Can women find unique ways out of war?
Women leaders from 45 nations meet in India this week to discuss their role in conflict resolution.
Sakena Yacoobi well knows the hardships of Afghan women, caught between a war and the hopelessness of poverty and illiteracy.Skip to next paragraph
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Yet on International Women's Day Saturday, the Afghan educator will not ask the world to help Afghan women. Instead, she will ask Afghan women to help the world.
In a time of growing conflict around the world, she believes the wisdom and compassion of women can offer a way out. "Women bring tolerance and patience," she says. "Women can bring solutions – we cannot accomplish that with weapons."
She is one of several hundred prominent female leaders from 45 countries who have come to India this week to seek ways to raise women's voices worldwide, hoping that their ideas – so often ignored – begin to move the world away from war.
"This is not about empowering women," says Ms. Merriam, who also co-chaired the United Nations' Millennium World Peace Summit in 2000. "It is about how women can transform society to help us find new ways of addressing conflict."
There are men here, too. The goal, participants say, is not to antagonize men. Yet each believes that women bring to the issue of conflict resolution a different perspective. Many liken it to that of a mother, stern but caring, and more open to finding alternatives to violence.
That perspective is sorely needed, they say, as the path of power and aggression has led only to more fighting and division. "The feminine gifts of compassion, empathy, and caring prepare women for the urgent role as leaders and reconcilers," said the Rev. Joan Brown Campbell, chairwoman of the Global Peace Initiative for Women, at the opening press conference.
"This is about whether women, with men as their partners, can chart a new course," continues Ms. Campbell, who has worked with leaders such as Nelson Mandela, Martin Luther King Jr., and Bill Clinton.
The outlines of that new course can be seen in the lives of those attending, both men and women.
It is evident in the compassion of Ali Abu Awwad, a Palestinian who has been imprisoned for his family's political activities and whose brother was killed in the second intifada, yet started a foundation for Israelis and Palestinians who have lost relatives in the conflict.
"The idea is to show people that if you are in the peaceful way, you are not alone," he says. "You do not need to be afraid."