Thanks Anyway. A Report on the First World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit
IN FOCUS, 6 Oct 2014
Seoul, Rep. of Korea – September 17-20, 2014
World Alliance of Religions Peace Summit / International Women’s Peace Group Session
It is the day after the opening ceremony at Jamsil Olympic Stadium where around 200,000 people from 134 countries shared the excitement and hope for a world in peace: Fireworks, parades, amazing card performances by 12000 volunteers, uplifting speeches by religious and political leaders, and thousands of lights to help us believe that a peaceful world is possible.
It is the day of the opening ceremony. Not one single woman—except for the organizers’ leader Ms. Kim—needless to say feminist peace activists—as key note speakers for the historical massive event at the stadium. Some of us are thirsty to hear references about the outmost importance of women as peace builders, the need to bring women political leaders upfront to decision-making tables to end conflicts, the urgency to end the violence that millions of women endure just for their gender, and the emergency surrounding the horrific crime of using sexual violence as a weapon. I want to allow myself the joy of such a beautiful and important event for a great cause. I need to experience the warmth and goodness of the masses. Yes, I need to be nurtured, my spirit recharged and uplifted. And yet, I can’t.
The next day I attend the special sessions. A room filled out with thousands of participants; satellite conference rooms to follow the speeches; simultaneous translation in five different languages. I am still thirsty. Only one brave young woman as an invited speaker: a Peace Nobel laureate from Yemen, plus many valuable, and some of them inspiring, male speakers. Only one reference to the need to eradicate obstacles for women as leaders, only one reference to gender based violence in more than three hours of talking about peace and justice, one speech after the other.
A few hours later, still thirsty, I go to a different room: over 400 women from around the Globe. Intellectuals, politicians, activists, all of them devote their lives to work for those who get the worst part of the horrors of this world: women. I listen attentively to all the speakers. They are all invited for the International Women’s Peace Group session. Perhaps unity among women and for the woman’ cause is possible; after all we are not just a social group, we are more than half of the world’s population. I cry inside because the grandeur of the previous day event at the Olympic stadium seems like a fake reality; its unifying power fades away as I recall the struggles around women’s rights. Its magnificent display of power and wealth wasted, once more, to repair the debt a patriarchal world owes women, and to amend their sufferings. It is an outmost impossible dream, I know, that an event of this sort would ever take place for the eradication of gender discrimination, violence, inequalities.
I listen to all the female speakers of the women’s session attentively: politicians, religious leaders, community leaders, journalists, academics. They claim that women should unite, that unity is possible for all women. The collective claim of the session organizers is that women should unite to heal the world, that women can protect children from the evils of war, that women are the mothers of humanity, that motherhood is women’s precious godly gift. Peace, unity. Women want peace, they want unity. Yes. Unity such a long time pursued goal and dream for feminists! We, feminists, want unity above all, because we know that gender marks the lives of all women profoundly.
But not all of us are mothers, not all mothers are happy being mothers, not all women who are mothers want their role as peace-builders reduced to motherhood and giving and loving, not all mothers want to be seen as mothers first in their societies and communities. Many women are denied the rights and opportunities to develop as full human beings to the extent of their wishes and capacities just, precisely, because they are mothers or because they are expected to be so. And yet, it is true that motherhood is the only power millions of women have.
I talk to the two women sitting next to me: one is from Cameroon, the other one, from Indonesia. They are angry: they work so hard for other women to step outside the traditional gender roles so that they can get an education for themselves, gain freedom and autonomy, fight prejudices and bias customs, and educate their children as critical non-violent individuals. These women, and many other participants at the conference room, work with other women of diverse religious and cultural background who, in spite of living under siege in conflict and war zones share a vision, together, talk to each other, teach each other. Women are united and want to unite, yes, but not because they are mothers, literally or symbolically. Why then?
Perhaps because through sharing and allying women know they are stronger to become other than just mothers; perhaps because they know that together they can get closer to living a life as they dream; perhaps because, if their dream is to become mothers, united they can better honor it; perhaps because they are hopeful that violence against them and their children, and against other women, and against those whom they love will stop if they are stronger together; perhaps because they know that progress and prosperity is more likely to come if they work together, and if they work with men who understand this. Perhaps because they want freedom.
Unity, yes, community alliances, world-wide alliances, gender-based alliances, unity for a good vision and a good cause; unity even if it is rooted in religious notions of a superior spirit called God. We are all, women and men, and those who do not identify themselves as either one, so thirsty for unity and peace. And yet, shouldn’t we listen to the knowledge of the people, to the knowledge of those who build peace on a daily bases, the knowledge of those who work together in spite of their religious and traditional believes, of those who know that togetherness is the means for survival, growth, dreaming?
Shouldn’t we listen to women’s knowledge?
I am back to my home country. I want to hold on to my selected memories of the event, to the precious friends I made at the conference, the optimism of the youngest volunteers, and the kindness and devotion to us, participants, of the Korean people. I want to ignore the religious tone of the ceremony. I want to forgive the organizers for their waste of money, for their short sightedness of inviting 99 % of male speakers who had very limited or no vision of the gender-marked disparities of the world and of violence. I want to ignore the women’s session narrow twist and claim of motherhood as women’s most important role in societies—such a long-time overcome claim by the women’s movement!—I want to read in-between-the-lines: perhaps they meant motherhood as a alternative to liberalism and capitalism, a new gift-economy, a social balance based on love and generosity, not individualism and greed. I just want to stay with the hope that unity is possible among men and women, among all people, among women of all faiths, ages, cultural and ethnic backgrounds, identities, positions, sexuality, education, in this unbalanced, unjust patriarchal world. Etc.
I will try to stay with these hopes, keep a positive mind and heart, to continue my work as a feminist leader of Women’s Knowledge International (www.womensknowledge.org). It will certainly take a daily effort. But, thanks anyway, Mr. Lee and Ms. Kim.
Dr. Teresa Langle de Paz is the founder and co-director of Women’s Knowledge International (WKI), at the Foundation for a Culture of Peace, headed by former UNESCO Director General. WKI is a global educational feminist program to prompt large scope multi-sectorial initiatives. It is currently promoting actions on gender based violence, health and development, and peace and democracy building in MENA, Great Lakes region in Africa, and in Latin America. She has a Doctorate in the Humanities from Brown University (USA) and was a professor of Spanish and Women’s/Gender Studies at Lawrence University (USA) and the University of Houston (USA. Her scholarly publications are on Early Modern Spanish feminism and, most recently, on feminist theory and the political value of affect. Contact: firstname.lastname@example.org & email@example.com
This article originally appeared on Transcend Media Service (TMS) on 6 Oct 2014.
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