Pedal for Peace

What do you get when you mix biking, peace education, a dog and 50 women? A lot of creativity, inspiration, fun and laughter.

When world leaders talk of peace it’s often in the sense of ending a war or conflict. But peace is so much more than the absence of violence, rather it’s an environment that allows us and our societies to function and develop non-violently within a framework of human rights and equality.

Every community has people engaged in supporting this work, and if we take the time to observe just who carries out the majority of this work you’ll likely see that it is women. Globally when it comes to ending violence, research also shows including local women in a peace process increases the chance of violence ending by 24%. Yet despite this research women find it challenging to gain a seat or have their voices heard in peace negotiations.

Many women don’t even recognise their work as contributing to peace, viewing it just as part of what they do. It’s for these reasons why I’ve come to view women as the silent backbone of peace, who need to be recognised, valued and supported for the work they do.

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In August I joined the ‘Pedal for Peace’ project, an initiative which brought together women from 15 countries including Colombia, Romania, Slovenia, Serbia, Portugal, France, UK, Ireland, Georgia, Armenia, Jordan, Palestine, Lebanon, Estonia and Finland, to circle around the demilitarised Åland Islands in the Baltic sea and discuss peace issues.

I’d previously been asked if I’d be interested in joining, to which my first thought was are women even interested in biking and how on earth are you logistically or feasibility going to get 50 women on bikes across islands and run workshops. Followed by a jokingly response of ‘biking is for losers’, how incorrect would this turn out to be!

Over 6 days, I watched a group of culturally and globally diverse women proudly don their safety helmets and purple/pink hi-vis vests, to take on this project challenge. An experience which displayed women’s determination, leadership, friendship, empathy, compassion, courage and vision. Leadership qualities our world is deeply crying out for right now.

Solidarity and self-care is a vital aspect of peace work and over the days’ participants shared their experiences of life and work in some of the most challenging of environments. Like Sara a lawyer from Columbia who shared the methods she uses to support reconciliation in her country, highlighting the impact of the 50-long year conflict on women. And Kety from Georgia who spoke about the importance of personal development as a means of achieving peace.

Riikka Jalonen the director of the Finnish peace organisation ‘Rauhankasvatus instituutti’  who organized,  pedal for peace said,  “I believe in the power of women, I wanted to create an inspiring and safe space for women to reconnect with themselves and with other women working on topics in this world that tells us that peace is not possible and we are naive.” But we are not, we are the best chance this world has to change for the better. I knew it would be challenging to bike and catch all the ferries in time and so on, but I also had faith that overcoming the logistical challenges and breathing the fresh air and seeing the blue sea and green fields together would make us stronger and remind us why we do what we do in our communities.

This sentiment was shared by fellow participant Hadid Razan, from Jordan, who said ‘what we can learn from this experience, is that ‘despite all differences between us, from language, culture, faith, sexual orientation, interests, we all managed to collaborate with harmony and overcome all these. not only that, we didn’t even acknowledge them.

We were united for one purpose; peace. we were there alone together, we laughed, cried, cooked, cleaned, napped, cycled, and we explored our differences. That’s the power of women, the power of simplicity, the power of understanding, the power to make good things great.’

Pedal for Peace offered a great learning and motivation space, as Oichi Ora, from Romania reflected “Go, see, learn, act” remains for me the quote of my experience. We all face hard times, but united the power grows and we overcome obstacles easier. Knowing that there are other strong, powerful woman having the same aim as you do is an amazing feeling.

And Nutsa Goguadze, from Georgia who said “One thing I learned is that we all face more or less the same problems in terms of peacebuilding, all over the world. And the main thing to tackle them is to act, to move, in any possible way. Each move, each act, each pedal matters.”

I’ve such admiration for all the women who took part in the pedal for peace project especially considering some women took on the challenge with limited riding experience. For me this group is now a new network of women changemakers, who show others that they are not alone and that there are women all around the world leading actions to create meaningful change.

 

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Confronting Patriarchy: Women of the Revolution

By Danielle Bonner

girlpower1International Women’s Day is upon us once again and around the world people pay tribute to women while raising awareness to the challenges women continue to face. Last year I wrote a feature entitled ‘women’s equality let’s make it happen’ which outlined why we need to celebrate women’s day and the inequalities women faced in 2015 which  included;

  • Employment Pay Gaps– “Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities– there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Psychical and Sexual Violence– Global statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion Live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under Political Representation– Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)
  • Lack of Access to Education– 1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.

A year on and it’s still the case that these inequalities remain in the lives of women. This is despite the fact research clearly shows women’s equality and sustainable development goes hand in hand. It therefore makes no economic or development sense to hold women’s equality back. With this unjust reality it’s important to ask why these inequalities remain for women.

Last October I attended the ‘Peace, Power and Patriarchy’ conference hosted by the Foyle Women’s Information Network in Derry/Londonderry in Northern Ireland, which discussed the social system of patriarchy which underpins women’s inequality.

IMG_4851Maureen Hetherington a community leader and peacebuilder, stated in her opening ‘I’m happy to have a voice here today, not every woman has this’. A statement reflecting the fact that millions of women in our world find they do not have a voice in their own society because of patriarchy.

IMG_4861By definition patriarchy means ‘rule of the father’ with origins dating back a thousand years, influencing the way in which we think and act within society. Dr Cathy Higgins outlined a society or social system is patriarchal to the degree that it promotes male privilege by being male dominated, is male identified and centred. While it also involves the oppression of women through structural violence.

Over the day we heard the experiences of women who’ve challenged patriarchal systems. Like guest speaker Lilian Seenoi, who spoke of the male dominated culture which created hostility towards her when establishing a girl’s education programme in Kenya, hostility forcing her to seek asylum in the UK. IMG_4874

She highlighted too the situations refugee Syrian women are finding themselves in from sexual exploitation, increased domestic violence and child marriage, consequences of a war created by men in their society. Lilian ended by saying “It took me a while to find my voice and now I’ve found it I’m not going to lose it”.

Mona Eltahawy a reporter and author of the book ‘Headscarves and Hymens’ was the keynote guest speaker, who I also had the opportunity to interview before the conference which can be read here. In her conference talk she spoke candidly about the need for a sexual revolution where women solely controlled their minds and bodies. She shared her experience during the 2011 Arab Spring in Egypt, when she was detained had her arms broken and sexually assaulted by government security forces.

IMG_4882Mona recalled how people have labelled her an angry women for speaking out, but as she said with pride “An angry woman is a free woman”.  She spoke of the need for women to write their own narratives and talk about their lives because they matter. And then posed the question, ‘What would a sexual revolution look like in Ireland?’

The conference highlighted the need for all women to feel free to claim their voice, challenge injustices and be equal partners within society without fear of violence, it delivered an empowering message that women should feel ‘I can and I will’.

To end this patriarchal system which hold women’s equality back requires a united effort for change.

There is a need for men to recognise that they have to do things differently, that it should not be women who change to fit into an unhealthy culture. Women also need to support other women and those women at the top need to leave the ladder down for other women to rise up and join them.

Women should feel free to claim their voice and be equal partners, we must keep striving for this goal locally and internationally. As women we must transform our frustration and anger at current structures and turn them into empowerment that will help us drive for change. We must make ourselves agents of change because we know what has to happen we just need to implement it.

RosieTheRiverterI firmly believe the more women are empowered and their voices are heard the more things will change for the better, both for women and the wider society. So ladies and gentlemen let’s start this revolution and end Patriarchy.