to another person we know we works in, or cares about, women’s rights and development.
The alternative to implementing just policies that recognize women’s equal rights is a tragic and all too familiar story: another teenage girl from an impoverished family is violated by a man close to her family, and they can’t decide whether to defend or abandon their daughter. Now is the time for us to learn from these stories and put into action the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on women’s contribution to peace-building, just as the Open Cage drama series is doing on Ugandan radio stations. Let’s stop the cycle of violence, stop the cycle of poverty, and put those good intentions into action.
When girls are educated, they marry later and have fewer, healthier children. This changes the shape of the population curve and, with fewer dependents per worker, facilitates economic growth. This is the Girl Effect. Girls’ education provides perhaps the single highest return on investment in the developing world.
This week the 2008 Global Hunger Index was released, counting more than 920 million who go hungry every day. To address this, and to deliver the core public services that will meet the Millennium Development Goals, we need an adequate cadre of health workers, teachers, engineers, planners, and law enforcement officials. Girls as well as boys must be adequately educated and trained today to prepare them for later economic and civic life—and young women must be given adequate opportunities to contribute to and participate in public life.
In another view of our progress toward the MDGs, a report out this week from the Brookings Institution calls the goals unfair to Africa, arguing that “the MDGs are poorly and arbitrarily designed to measure progress against poverty and deprivation, and that their design makes Africa look worse than it really is.” At the very least that leaves us all with ample food for thought.
For a few other great (and small) things people like us are doing to help eradicate poverty, check out the profiles of these young social innovators. Maybe you’ll find the inspiration you need to make poverty history. Don’t forget to give us your feedback in the comments section of this blog!
Commentary by Molly Mayfield Barbee
If there was ever any doubt that what happens to one happens to all, the international financial market’s roller coaster ride—from the western hemisphere to the east—should clinch the point. Our 21st century world is an interconnected web.
From banks to babies, individuals and institutions everywhere are feeling a pinch. Notably, the credit squeeze in the commercial sector is also affecting humanitarian and aid organizations around the world. It’s hard to imagine a worse time for such cuts, but from the United Nations General Assembly to the United States’ presidential debates, proposals to reduce spending on development aid are becoming commonplace.
Arguments about aid versus assistance aside, cutbacks in efforts to fight disease, feed hungry children, and shelter refugees are bad news for everyone—particularly women. This week the United States Agency for International Development stopped providing contraception supplies to one of the largest family planning organizations in the world, Marie Stopes International (MSI). MSI initiatives prevented millions of unwanted pregnancies and abortions in 2007 alone, but because of their work with the Chinese government, USAID issued instructions to terminate their aid. This decision affects programs in Ghana, Malawi, Sierra Leone, Tanzania, Uganda and Zimbabwe, leaving many African women with few options to prevent pregnancy.
Elsewhere in Africa, locals and internationals alike are debating the relationship between military and humanitarian assistance. The launch this week of AFRICOM operations brings the imbalance of attention and funding between defense and diplomacy to the fore.
There is good news from that continent this week as well. In the Mo Ibrahim index of African Governance, just released, some 31 of the 48 sub-Saharan countries surveyed show governance improvement. The index assesses national governance against 57 criteria in the categories of Safety and Security, Rule of Law, Transparency and Corruption, Participation and Human Rights, Sustainable Economic Opportunity, and Human Development. Sudan, Chad, DRC, and Somalia are listed at the bottom, with Mauritius and Seychelles in the lead. Kenya, an important model for development still recovering from its January 2008 unrest, along with Rwanda, with its impressive female to male ratio in parliament and first-ever female Speaker just elected, rank near the middle of the bunch.
While the rest of the world is watching financial markets rise and fall, fearing the worst for themselves, let us remember that our interconnectedness can be a strength. The increasing relative stability of neighbors and partners in Africa and beyond can be assets to economic growth, building blocks for peace. Lessons learned in Burundi can inform plans and policies in Brazil. Stories of courage in Cambodia can inspire actions for change in Canada. We can go beyond fear of the other to find hope.
And about hope and inspiration: The 10th of the month will bring the announcement of this year’s Nobel Peace Prize. There is much speculation over who will be the winner. What’s your take? Who would you have nominated? Make your case in the comments section of this blog and we’ll come back to that topic next week.
Til then. . .