Mother, sister, daughter, wife. These are words we often use to describe women. But consider these words: peacemaker, negotiator, agent of change. In fact, the world over, it’s women who are working as powerful peacemakers in their communities and countries.
In Northern Ireland, entrenched for years in a violent struggle between Catholic nationalists and Protestant unionists, it was women who formed a coalition of cooperation between the two sides, working together to promote peace at the community and national level.
Under the brutal rule of the Khmer Rouge in Cambodia, marked by years of violence and deprivation, it was women who mobilized to meet the needs of their struggling communities: caring for war orphans, organizing peace rallies, and promoting social and economic activity.
And when armed rebellion broke out in Papua New Guinea in the 1980s, it was women who anchored dialogues for peace, organizing humanitarian aid distributions for affected families and even traveling into the jungle to negotiate between warring factions.
Women’s contributions to community-based recovery and peacebuilding efforts in times of crisis are vitally important. After all, more often than not it’s women who know the needs of their families and communities best. And it’s women who so tirelessly work to deliver aid, foster cooperation and create sustainable peace.
Despite this essential role that they play in building peace, women’s voices are often overlooked in peace talks and negotiations, as if the priorities of a small group of men with guns are more important. But we know from past experience that peace agreements that don’t represent women don’t work. In fact, more than 50% of them fail within five years, often reigniting violence.
That’s because when you leave out women’s voices, you leave out the on-the-ground, lived realities and priorities that they represent. Any form of sustainable peace has to reflect these community needs.
That’s why MADRE works to support grassroots women’s groups committed to building peace in their communities. We work with Midwives for Peace, a network of Palestinian and Israeli midwives dedicated to promoting peace and maternal health in the West Bank. Our partnership with Taller de Vida provides critical services for former child soldiers and displaced women in the context of Colombia’s on-going violence. Worldwide, MADRE enhances women’s capacity to prevent, survive and recover from wars.
And we demand that their needs, priorities and rights be represented on a local, national and international stage. That’s because we know from women’s central role in places like Northern Ireland, Liberia and Guatemala that when women are given the opportunity to step up as leaders, prospects for a sustainable peace increase.
Now, Syrian women are mobilized in the struggle for peace in their country. They are distributing humanitarian aid in bombed out communities. They are painstakingly negotiating small-scale local ceasefires that create peaceful pauses in violence. And they are fighting to bring the international peace process back to life.
That’s why we are calling on the UN’s latest peace envoy to Syria to prioritize Syrian women’s voices as essential to future peace talks. Syrian women have been at the center of the non-violent, pro-democracy movement in their country. MADRE is building channels for the UN envoy to hear directly from these women peacemakers and make sure that they are included in future peace talks. Their voices will safeguard a peace process that responds to the people’s needs.
As we’re approaching the holiday season, it’s a time when many send warm wishes for peace on earth. This year, let’s remember women’s important role in making peace a reality, and recommit ourselves to demanding that their voices be heard.