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’s Equality Lets Make it Happen

Make it Happen

As a child I was fortunate to have many positive female role models in my life which never lead me to question or think that my gender would restrict me in what I wanted to do with my life. However as I have grown up and entered my adult life I’ve become conscious of the existing gender inequalities operating in society which impact the lives of women.
In honour of International Women’s Day I write and share this piece with you.
By Danielle Bonner

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Around the world women have diverse and dynamic roles, in our daily lives we have women playing important roles from being mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins, to being role models, providers, leaders, workers, carers, inventors, the list is endless. Indeed there are women all around the world making a positive difference, many of whom we will never know their names yet the people around them will feel the benefit of their actions.

Every year on the 8th March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, but why do we have or need such a day? A simple answer could be to say because there is no country in the world that has reached gender equality[1], so we need to continue to raise awareness over the issue.

However this leads us to ask the question what is gender inequality and how does it affect women differently? Here I look to unravel this question and explore why the celebration of International Women’s Day is so important.

What is Gender Inequality and how does it affect women?  

I recently saw a comment made about the double standard of gender equality and why there is no International Men’s Day or a drive to get more boys into education like the drive to get more girls into education. Firstly just to note there actually is an IMD it’s on 19th November but it’s just not publicised very well!

However the comment made me think about what ‘Gender Equality’ really is and how does it affect women? I came to the conclusion that ‘Gender Equality’ should be the mutual respect and absolute undiscriminating empowerment of all genders. Gender Equality should be about a person not being scared or restricted in doing something just because of their gender while no person should be prevented from doing something just because of their gender.

In reality however this is not the case, there are many gender inequalities faced and experienced by women on a daily basis. We still live in a world that being born a female automatically ensures that your life will face certain inequalities that you may not have otherwise of faced had you been born a male.  While in some places in our world being born a female you are considered less valuable than being a male.

And in some extreme cases female babies do not even make it into this world because during pregnancy parents discover that the sex of their unborn child is female and decide to end the pregnancy which is known as Female infanticide,[2] or at birth the female baby is killed Femicide[3]

There are many other challenges and forms of inequalities faced by women around the world, here are just a few.

  • Employment- Pay Gaps“Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.”[4]
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities- there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Increased Psychical and Sexual violenceGlobal statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion however live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under representation in political decision-making- Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)[5]
  • Lack of Access to Education1 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.
  • Health- Every year, almost 300,000 women lose their life due to preventable complications during pregnancy & childbirth. (Care International)

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With such inequalities continually effecting women’s lives, we must continue to work for gender equality and social change, to ensure that no matter what sex/gender you are, you are considered a valuable member of society, both given and treated with the respect that all human rights grant. We must work together as a society locally and globally to deconstruct all social, structural and cultural norms that allow these gender inequalities to continue.

How is women’s inequality being addressed?

At an international level governments and world organisations have pledged their support to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agreement and framework which sets out 12 key areas of concern and “remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women.”[6]

At a community grassroots level however we also need to start addressing the social attitudes we hold towards women. Women need to be better openly supported and valued at every level of society.

Women’s empowerment and equality will benefit the whole society

So what is IWD and why do we need it?

Let’s be clear international women’ day is not about women vs men or criticising the opposite sex. Rather it is about supporting the roles and acknowledging the achievements of women within our diverse world. It is also because women continue to experience inequality simply because they are women that we take this day to raise awareness and show support for the rights of all women across the world, which helps to bring such inequalities to an end.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with women from around the world, from the local business woman Beba in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, overcoming the effects of conflict to rebuild her family home and turning it into a successful business, the women in Afghanistan working every day and risking their lives in support of ending violence and bringing peace to their country. To the women I work with and meet every day doing valuable work that they often don’t even realise is making such a positive difference for our society.

And while we should support the rights and empowerment of women everyday it is nice that for one day of the year on the 8th March the world unites and collectively comes together to honour women all around the world.  Encouraging women no matter where in the world they are, to be empowered, to realise their full potential and to value the contribution they make to our world.

I strongly believe that the empowerment of and fulfilment of women’s rights will have an overarching positive effect not just for their lives but also for the benefit of society as a whole. It is therefore time we all supported the advancement of women’s equality.

“Remember women of the world you are great and together we can and will overcome Gender inequality”

[1] Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, http://time.com/3735042/gender-equality-un/

[2] Find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/medical/infanticide_1.shtml

[3] Find out more at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf

[4] Launch of first major OECD report on gender and education – Thursday 5 March 2015, http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/launch-of-first-major-oecd-report-on-gender-and-education.htm

[5] Source see more at http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[6] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2015/03/08/helen-clark-statement-on-international-women-s-day-/