“It's important for us to step up and take initiative—because now, our husbands and others in society are listening to us and respecting what we have to say.”
This International Women’s Day, we are highlighting the accomplishments of participants in the Lifting Women’s Voices, Lifting Our Communities project. Though this was a relatively small-scale initiative, it is having an impact—reflecting the collective power and dedication of the women who participated. Karuna Center's team trained and coached 90 women in rural Madagascar in advocacy last year, increasing their leadership skills as their communities face rapid change.
Last International Women’s Day, we wrote about how gender equality is essential to preventing violent conflict. When women are included in peace negotiations, the agreement is 35% more likely to endure for at least 15 years—that’s just one example. But when the power of women is undermined through gender-based harassment and abuses, we all lose something.
Movements like #MeToo challenge those obstacles, and make way for women’s leadership—including women’s peace leadership in all its many forms.
Last week in Northampton, we partnered with Critical Connections to co-host a discussion about #MeToo and Minority Women’s Voices with guest speakers Shaheen Pasha and Gina Beavers. Both Shaheen and Gina are journalists who have written about their personal experiences and observations related to the #MeToo Movement as members of minority communities.
The long history of protest behind International Women's Day lives on today. Women around the world are rallying together, calling for an end to inequality. And as we struggle toward more equal relationships, we also work for peace within our societies. We are changing the culture of violence that enforces unequal power.
Recent research supports an idea that we, at Karuna Center, have always kept in mind: that gender inequality, in any form, may itself make a society more vulnerable to violence. Evidence shows that the status of women is closely correlated with a nation's tendency toward violent conflict, both within and outside its borders. We find ourselves asking: How could violence against women be perpetuating a culture of violence? and How could gender equality help promote cultures of peace? As researcher Valerie Hudson wrote in Foreign Policy:
"The very best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is not its level of wealth, its level of democracy, or its ethno-religious identity; the best predictor of a state’s peacefulness is how well its women are treated."
We can get an idea of what Hudson is talking about by looking at the maps below. The top map measures "national peacefulness" using a variety of indicators (not including gender equality) from the Global Peace Index. The maps below it, from the WomenStats Project, measure government participation by women(left) and prevalence of rape (right):
Note: Accurate data on sexual assault is extremely difficult to gather. The above-right map showing the prevalence of rape therefore considers a variety of factors, including social and legal barriers to reporting, to assign each nation an approximate, relative score on a scale of 1-10.
The status of women is so closely correlated with violent conflicts worldwide that it may be a critical factor hidden in plain sight. Domestic violence, mainly against women and children, kills far more people than wars. And when people—particularly children and youth—witness or experience violence in their homes and communities, they may be more susceptible to ideologies that promote mass violence when conflicts emerge. The impact of gender-based violence haunts everything we encounter as peacebuilders, from our ongoing work in Rwanda, to our efforts to help stop the spread of Boko Haram.
Yet some of the women and men who have given us the most inspiration, in their innovative work for peace & gender equality, are living in and around the "red zones" on all three maps above. For example, we recently had the opportunity to pilot a project with Men's Resources International and eight other organizations in Rwanda, Burundi, and eastern Democratic Republic of Congo.
Together, we built the Women and Men as Partners in Peacebuilding pilot program to address home-based violence as a way of promoting broader peace and reconciliation. We developed a new model for cross-gender peace partnerships, based on four pillars: Dialogue, Compassion, Collaboration, and Equality. Participants applied it internally within their organizations, throughout their advocacy programs, and even in their own lives. The results were transformative, and continue to ripple outward. (You can read one of the most powerful stories from this pilot initiative on our blog).
Today, on International Women's Day, we celebrate these and all movements for women's rights, and women's power, as movements for peace as well. And if an effort ever feels insignificant, please consider this quote from Rosette Sebasoni, Karuna Center's program manager for our current Healing Our Communities program in Rwanda:
“In Rwanda, we have a proverb that it only takes a small amount of poison to kill. But I want you to know that it also takes only a small amount of medicine to cure.”
And just as everyone has a role to play in ending gender inequality, women have a critical role to play in ending all forms of violent conflict. According to the Institute for Inclusive Security, when women are involved in creating peace, it is 35% more likely to last. We have seen the power of women to effect peace time and again, from our work with Nepali women in parliament, to our recent work with priestesses in Senegal, who effectively stopped rebel raids in their area. Applying principles of gender equality within our own field of peacebuilding makes our work much stronger.
So, to people of all genders, who are taking action for greater equality: thank you for your work to build a more peaceful world!
Header photo: Coalition-building workshops Karuna Center co-facilitated in 2011-2012 among South Sudanese and Sudanese women, as South Sudan became an independent nation.
Karuna in the World is your link to our work around the globe. Check back often to read our inspiring stories or subscribe to our email list to have them sent directly to your email inbox!