Bahá’í Scripture emphatically states that women will be the greatest factor in establishing universal peace and international arbitration.
“So it will come to pass that when women participate fully and equally in the affairs of the world, when they enter confidently and capably the great arena of laws and politics, war will cease; for woman will be the obstacle and hindrance to it.”1
This statement in itself is so powerful that it doesn’t need any other argument to be put forward regarding the importance of women obtaining equality. Achieving this goal will usher in nothing short of world peace! While this is a part of the Bahá’í Writings and is a central part of Bahá’í belief, there is also much research to support the premise. Around the world, women make peace in their homes and communities on a daily basis. But when it comes to negotiating and signing peace deals on a national or international level they are almost universally shut out, according to a report that calls for a more balanced approach to resolving conflict.
A 2000 UN security council resolution that called for equal participation for women in “the maintenance and promotion of sustainable peace” has been almost totally ignored, not least by the UN itself, says the report. There have been no female chief mediators in UN-brokered peace talks and fewer than 10% of police officers and 2% of the soldiers sent on UN peace-keeping missions have been women.
A report published by the Institute of Development Studies, funded by ActionAid and Womankind Worldwide, argues that this near total absence of women from official peacekeeping is not only a waste of a powerful resource for conflict resolution but also means formal peace deals are seriously flawed, taking a narrow definition of what constitutes enduring peace that mostly ignores the needs of women and girls.
A broader definition of peace
The report, From the Ground Up, surveyed Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone and found that in local settings women took a broader view of peace that included basic rights such as freedom from violence in the home, as well as education and healthcare.
“In contrast, men have a greater tendency to associate peace with the absence of formal conflict and the stability of formal structures such as governance and infrastructure,” the report said.
The difference in perception means that in Sierra Leone, for example, which is generally classified as post-conflict, most women do not consider themselves to be living in peace. “This is attributed by respondents to the high rates of poverty and violence against women, including domestic violence, mental abuse and abandonment.”
“We’re not talking about a big war,” said one woman from Afghanistan, “but peace for us also means no domestic violence.”
It is little wonder that women take this broader view as they are the ones against whom domestic violence is most often directed. Also, it’s the woman’s role to be the nurturer – so true peace for a woman means that her children can be raised in safety, and have access to education and healthcare.
We know that women are natural peacemakers; this is supported by a survey of five countries that demonstrated that women and girls have a tendency to form groups and coalitions to deal with problems and get on with resolving conflicts – they do this up to the point when the process becomes formal, when the men take over. The higher and more formal the level of peace-building, the smaller the degree of female participation, the study found. It is truly sad that the skills of women as mediators and decision-makers within the home and their experiences building trust and dialogue in their families and communities are frequently dismissed as irrelevant or are not sufficiently valued by national governments, the international community or by women themselves. Women have great power to build peace within their homes and communities and to come together collectively to create change.
How ironic it is for these very peacemakers that their gender is the biggest barrier to a healthy and secure life. Discrimination and violence destroys the potential of girls and women in developing countries and prevents them from pulling themselves out of poverty. This is something that has to end as soon as possible – indeed, it seems that the peace of the planet depends on it.
- Abdu’l Bahá – The Promulgation of Universal Peace. Page 134.