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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Women have the power: united they cannot be defeated

Women have the power

By Danielle Bonner

There’s a certain energy created when you have a group of women come together for a common cause, an energy that can lift your confidence and empower you to take on any challenge.

In April I attended the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) 2015 conference, on women’s power to stop war. It was an extra special conference because it also celebrated 100 years since the organisations formation when 100s of women came together on 28th April 1915 at The Hague to call for the end of the First World War.

100 years on again some 1000 women came together from over 82 countries some travelling from ongoing conflict in their country such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and other conflict war zones. To hear, share and discuss the ways we can end conflict and lay foundations for peace.

Over 3 days I listened and talked with women from all over the world, like Fatima from Pakistan whose supporting women in her country through the promotion off human rights and the use of technology.

The women from Syria who spoke of their everyday coordination with other women across the county to end the conflict and highlight the crimes being committed, to the women from Iraq and Libya highlighting their efforts against extremism in their communities.

On my last day I talked with Maureen an energized 83 year old from America. She’d been round the world twice on what she called borrowed money! Though she always paid back. In 1995 she travelled with 200 other women from Helsinki to Beijing on the peace train to be present at the 4th UN women’s conference, which produced the Platform for Action to support women, an agreement still in effect today which sets the framework to support the rights and empowerment of women.

 The diverse stories told by women were inspiring, empowering but also eye opening, while stories of conflict can be seen in the news, when you are sitting in a room with a survivor of conflict and you hear their personal story you cannot but feel a wave of emotions.

The issue of sexual violence as a weapon of war was a widely featured topic during the conference, one journalist from Colombia spoke of her kidnapping and rape at the hands of a militia, and while it was difficult for her to speak about her experience she explained she did so to bring a human face to the reality of sexual violence and the impact it has. Similarly a young women from Uganda and a victim survivor of the terrorist group Lord Resistance Army (LRA), spoke of the continual injustice victims of sexual violence faced in her country and the lack of support provided to them in the aftermath of experienced violence.

Commitment to action was also demonstrated, during the conference a lady from Yemen highlighted she found herself stateless because she could re-enter her country because of the recent imposed closed borders and international military airstrikes in Yemen. The next day WILPF prepared a statement for government action demanding the end to these imposed sanctions, which was hand then delivered by 20 women to 12 foreign embassy residing in The Hague who influenced the conflict in some form.

Amal Basha from Yeman and Sameena Nazir from Pakistan, calling for action to end conflict in Yemen

The actions of the women were reported in the media drawing awareness to the conflict and the realities people faced. This collective action is an example of the power and solidarity women have to create change. A solidarity I’ve seen in my own work in the women’s sector which connects locally and nationally to support women, raising awareness to issues effecting women’s lives, to the women’s groups across communities who provide friendly support relief for women in their communities.

The conference too highlighted the importance of sharing and giving voices to women’s lives, while it demonstrated the great leadership women have across our world’s communities. It brought voices to the many talented women working to end conflict and build peace in challenging circumstances.

Research shows including local women in a peace process increases the chance of violence ending by 24%. Yet despite this research women find it particularly challenging to even gain a seat or have their voices heard at peace negotiation tables, further allowing women’s rights to be under prioritised and omitting women from having any input in peace process and decisions affecting their lives as women. Women in Peacebuilding

Women’s security, rights and political inclusion are common challenges face by women in conflict and post conflict environments. It is therefore vital that we ensure international laws such as the UN Resolution 1325 and other agreed human rights and laws are not only implemented but continually developed to ensure women are protect and have a voice in peace processes.

The Women’s Power to Stop War conference provided an international platform for women to come together to share work, ideas and empower each other particularly youth women to address and play an active role in bringing war and conflict in our world to an end.

And while the many may never no their names or hear about the great work these women are currently doing they are the silent backbone to peace in our world. They prove we can and should all do something to unmask injustices & create change in our world.