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.

How Social Media is Playing an Important Role in Peacebuilding

Who ever thought social media could be an International Peacebuilder?

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Like many I had used social media as tool for keeping in contact with friends, however over the last few years I’ve come to see its use in a new light and have experienced the great opportunity it provides to create peace in some of the most hostile of locations.

So what is social media? well it can be described as “websites and applications that enable users to create and share content or to participate in social networking”(Oxford Dictionary) and some of the most recognised forms of social media include Twitter, Facebook, Youtube, Google⁺, Linkedin, WordPress and Instagram.

Connecting social media with peacebuilding

My experience began after I graduated from Ulster University with a Masters Degree in Peace and Conflict Studies in December 2011 and in response to the difficulty of finding employment in my area of study I decided to get proactive and find ways of networking and keeping up to date with developments in peacebuilding.

I had read articles talking about Twitter and its growing power as a communicating tool but I had always viewed it as some sort of geeky tech and something only celebrities used to keep their fans updated. However I thought I’d have nothing to lose by giving it a go and soon I would discover how beneficial it would become. I can remember feeling a little bewildered when I first started using twitter, being confused about the concept of being followed and following and how I was going to engage with users. At times I even felt like I might be just writing to myself, however it didn’t take long before I started gaining followers and exchanged conversations with people in relation to peacebuilding.

To date I’ve gained some 800 followers ranging from individuals and organisations located all over the world whom are involved in Peacebuilding activities and I’ve even had the opportunity to meet two female peacebuilders who follow me at an international peace conference held in Derry city in 2013.

New opportunities

In May 2012 I was introduced to Pax Populi a small peace organisation based in America who support peace in Afghanistan through an online English tutoring programme for Afghan students. Afghanistan had always been my area of interest during my studies so I was happy to offer to become a volunteer.

I offered to help build the organisations profile with a particular focus on using twitter and Facebook as tools to promote its work and develop the organisations communication with an international audience. In a short period we gained new supporters and became connected with people and organisations within Afghanistan which gave us new insight into the challenges within the country which then allowed us to develop peace initiatives in response to these challenges.

For an organisation like Pax Populi which relies on its volunteer to deliver its peace objective, a grassroots engagement strategy using social media has become a vital tool to enable the organisation to reach a large audience. To date social media has provided an effective and economical way to increase peace awareness and connect with people in Afghanistan who may want to join its tutoring program. Because both facebook and twitter also have large youth usage and audience their use becomes a key resource to provide an effective platform to reach a new generation in Afghanistan who want to see peace in their country.  To date the organisation has over 1500 followers on facebook and some 700 followers on its twitter accounts and there has also been a rising increase in Afghan program participation and awareness through the active use of these social media platforms.

Social media further shows that there is an untapped wealth of people who want to support peace both in their own community and internationally for example;

In 2013 we even produced two successful social media projects, in March in celebration of Women’s Day we delivered the “Be Inspired” project which highlighted the experiences of women in Afghanistan and their struggle to secure equal rights. And in September delivering the ”Voices for Peace” project, which showcased the work being done by Afghans to build peace and delivered a series  of posters featuring people from Afghanistan, Australia, America, Argentina, England, Ghana, Haiti, Kenya, Lebanon, Libya, India, Indonesia, Ireland, Nepal, Namibia, Nigeria, and Pakistan which shared their visions for the advancement of peace.

Sharing my voice on International Peace Day 2013

My expectations on the power of social media grows all the time and in late 2013 I was contacted by the Red Elephant Foundation women’s organisation who having seen my advocacy work on twitter, asked me to write a feature about my work and current affair views for their website, something I was extremely honoured to do.

Through networking I’ve also had the opportunity to help others embrace the power of social media and helping to set up and administrate facebook pages for budding peacemakers in Afghanistan most notably a page called ” AfghanistanThroughMyLens” which promotes peace in Afghanistan through photography with pictures taken by Afghan’s themselves. The page has been very successful and attracts over 1400 likes to-date.

Copyrights to AfghanistanThroughMyLen

For me social media has shown itself to be a powerful tool for the promotion of peace and provided me with the ability to advocate and network in an international arena which is allowing me and other fellow peacebuilders to make a positive difference.

What do you think?