“We still have a long way to go”

The event “10 years – 1,000 women – 1 million stories” on Thursday 22 October at Münsterplatz in Bern was the prelude to the two-day jubilee celebrations of PWAG. For the population of Bern it was an opportunity to meet and discuss with international peace activists.

002-0032      On Thursday morning, the PeaceWomen Across the Globe-Team in Bern was quite anxious: Will the tent be ready by 3 o’clock in the afternoon? And will people actually come to discuss with our PeaceWomen? Yes, the tent was ready, and yes, people did come. And many! The party tent was filled in no time with about a hundred people: seniors, students, women, men – the audience was wonderfully mixed.

The two Co-Presidents Kamla Bhasin and Ruth-Gaby Vermot welcomed the audience and recalled that even after ten years of activism PWAG still has a lot of work to do: “I am happy with wha
002-0174t we achieved in the past ten years. I am happy to say that since 2003 several women have been given the Nobel Peace Prize because of our work. However, today we live in a world in which about 400 conflicts are still ongoing, in a world where inequality and injustice have only been increasing. We have a long way to go,” Kamla Bhasin said.

Then, Bern City Councillor Franziska Teuscher addressed the audience: “I am proud that Bern is the home of the worldwide PeaceWomen network,” she said.

Agitated discussions

Afterwards, the guests had the opportunity to talk with our international PeaceWomen sitting at discussion tables. At each table sat a woman from a different country, and the participants chose where to sit: China / Hong Kong, Indonesia,
002-0146India, Thailand, Colombia, Mexico, Brazil, Kenya, Egypt, Palestine, Mali and Afghanistan. After 30 minutes, places were switched. The peace activists talked about their commitment to peace and reported on the political situation in their countries. The participants listened, asked questions and contributed with their own experiences.

Fatoumata Maiga, PWAG coordinator from Mali, reported for instance about the fact that women played an important role in the peace process in Mali: “It is especially important that women who belong to opposite conflict parties make peace,” she said. At the table led by Kamla Bhasin from India, the participants discussed about the role of men and religious fanaticism, which can be found in all religions.002-0143

At the Colombia table Alejandra Miller Restrepo talked about the ongoing peace process between the government and rebel groups. She said that in March 2016 a peace agreement will hopefully be signed. In Columbia too, women engage actively for peace: “Women pushed for peace talks and they support the victims of the conflict. Women always reclaim truth. Reconciliation without truth is impossible.”

Peace is…

Afterwards, representatives of Swiss politics, culture and academia discussed about the meaning of peace in Switzerland and how we all can contribute to a peaceful society. The panel discussion
002-0242with writer Dorothee Elmiger, sociology professor Ueli Mäder, politicians Kathrin Hayoz (FDP Bern), Margret Kiener Nellen (SP Bern), Annemarie Sancar (Green Party Bern) and Laavanja Sinnadurai (jurist with Tamil roots) was moderated by Linda Muscheidt (Radio X).

It quickly became clear that all participants have a slightly different idea of what peace means. For Laavanja Sinnadurai, whose parents had fled from Sri Lanka to Switzerland, peace means that it is possible to organize such a public event, to meet other people and to discuss with them. For
002-0286FDP-woman Kathrin Hayoz peace means getting up in the morning without fear for your or your family’s life. The writer Dorothee Elmiger prefers a classic definition of peace: “The definition that peace is the absence of war is still important. Because it shows clearly that there are places in the world today where there is war, and places that are spared.”

Most of the panelists agreed that social justice is necessary for long-lasting peace. For sociology professor Ueli Mäder it is therefore all the more alarming that inequality in Switzerland has become more pronounced over the past decades, and that the gap between rich and poor has gotten bigger: “30 or 40 years ago social injustice was perceived as something bad by most of the people. Today, however, it is widely accepted that some people are just rich and others poor,” he says.

And what can we all do for peace? For Laavanja Sinnadurai, people like her who have grown up with two cultures, should build bridges: they should translate and mediate. For Kathrin Hayoz, we should try to help people in need directly: “We included an asylum seeker in our jogging group. We helped him learning German and supported him with all the administrative steps including finding a job,” she says.

002-0305“We can never remain silent!”

At the end of the event, slam poet Michèle Friedli presented a text that she had written especially for PeaceWomen Across the Globe: “My voice is straightforward”. In her performance, she talked about how years ago her social environment looked down upon the quiet, sweet girl she then was. She has since learned to be loud and to rebel with her voice: “Just because I’m a girl, I don’t have to be all silent and weak!” With her poem, Michèle Friedli also directly addressed the present peace activists: “We
002-0373give light to darkness! We make peace and fight against violence, when others start wars.” Each woman’s voice should be loud and alive, because it is sorely needed.

PeaceWomen Across the Globe, Caroline Honegger, 09/11/2015

Picture 1: PWAG Co-President Kamla Bhasin welcoming the audience
Picture 2 – 5: Snapshots of the discussion tables (Picture 2: Rose Wawuda, PWAG coordinator from Kenya)
Picture 6: Panelist Laavanja Sinnadurai
Picture 7: Panelist Kathrin Hayoz and moderator Linda Muscheidt
Picture 8: Slam poet Michèle Friedli

Jubilee Statement 2015: here