In honour of International Peace Day I thought it would be fun to celebrate the contributions of some amazing women who have been pushing the peace process in the midst of two of the worst ongoing conflicts in the world. 2011 marks the 10th anniversary of the war in Afghanistan and the tragic 20th anniversary of Somalia’s civil war. But rising above the perils of armed conflict, Asha Hagi Elmi and Malalai Joya continue to define femininity with courage, dedication and a relentless thirst for social justice.
Asha Hagi Elmi
In a society where most girls are prevented from attending even primary school, Asha Hagi Elmi was among the overwhelming minority of women in Somalia who was able to obtain an education. Since then she has played an integral role in the promotion of gender equality and women’s rights in Somalia through her organization Save Somali Women and Children (SSWC). Despite threats, ridicule, humiliation and endangerment, Asha was able to negotiate a position for 100 women at the 2000 Arta Peace Talks. Four years later she became the first woman to be a signatory to a Somali peace agreement. These efforts have resulted in a more gender-friendly charter, as well as greater political representation for Somali women.
Malalai Joya is a former Afghani Member of Parliament who earned her reputation as “the bravest woman in the world” by standing up to the Afghani government and accusing several key figures of corruption. It was a dramatic display met by insults and threats from her opponents as she fiercely questioned their ‘leadership’. Since then she has lived in exile and faces almost certain death upon return to Afghanistan. She currently tours the world engaging in dialogue about the war with international politicians and public audiences to help address problems faced by women and civilians in Afghanistan.
It can sometimes be hard to imagine peace in a world that demands people defend their own equality, but International Peace Day is about overcoming that scepticism and spiritedly declaring “Yes We Can!” Human rights are universal, and when we give up on the places where they are not adequately implemented we turn our backs on the people who are unwillingly subjected to oppression. Underprivilege anywhere is underprivilege everywhere, and losing faith in the future is always dangerous. So go forth and celebrate International Peace Day like you’ve never celebrated before.
Here are some activities I recommend for a funtastic International Peace Day:
1. If you are cool like me you will already have your iTunes playlist entitled “Save the World Music”, in which case all you need to do is listen to it. If you do not have such a playlist it is very simple to make. First add the John Lennon classic “Imagine”, followed by John Mayer’s “Waiting on the World to Change”, then K’Naan’s “Waving Flag” (the original, not the FIFA World Cup version) and “In the Beginning”, also by K’Naan. Finally, download an awesome song called “Let It Rain” by Sy’Rai and *Artists United 4 Children and Youth Development (AUCAYD). This track can be found on the War Child 10 album. Feel free to add any other songs that put you in the mood for saving the world.
2. Hug somebody. In fact, hug lots of people. Hug a tree even!
3. Make a contribution to an entrepreneur through a microfinance site like Kiva to help create employment opportunities in developing communities.
4. Learn five United Nations acronyms and impress your friends with your wisdom. A few suggestions include UNHCR, ECOSOC, UNHDI, DPKO and UNESCO, but the list is pretty close to infinite if none of those tickle your fancy. You could probably even turn it into some kind of a drinking game. If you’re a real keener you may also want to learn the eight Millenium Development Goals. You won’t be disappointed!
5. Enjoy a cozy chat with a friend over a delicious Fair Trade latte as you relish the smooth rich taste brought to you by good labour conditions and environmental sustainability. Yum!
6. Feel empowered by this Sandra Whitworth quote about why women are amazing: “When a critical mass of women are present on peacekeeping missions they make a unique contribution, and they are particularly successful in the diffusion of violence, are perceived to be compassionate, willing to listen, and sometimes employ unorthodox techniques, such as singing, to diffuse potentially violent situations.” Girl Power!