A women's peace walk across the Koreas

A group of international women, including Nobel Peace Prize winners, plan to walk between North and South Korea in hopes the two nations will sign a peace pact. Their efforts reflect a rise in women as conflict mediators.

AP Photo
Organizers of the effort called WomenCrossDMZ.org, including lead coordinator Christine Ahn, left, and honorary co-chair Gloria Steinem, right, hold a news conference announcing plans for a women's walk across the demilitarized zone between North and South Korea.

Sometimes a simple gesture of hope can change attitudes about an intractable problem. In 1971, for example, an American ping-pong team played in Beijing, helping end decades of cold-war hostility between China and the United States.

Might a walk for peace between the two Koreas, planned for May 24 by an international women’s group, do the same for those two countries?

North and South Korea are still technically at war, divided by a mined demilitarized zone, more than 60 years since their hot combat during the cold war. Over the past quarter century, various attempts to reconcile the two nations have failed even as North Korea builds up a nuclear arsenal. Now a group of 30 women that includes two Nobel Peace Prize winners as well as activist Gloria Steinem hopes their walk from Pyongyang to Seoul – across the DMZ – will help lead to a peace treaty.

The date of the walk was chosen to honor International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. But the event also represents the rise in the role of women as peacemakers. This year is the anniversary of a meeting of women in 1915 demanding an end to World War I. That gathering led to the founding of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom.

In recent years, the Nobel Peace Prize has been given to women involved in settling disputes or who campaigned for human rights causes. And since 2000, the United Nations Security Council has twice passed resolutions involving women and war. In 2014, it called for empowering women as a way to halt violent extremism.

That resolution, says Michelle Bachelet, president of Chile and a former UN official, “is an attempt to illuminate the often invisible, informal, and unrecognized role that women and girls play in preventing and resolving conflict, from peace activism to day-to-day interfamily and intercommunity mediation and reconciliation.”

In the past year, female peace activists have played a prominent role in conflicts in which women and girls have been targeted. In Nigeria, women led protests against the government’s failure to find more than 200 girls who were kidnapped by Boko Haram in Chibok. And after the kidnapping of women by Islamic State, women’s groups have campaigned to rescue them.

The walk between the Koreas may put only another spotlight on a long-lasting conflict. But it will be difficult for the two states not to respond given the long history of women as peacemakers.

You've read  of  free articles. Subscribe to continue.

Dear Reader,

About a year ago, I happened upon this statement about the Monitor in the Harvard Business Review – under the charming heading of “do things that don’t interest you”:

“Many things that end up” being meaningful, writes social scientist Joseph Grenny, “have come from conference workshops, articles, or online videos that began as a chore and ended with an insight. My work in Kenya, for example, was heavily influenced by a Christian Science Monitor article I had forced myself to read 10 years earlier. Sometimes, we call things ‘boring’ simply because they lie outside the box we are currently in.”

If you were to come up with a punchline to a joke about the Monitor, that would probably be it. We’re seen as being global, fair, insightful, and perhaps a bit too earnest. We’re the bran muffin of journalism.

But you know what? We change lives. And I’m going to argue that we change lives precisely because we force open that too-small box that most human beings think they live in.

The Monitor is a peculiar little publication that’s hard for the world to figure out. We’re run by a church, but we’re not only for church members and we’re not about converting people. We’re known as being fair even as the world becomes as polarized as at any time since the newspaper’s founding in 1908.

We have a mission beyond circulation, we want to bridge divides. We’re about kicking down the door of thought everywhere and saying, “You are bigger and more capable than you realize. And we can prove it.”

If you’re looking for bran muffin journalism, you can subscribe to the Monitor for $15. You’ll get the Monitor Weekly magazine, the Monitor Daily email, and unlimited access to CSMonitor.com.