On March 23, 2019 – the members of the WMO community joined a common conference call under the project name of ‚WMO Round Table‘. The event was chaired by Daniel Erdmann and co-chaired by Marina Khamitsevich. The appointed main speaker was Rhea Mahanta, who was supported by five co-speakers, namely: Kristina Cukic, Louisa Garbo, Mirella Kreda, Mohammad Siddiqui, and Rene Wadlow (all profiles are available at: www.worldmediation.org/members/overview ). The sum of speakers and general participants created an international group, set up of 16 nationalities, providing a multitude of diverse points of view and insights. This brief reflection is an attempt to portray the different perspectives that were discussed during this meeting. All the above-mentioned speakers will be cited in this report.
Topic and starting point
Marina Khamitsevich, Rhea Mahanta, and Daniel Erdmann jointly created the topic of:
‚Women, Peace & Security – Role of women faith leaders in peacebuilding‘ for this WMO Round Table. The purpose of this meeting was to discuss the impact of women in leading and decision-making positions, forming part of peacebuilding projects, global active organizations, political parties, and companies. The academic source of this exchange forms Rhea Mahanta’s article: https://worldmediation.org/women-in-peace-security-role-of-women-of-faith-in-peacebuilding/
Having a starting point in the field of faith-related peacebuilding, Rhea pointed out the critical circumstance that women face in many parts of our world. On the one hand, they are mainly responsible for first education within families and social healing, while they are often excluded from public decision-making. Trying to raise awareness towards this reality, the WMO community took a look at possible changes to be initiated and achieved.
Getting five perspectives at the table
Rhea Mahanta highlighted in her article the role and impact of women in the Sulha tradition of building peace at the family and community level. Even though women do not officially take the responsibility for the process nor for the outcome, but still deliver a huge quantity of healing and reconciling work behind the scene. Rhea states:
„Peacebuilding happens in the informal spaces of society, in the community, and at home. But in informal structures, the problem is that women are excluded altogether and have to push to create a space for themselves. The risk is that their contributions remain invisible altogether.“
Rhea Mahanta gives us a clear hint on what she looks for and what she expects for the future, namely that women become front-line leaders and decision-makers, best at the same quantitive level as men do. In order to kick off the discussion, she confronts us with the question:
„So what can be done to bring visibility to their role and change the soft power narrative?“
Kristina Cukic offers insights based on her cultural experience and background from Serbia, a multi-religious country where many belief systems and traditions co-exist, including Sulha. She confirms Rhea’s initial point and states:
„The problem is clear; women do not have direct voting rights, and struggle with their male family members in order to obtain more rights. The goal should be to achieve greater gender equality in all segments of life: Families, society and the state.“
Even though this sounds like a clear statement, it looks like Kristina Cukic finds herself having a double-track vision. First, she confirms the importance of the social groundwork done mainly by women, and asks for:
„Empowering women in the family circle because the family is a nucleus of society.“ And second, asks for a step-by-step integration of women into the public sector: „The dissemination of gender equality discourse and greater participation of women in social life outside the family by engaging in decision-making processes relating to the wider environment of the city and the state.“
Mohammad Siddiqui affirms the current status by explaining that:
„The inter conflict management within the family, the community and the country are dominated by man. The religious and social rulers have given supremacy to men over women. These social and religious laws empowered man to become proper autocrats in the society.“
Having said this, he also delivers us with a process that was initiated by the United Nations in Bangladesh:
„The UN has set an example by introducing women peace-keepers. Accordingly, the number of senior female civilian personnel in peace support operations rapidly increases as well and forms a highly relevant role in all ruling departments, including the Department of Peacekeeping Operations (DPKO). Such women peacekeepers act as role models in the local environment, inspiring women and girls in often male-dominated societies to push for their own rights and for participation in peace processes.“
Louisa Garbo provides us with some grounding background information by saying:
„The United Nations General Assembly has acknowledged the issues and made attempts to promote female leadership, but data compiled by UN Women in 2014 indicated that women made up only 26.2 percent of staff at D-2 (Director); 21.3 percent at Assistant Secretary-General (ASG); and 28.6 percent at Under-Secretary-General (USG) level.1.“
Louisa Garbo would like to challenge the decision-makers and rulers directly by looking for the opportunity to:
„ … to ask all these men (those at the United Nations General Assembly, those at the table of the Head of States, or those at the table in their religious organizations) the questions why we don’t see women leading or even be at the same table as men in the formal negotiation and peacebuilding effort, what would their answers be? Will they all be because of cultural or religious influences? What will it take for these powerful organizations and states to transform their structures more progressively to ensure female leadership at the table?“
Rene Wadlow does not merely focus on questioning the current status but places the focus on initial groundwork, once again. He does not only confirms the importance of social healing and reconciliation offered by women within the family and community, but he also says that women are highly important for innovations and initiating changes because they are often the ones
„ … who have visions or other signs of divine favor.“
Belinda Teih shares a further positive initiative that is already running:
„In my country Cameroon, the government is investing a lot towards the empowerment of women. This is done by the ministry of women’s empowerment and the family. There are special centers for the education and training of women, all efforts geared towards raising awareness on women’s rights and girl child education which was seen as a taboo in the past decades. Women are actively involved in politics, economic activities, land ownership and occupy prominent positions in the public service and other parastatals within the country.“
Mirella Kreder takes up Rene’s point and adds that both, women and men, have unique qualities and that it might be our task to learn to make use of this diversity in a productive way. She says:
„However, …, I gain the feeling that we want something, that we want to change the role, and that we want to transform cultural patterns and the historical/religious heritage.“
To me, it is highly important to state that Mirella Kreder totally supports women: „ … to come forward and raise their voices for a cause, ideology, for transformation, for a better world. I share the opinion, that women all over the globe need fundamental human rights.“ Thereby, she confirms the point that ruling positions should generally be available to both genders, but asks us not to evaluate the importance of delivered work by the level of visibility, by saying:
„Back to the question on how to bring visibility to their role. In my opinion, if the change should be effective, it must come from the inside out, from a root level. Women in Arab Culture (not in all countries, that’s a given, but e.g. Jordan is a wonderful example) ARE influencers. Maybe often through the “backdoor”, however, I wouldn’t say, their influence is low. But yes, more subtle and invisible.“
Daniel Erdmann: As you may see, it is not an easy task to analyze so many diverse points of view, to properly understand them, and to possibly create something that could be called a solution to the issue. Sometimes, it is also beneficial to stay with questions, to further reflect on such, and at least to be aware of a specific circumstance.
Personally, being friends of education, I think that we can often fix situations by early education, namely in childhood. But even education and the communication of values can be critical. More often than not, we might take the risk to easily violate and ignore local culture and blindly start westernizing areas that possibly are solid and sound. So, before taking action, we should ask ourselves: Whose values are those? Where do they have their origin? What do they stand for? And finally, what type of possible impact may they have in certain societies?
In my comment to Rhea’s article, I raised the question: Who of the male leaders would voluntarily like to reject a key position? And by reflecting on this content, I realized that possibly all the organizations or political parties that we talk about were founded by men. And I also said in my comment, that I believe that men pretty much enjoy the power that their positions are bound to. So how do we really imagine that such a male society will easily accept women? Would it possibly make sense when women exclude men to the same level and start founding and ruling key organizations on their own?
I guess there are many more questions to raise and to reflect on. Living in a multi-cultural community – the internet community, we deal with cultural diversity on a daily basis and somehow master them. But still, this diversity does not end with the use of a multitude of languages in use but also has a deep impact on the individual’s worldview. From what I understood during the years of working in an international environment, I may say that what seems to be good and useful for one party, does not automatically have to be of a specific benefit for another party.
I believe in both, the gender-based qualities of women and men, and in the fact that positions shall be available to anybody – without any type of discrimination having its root cause in religion, gender, or race. The most important fact that we shall give the global and local community is time – time to develop itself, time to commit steps that caused distress, and time to finally get to a balanced harmony.