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On October 9, 2013 I was fortunate to attend The Church Center for the United Nations (CCUN) celebration of their 50th Anniversary, “The Things That Make for Peace.” Located directly across the street from the United Nations headquarters in New York City, the Church Center is owned and operated by the United Methodist Church and is noteworthy as “a building built and owned by women,” pointed out speaker Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace.
We were invited to join the celebration of the United Methodist Church’s Women’s Division because they have been a dedicated partner of MADRE since 2006, forwarding our work for peace and justice in Colombia, South Africa, and Guatemala. They have been especially supportive of our Indigenous women partners at MUIXIL, in Guatemala, where our collaborative work has empowered grassroots women activists to protect women’s health, combat violence against women, pursue economic and environmental justice, and build peace.
The CCUN’s 50th year celebration offered Gospel singers, modern dancers, and keynote speakers including José Ramos Horta, a Nobel Peace Prize laureate, and Ms. Lakshmi Puri, Deputy Director of UN Women. All of the program speakers were noted humanitarian figures and spiritual leaders, and all spoke eloquently about the importance of women in peace building processes.
“There can be no peace without gender justice,” stated Ms. Puri, asserting a key premise in MADRE’s work. At present, our peacebuilding and transitional justice programs benefit women and families in places like Colombia, Guatemala, and Syria. Peace is more than the absence of war, Roma Bhattacharjea, Senior Gender Advisor for the United Nations Development Program, reminded us, pointing out that enduring peace requires an engaged and active civil society, an improvement in access to justice, and collaboration with women around the world.
“To reach peace, teach peace,” advised Weiss. Peace was a founding goal of MADRE, back in 1983 when we first began our work as a friendship association with women impacted by the devastating US-sponsored Contra war. Since then, our peacebuilding efforts have taken place in collaboration with grassroots women leaders confronting the impacts of wars in Colombia, Sudan and other countries. Across the street from the United Nations, an institution where women are consulted in “7% of formal peace negotiations,” the Church Center’s work—and MADRE’s—will continue to battle and promote gender equality in every corner of the world.
Quoting Gandhi, Cora Weiss asked “what is faith, if not put into action?” Faith took center stage as each CCUN- affiliated speaker approached the microphone, surrounded by candle light and the insignia of the world’s various religions decking the walls. The speakers noted our shared moral imperative to address social injustice and improve human rights. They spoke with passion and dedication about their long careers nurturing moral and humanitarian efforts for the last half-century.
The Church Center for the United Nations celebration was a moving example to me of the benefits for all when people from all backgrounds cooperate on common initiatives. We may differ in gender, religion, and ethnicity, but we are alike in that “Peace begins in ourselves, within,” as Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdury pointed out.
At MADRE, just as at the celebration, every day, I see and read about women who feel the urgency of peace, who know all about “ the things that make for peace,” and who work to build peace that we can all feel, see, and take comfort in.
A central theme that speakers evoked one after another during the celebration was that women have a human right to peace. So simple, so radical: a human right to peace. So inspiring. So MADRE.