As part of Karuna Center's 20th Anniversary year—connecting with our past, and looking ahead to build the future—we recently interviewed our dear colleague Mossarat Qadeem. Mossarat founded the Paiman Alumni Trust (www.paimantrust.org) a Pakistani peacebuilding and community empowerment organization. With Paiman, Mossarat established the country’s first center for conflict transformation and peacebuilding.
By Stephanie Nguyen, Karuna Center intern
Last Wednesday evening in Northampton, I participated in a public dialogue around the question, “Do Muslim women need saving?” together with about 45 other members of our local community. It was the second event in the six-part Bridging Muslim/Non-Muslim Divides series jointly organized by Karuna Center and Critical Connections. The dialogue began with an "interview" between Mehlaqa Samdani, Executive Director of Critical Connections, and Falguni Sheth, Associate Professor of Philosophy and Political Theory at Hampshire College. We then broke up into small groups for more in-depth discussion. At the close of the evening, representatives from each small group took turns engaging in a dialogue based on the small group's insights while we all listened.
Prompted by the night’s topic, Professor Sheth suggested that Western media portrayals of Muslim women following 9/11 have reinforced stereotypes about the oppression of women in Muslim societies—for example, through media coverage of highly charged cases such as those involving “honor killings.” She expressed the importance of being aware of the types of media we are consuming, how it’s framed, and for whom it is targeted. While she made no excuses for domestic violence or state repression of women within any society, she encouraged us to ask ourselves what causes us to feel discomfort when we encounter behavior that is outside of our own familiarity (e.g. wearing the veil). We thereby become able to find commonalities rather than differences across cultures.
In the latter half of the evening, we broke into small groups and conversed at length about the kinds of individual experiences that propagate cultural and religious misunderstanding. From these conversations, one of the biggest takeaways of the night were parallels drawn from our own societies to ones that are often identified in contrast (e.g. The West and The Middle East). Instances of gender-based violence and poor access to social services, for example, are not exclusive to any one society or country. To overcome our differences and the apprehension we feel when we engage in unfamiliar terrain, we have to reform our present ways of thinking.
By Nungshi and Tashi Malik
Two of Olivia Dreier and Paula Green's former peacebuilding students have made it to the top of Mt. Everest! Along the way, they bridged international divides and set a world record as the first twins to make the climb. We asked them to tell us more about their adventurous efforts for peace.
Growing up in some of the most remote, marginalized, and troubled regions of India made us aware of the immense human suffering caused by armed conflicts. Our parents both came from middle and lower middle-income groups, so we witnessed the hardships that many people face back in our home villages firsthand. When our father, a military man, was deployed on dangerous assignments, he would witness innocent people and societies caught up in the "cross-fire’ of conflict. Through his stories and insights, we came to view poor governance as one of the root causes of human suffering. He also taught us that we share a “collective destiny” with others, and raised us to empathize with those who are struggling to attain their basic human rights.
Inspired by our father's efforts to build peace, we decided to enroll in the Conflict Transformation Across Cultures (CONTACT) program at the School for International Training In Brattleboro, VT. Our father had attended a few years earlier, and he greatly enjoyed his experience. We earned our peacebuilding certificates in 2012 at the young age of twenty!
As passionate mountaineers, we have channeled our love of adventure into our peace advocacy work. We took our first humble steps towards regional peace together with Samina Baig — the first female Pakistani to scale Mt. Everest. With “First Indo-Pak Gender Equality Mt Everest Expedition 2013” as our motto, we hoisted our national flags on Everest to mark our unflinching resolve to work for peace between our two nations and the broader region, and earned a great distinction as the first set of female twins to climb Mt. Everest.
In talking with Samina, we all agreed that gender inequality was a common enemy shared by both Indian and Pakistani women. We said to one another, "Our women face similar gender challenges; let’s fight them together. If our women progress, our societies will, and peace is more possible!” We have used our successes on the mountain as a plaform to campaign against female feticide, and to inspire young women to venture outside of traditional female roles into areas hitherto dominated by men.
Since ascending Mt. Everest, we have given motivational talks to various schools on issues of gender, women empowerment, peace, and the “power of belief,” and supported youth musical talent through the Peace Music Club in northeastern India. The outpouring of support and applause we've received from students – especially girls and young women – energizes us to carry our peacebuilding work forward.
We are planning a blogging site, "Adventure for Peace," which we will use to generate discussions, forums, and views on adventure that can be used for strengthening universal brotherhood, compassion and peace in our societies and nations. In a year’s time, we intend to start an offline project: an adventure training/camps where outdoor adventure will be integrated into interactive workshops on peace & conflict resolution, communication, leadership, non-violence, and whatever else may contribute to sustainable peace and progress. We encourage you to follow us on Facebook at Mountaineers for Peace.
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