"If we'd had women around the table, there would have been no war; women think long and hard before they send their children out to kill other people's children."
Haris Silajdzic, former Prime Minister of Bosnia
While much criticism has been leveled at the Nobel committee's selection of our president as the recipient of this award, I think the committee's award choice was intended to serve a larger purpose than just the acknowledgment of a single human's efforts. I think it was more about using Obama's moment in the historical spotlight to harness his charisma as a leader to engage the world in a new conversation about how to achieve peace in our lifetime.
Here at home in the U.S., Obama has a golden opportunity to take a huge step in that direction by issuing an executive order establishing a Department of Peace with a cabinet level Secretary of Peace as its head.
Want to really make strides and advance another cause at the same time? Appoint a female as our peacemaker-in-chief! Doesn't that sound like a job cut out for Oprah? OK, probably not, but it surely is a job cut out for a woman.
Tuning in to the live webcast of Maria Shriver's Women"s Conference this morning, I'm reminded again of the power that is unleashed when women put their heads together. Women are not only the "Architects of Change", the motto of the conference, they're also the real architects of peace. They may not grab the headlines or strut across aircraft carriers boasting "Mission Accomplished", but all across the world, women are the ones who very often do the heavy lifting when it comes to building peace.
Consider the following: Six of the top 10 most peaceful countries in the world according to the Global Peace Index (GPI); New Zealand, Denmark, Norway, Iceland, Sweden and Finland, are also ranked in the top 7 in closing the gender gap between men and women. The world's most peaceful countries are those where women are closer in equality to men. You can find detailed information about this report here.
Or as the Dalai Lama said in a video clip aired this morning at the conference, "Men should turn over responsibility and let women lead." He noted that women are more "warm hearted" than men and are instrumental in educating a society to be more compassionate. Hmmm, I wonder, what are the chances the next Dalai Lama will be a female?
How does the U.S. fare on these rankings of peace and equality? What would you expect from a country that has only 13.5% female representation in congress? We're #83 of 144 countries on the Global Peace Index and #27 of 58 on the Global Gender Gap Index. By contrast, Sweden, ranked in the top 5 on both indices, has 41.7% female elected representatives in its parliament! New Zealand, Denmark and Norway all have in the high 30 percentile female representatives. Virginia, we've come a long way, but there's much, much farther to go!
So why do I say women are the real architects of peace? Here are some things to consider:
1) Women are accustomed to cleaning up the messes made by men
Ask any wife or mother. While this might not make for perfect domestic harmony, this quality serves women well as peace builders on a larger scale.
"After the genocide, women rolled up their sleeves and began making society work again." - Paul Kagame, President of Rwanda
As the minister of gender and social affairs in Rwanda, Aloisea Inyumba created programs to bury the dead, find homes for more than 300,000 orphaned children, and resettle refugees after the genocide of 1994.
In Rwanda and other war-torn countries, women often out number men after the conflict has ended. They're the ones who most often are left to implement the peace agreements negotiated by men. As community leaders with formal and informal authority, women must be an important part of the peace-making process, yet often are excluded from these positions of authority.
Women seem to know what needs to be done and they just do it, in some instances with or without the authority. This is what women do.
2) Women build bridges instead of walls
"For generations, women have served as peace educators, both in their families and in their societies. They have proved instrumental in building bridges rather than walls."
- Kofi Annan, Secretary-General of the United Nations
Social science research shows that women are more collaborative than men, thus more inclined towards consensus and compromise. They're better at establishing connections across a vast array of differences.
In several instances during the peace talks that led to the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, male negotiators walked out of sessions, leaving a small number of women, like Monica McWilliams and other members of the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, at the table. These women stayed, did not give up, and focused on mutual concerns and shared vision, enabling the dialogue to continue and trust to be rebuilt.
These women didn't have their egos involved. They were focused on the outcome and willing to tend the tribal fires until the result was achieved. This is what women have done for eons.
3) For women, peace takes priority over settling old scores.
"The official political echelons seem to get bogged down in the old historical issues. The women in the community feel that their housing, education, and childcare are the important things."
Helen Jackson, Labor Member of Parliament for Sheffield, United Kingdom.
Women don't seek revenge. Taking care of people's needs are more important than being right about what happened in the past. Men might argue with this on the domestic front, but when it comes to the big stuff like life and death, women's priorities are where it truly matters .
4) Women can listen across differences and find common ground.
Somaly Mam was a powerful speaker at the conference this morning. A sex slave in Cambodia from the age of 12, she managed to escape and found her way to a safe house. Today she is instrumental in freeing young girls from the sex trade industry that is so prevalent in southeast Asian countries. Somaly is helping these young girls go to school and teaching them to aim for careers as lawyers, doctors, and teachers in hopes that they can inspire others to break free of bondage.
As Somaly spoke, the camera panned the audience. There was not a dry eye in the house, including mine. Even though the women in attendance came from much more advantaged backgrounds compared to Somaly's, they were connected at the heart. This is what women do naturally.
5) Women have their fingers on the pulse of a community
Women often live and work close to the sources of conflict and sometimes are the only ones left in the area to gather evidence of atrocities. In Kosovo, pediatrician Vjosa Dobruna collected evidence from victims at sites of massacres and was targeted by Serb special police as a result. She later became one of only three women appointed to the UN's Joint Interim Administrative Structure of Kosovo, as the minister responsible for democracy building and civil society.
Women are strong community activists, supporters of the peace marches, show up at rallies, stuff envelopes, keep their eyes and ears open and are attuned at the grass roots level. They often know of new developments in the works long before others as a result of their natural talents for networking.
6) Women are viewed as less threatening, often gaining access where men cannot go
During the violence of the first Intifada in the Middle East, Israeli and Palestinian women like Naomi Chazan and Sumaya Farhat-Naser created Jerusalem Link, an umbrella group of women's centers on both sides of the conflict, to convey to the public a joint vision for peace. In a time when both communities forbade cross-community meetings, Jerusalem Link activities were permitted because "it's just a group of women talking."
This is what men often miss. They don't get the power of women "just talking". This is what women do. Beware a group of women "just talking"! Know that whenever women gather and "just talk", something is brewing. Women talk for peace.
"If the voices of women and their ideas were part of the peace process and a national and international security plan, I'm sure we'd live in a secure world. Women can make a difference. One woman can make a difference. That's the message I want to give to the whole world."
Wazhma Frogh, age 27, Gender and Development Specialist, Afghanistan
In researching this work, I ran across a trailer of the movie, Soldiers of Peace, a video produced by the U.N.'s Vision Of Humanity project. This is an uplifting 4 minutes and reminds us that there is hope. Even in the darkest hours like now, people like the ones you're about to see are at work in the world waging peace. In the words of one of them, "Peace is breaking out". Please take a moment to watch, it'll make your day:
"Why are we so stupid for so long?", asks Archbishop Desmond Tutu at the end of this video. Good question! President Obama, Steward of Peace, are you listening? The women of the world are ready to help you "earn" that Nobel prize.
Let's not be stupid any longer. We need a Department of Peace with a woman as our first Peacemaker in Chief. Nominations are now open. Who would you nominate as our first Secretary of Peace? Madeline Albright? Maria Shriver? Oprah Winfrey? Hillary Clinton?
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Blessings on the path.