I began my career in the field of social services as a woman’s advocate for rape and domestic violence survivors. The motto for an organization I was employed with early on was “peace begins at home,” a significant point that must be acknowledged. While much attention around women’s involvement in peacebuilding efforts have been focused at the macro level, there has been little consideration of women’s efforts towards peace at the micro level. Certainly, women’s involvement in formal peacebuilding processes at the larger public level is crucial. This being said, we must not undermine the leadership roles that women play in their homes, their families, and their religious and immediate communities, and how those roles can have an incredible impact on greater society.
I would like to start off by defining “peace.” It is a word that we all use quite frequently and often with different meanings. Some would claim that peace equates the cessation of conflict. However, within our world conflict is inevitable; daily life is riddled with internal, interpersonal, intergroup, and international conflict. Thus, when defining peace, we must understand it as being able to deal creatively with inevitable conflict. According to Jean Zaru, “It is the process of working to resolve conflicts in such a way that both sides win, with increased harmony as the outcome of the conflict and its resolution. Peace is based on respect, cooperation, and well being. Peace is the presence of social justice” (Occupied with Non-Violence, p. 81-2).
Zaru’s comments here are important in that she acknowledges a clear relationship between peace and justice. In the words of Pope Paul VI, “if you want peace, work for justice.” Because peace is not only the absence of war, but also the absence of poverty and disease, the access to clean water, the freedom from slavery; peace is the affirmation of the full humanity of every person. Peace is salaam, peace is shalom, peace is the well being of all. Thus, there are many elements that come together in the word peace. It is not simply government initiatives, it is not a patchwork solution to the conflicts of the world, nor is it submission or silent acceptance, rather we must understand peace as justice.
So what is the process of peace and what roles do women play in achieving this? Like Jean Zaru, I would argue that the path to peace is paved with reconciliation, sharing, and community. Within their leadership roles in the home, where home is defined not only as the physical location, but also family, religious community, and immediate community, women are perfectly positioned to pave the way to peace.
While women’s work is often invisible, particularly in the eye of the media, women are the fabric of our society and hold families and communities together. Women serve as peace educators beginning in the home and at the family level. Mothers shape the morals and values of their children and instill a sense of responsibility for creating positive human relationships in both family and community. In addition, women begin the path to peace through modeling behavior by creatively challenging the social injustice they are faced with on a daily basis.
Whether or not women are granted leadership positions in their religious traditions, women are leaders in their religious communities. As a pastor recently noted, if it were not for the women in the church, the pews would be empty. It is women who shape their children’s religious identities, it is women who encourage faith belonging within their families, and it is women who work to bring community together and encourage reconciliation through their religious traditions. With religion playing a crucial role in peace building, women are front and center within their faith communities and are active agents in mobilizing the process.
Although women’s work has been demeaned, it is through women’s work that communities come together in the spirit of peace. Women develop strong networks, they facilitate the building of connections and information sharing. Women’s work and active engagement in their homes – again, meaning family, immediate community, and religious community – result in the development of meaningful relationships of trust and hope which strengthen and maximize opportunities for peace and reconciliation at both the micro and macro levels.
This impact of women’s work at micro levels has been acknowledged by various organizations working towards peace and social justice. I think that the Women for Water Partnership is an excellent illustration of women’s peace efforts implemented at the grass roots level. This organization focused on sustainability efforts, recognizes women as the glue of the society and the crucial impact they make working towards justice and peace. Partnering with women to fulfill basic water and sanitation needs, Women for Water connects interventions at the micro and macro levels while supporting women’s social and economic development. Women are encouraged to learn the process of sustainability through grass roots efforts and at the same time, are integrating social, traditional, and technical elements from a larger networking process. Women are acknowledged as active agents in their immediate communities and are empowered to do the work, care for their community, and educate the next generation; thus Women for Water Partnership recognizes women’s roles in the peace and justice process and empowers them to engage in such roles.
While government officials and politicians are focused on discussions on how to achieve peace, women, and mothers in particular, are implementing action on the ground. Acting as peace educators in family and community and working at grassroots level in every home, neighborhood, and village, women are changing our culture of violence, providing new and creative ways to engage in conflict resolution, and are encouraging social justice.
Although there are various social, political, and religious obstacles that attempt to keep women silent, it is the work of women that begin the peacebuilding process. While efforts at the larger public level are crucial, efforts at home must be recognized for having equal importance. It is through motherhood and women’s micro level leadership roles within religion and community that that the path to justice and peace is paved. Reconciliation, sharing, and community are encouraged through women’s work and it It is through women that the idea of “peace begins at home” is realized.
*See Jean Zaru. Occupied with Non-Violence. (Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).
This paper was presented at the ”Peace Building and Motherhood: Art, Culture, and Faith -Promoting Peace in Rural Families” NGO parallel panel on the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations on March 2, 2012.