Thoughts on Peace – Reflections from the Newark Peace Summit: Peace and Gender
How about these words?: “Leader, Politician, Dictator, President, Ambassador.”
Chances are, you most likely pictured some sort of man when you read these words. What is the meaning of this?
Of course, this does not mean that all men should be labeled with these terms. However, as several of the speakers at the Newark Peace Education Summit so profoundly discussed: it is undeniable which gender has disproportionately contributed to fighting, violence, raping, and war throughout the history of mankind: MEN. And what gender is typically left to pick up the pieces and rebuild families and communities? WOMEN. In addition, research shows that women are disproportionately affected by most violence and war across the world. However, when it comes to positions of power (politically, economically, educationally, etc) women are not PROPORTIONATELY represented at the discussion table.
The use of the word “proportionately” is of great importance here. When there is a disproportion of power of ANY kind, it is likely to cause problems. For example, if 40% of a community is black, but only 5% of government officials of that community are black, it is very likely that the needs of those 40% are going to go unmet. As a result, simply having a select few “token” women in high-ranking government positions or CEO positions does not address the inequality. It is not sufficient.
The next question: Why is this important? My response: if we are ever to have peace in the world, violence, killing, and rape (not to mention inequality) are things that need to be eliminated. If women are not given a say in major decisions, then the ironic tradition of attempting to establish peace through means of war (i.e. capturing and killing people like Hussein, Bin Laden, etc.) is likely to continue.
Taking it back to the Peace Education Summit…so many great speakers touched on this glaring global issue of gender inequality:
- Iranian Human Rights attorney, female activist, and Nobel Peace Prize laureate Shirin Ebadi discussed the glaring gender inequality in Iran. Women who were once in prestigious roles have now been reduced to servants as a result of the Iranian Islamic Revolution in 1979.
- Nobel Peace Prize laureate Jody Williams shared her interaction with a high-ranking official of the United Nations (the organization that sets world-wide goals for gender equality). She asked what percentage of UN managers are female, and the response was far below 50% (if I recall correctly she said it was about 10%) The cited reason: “They’ve had a tough time finding qualified candidates.” (If that’s the case, my response is that the qualifications must be inherently sexist).
- West African peace activist and feminist Leymah Gbowee challenged the system of “formal education” that we value so strongly in western society, and strongly stated how she has a “B.A. in being a refugee, an M.A. in understanding violence, and a Ph.D. in organizing women.” To this, she added that the current global vision towards women and their knowledge/worth needs to be challenged and that if women want to see a change, they need to take action.
- Finally, founder of “Women for Women Internationl,” Zainab Salbi reinforced that women receive the most harm from all of the major crises across the globe, yet they have no voice in the decision-making.
To conclude, I think it’s overwhelmingly clear that we need more women in power. From my experience, any time I’ve been involved with something humanitarian (volunteering, non-profit work, service through AmeriCorps, studying social justice issues, etc) I’ve been surrounded by much more women than men. Personally, I want this nurturing, compassionate attitude to be represented when governments and businesses are making major decisions that affect the lives of the entire world.
However, while I realize that this is a pressing issue, I am in no way perfect, and I know that at times I may contribute to this inequality myself. For example, judging a person’s comments (even if its only in the slightest way) because she is a woman, or making jokes that objectify women (like “that’s what she said”) both restrict my personally ability, and in turn, the world’s ability to achieve true peace between genders. It is my personal belief that until we critically analyze and challenge our collective way of thinking, we will not be able to fully understand peace as it relates to gender and bring about a more peaceful world.
What do you think? I leave you with the following questions:
1.) In what other ways can this disproportion of female power affect the world?
2.) What other personal actions that you have direct control over may be contributing to gender inequality? For example: viewing women as inferior, objectifying women, making disrespectful comments about women, not respecting the opinion of women as much as men, etc.
3.) What is ONE thing you can start doing TOMORROW that will help the world achieve peace and equality between genders?
Leave comments, I’d love to hear from everyone!
Peace and Love,