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Women Speak Out for Pathway to Peace

Originally published by Pat Mitchell for Ms. Magazine

There are times throughout recorded history when women have stepped up, spoken up, and taken action to resolve border and boundary disputes, to protect their cities, communities and families, and to demand and negotiate peaceful resolutions of long-term conflicts.

I am reflecting on those times today as the suffering, death and destruction in Ukraine, Israel and Gaza, and the violent oppression in Iran and Afghanistan, seem beyond our ability to do anything that would mediate the violence or end the suffering.

Yet, sometimes, women have come together and accomplished just that.

Let’s remember just a few examples: In Liberia, where the nonviolent movement, led by activist Leymah Gbowee, brought together Christian and Muslim women to end the 14-year civil war there, as documented in Abby Disney’s award winning film, Pray the Devil Back to Hell.

In Latin America, where I documented the civil wars in Nicaragua and El Salvador, I witnessed the women on both sides, in government and in the rebel forces, come together to end the violence and to demand a voice in the peace negotiations.

And today, reflecting on the violence in Israel and Gaza, I am remembering—and honoring—the women who have been tirelessly working for a sustainable peace in the region for decades, some of whom I met and interviewed while making the 1991 documentary, “Women In War: Voices From the Frontlines.”

In 1989, Belgian activist Simone Susskind helped convene a conference of Israeli and Palestinian women—the first-ever Women’s Peace Conference—in Brussels, called “Give Peace a Chance: Women Speak Out.”

I was there, deeply inspired by the many Arab and Jewish women leaders who came from many countries to show support and solidarity and to work together on a peace agreement.

I’ll never forget the opening remarks from the presiding leaders to the hundreds of women present: “We have no time for grievances; We have three days to shape a peace agreement and get back to our families and our work.” I watched and listened with deep admiration as these women put aside their differences to draft a seven point agreement that would have provided a plan for a peaceful, secure future for Israel and the Palestinians. But regrettably, without enough women in either the Knesset or in the Palestinian Authority leadership at the time, the agreement was never given serious consideration.

That was more than 30 years ago and today, we watch with deepest empathy and growing fears as the violence escalates and a pathway to peace seems more blocked than ever. Yet, a new generation of women continue to work together for peace.

Women Wage Peace is a coalition of Jewish and Arab women who have been tireless and undeterred in trying to find pathways towards a peaceful and secure co-existence of Israelis and Palestinians. This week they continue their calls for peace and it is with enormous respect and gratitude, and a strong sense of solidarity and shared humanity that I share their position paper with you.

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