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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Safe Cities for Women a Local and Global Challenge

By Danielle Bonner

MDG : Gender violence against women : International Day Against Gender ViolenceThe world we live in is increasingly becoming more urbanised, today more than 54% of the global population live in cities and towns and by 2030 it is predicted that this percentage will rise to 60%[1]. Indeed such spaces offer new opportunities economically and socially but from a gender equality point of view it’s important to ask the question how safe are such spaces for women?

While advances have been made to support women’s equality it remains a reality that in 2017 women and girls can often face gender-based discrimination which increases their risk of experiencing poverty, violence, poor health and a lack of an education.

Gender-Based Violence can happen to both men and women because it is “violence that is directed against a person on the basis of gender or sex and includes acts that inflict physical, mental or sexual harm or suffering, threats of such acts, coercion and other denials of freedom”. The reality is however that it’s women and girls who are the main victims of this violence. (cosc.ie)

In 2016 I became involved in the ActionAid Ireland’s ‘Safe Cities for Women campaign’, when I attended their campaign training in Sweden.  safe-cities-action-aidThe ActionAid Safe Cities for Women campaign highlights the diverse social structures which must be addressed to end the violence experienced by women. Campaigning to ensure that the issue is visible, that violence towards women in any form in not tolerated by society from political to community level. While further empowering women to realise that their voices matter and that they have power to speak out for change.

In Ireland 1 in 5 women experience some form of violence while globally this is 1 in 3. In cities street harassment, sexual assault and fear of other forms of sexual violence is a reality faced by women. Therefore with the population of urban living spaces rising there is an argent need to ensure that such spaces offer and provide women a safe environment in which they can live, develop and fulfil their potential.

Sexual harassment from cat-calling, to groping in public spaces is a particular problem experienced by women coupled with a social culture which often lays blame to women whom experience such sexual violence, because they are viewed not to have taken steps to avoid such situations or have given the perpetrator the wrong signal!

The impact of such violence on women is overwhelming and can effect many areas of their lives, The United Nations observes that such violence reduces women’s and girls’; freedom of movement, ability to participate in school, work and public life, limits their access to essential services and their enjoyment of cultural and recreational opportunities, and negatively impacts their health and wellbeing.

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Research shows too there is a link between development, poverty eradication and women’s equality. When women face gender based violence this poses a threat to their potential to fully engage in society. Therefore to uphold women’s human rights, support development and end poverty we must insure women are fully engaged and free from any form of violence that poses a threat to their participation. woman-and-girls-sdg

To prevent such violence collective community action is required to both raise awareness, combat attitudes, cultures and policies that contribute towards the violence faced by women.

We must too support and ensure that any planning of public spaces is gender proofed, and that laws and policies which have been created to prevent such violence and support gender equality are implemented. While decision-makers also must provide the resources for monitoring and for any potential gaps in policy that need to address to support gender equality objectives.

danielle-bonner-safe-cities-womens-lives-featureIn support and to raise awareness to the issue of safe cities and public spaces for women I’ve developed an interactive workshop, for the education development project Donegal Changemakers, it’s my hope that in 2017 communities groups and people across the county will engage in this awareness training to learn about the issue and the actions we can take as a community to create safe cities and public spaces for women and our society as a whole.

[1] http://www.un.org/en/development/desa/news/population/world-urbanization-prospects-2014.html