Looking to women as agents of peace.

( – promoted by buhdydharma )

Today we live in a world where the overwhelming majority of war casualties are civilian, and the majority of those are women and children. Women are typically the most marginalized people in a war-torn country, and when these countries sanction violence against women, we tend to look away and dismiss it as cultural. We throw our hands in the air because we think there is nothing we can do. We need look no further than to the Taliban.

But women are also the people who hold their families and communities together in times of war. To a large degree, they are the ones who create stability and rebuild — and they are left to care for the survivors.

Empowering the women in war torn countries is powerful way to create stability and peace.  

Zainab Salbi is an Iraqi who came to the US in the early 1990’s. She was horrified at hearing about the rape camps in Bosnia, and vowed to do something about it. Being from a war torn country herself, this idea grew into a quest to help women victims of war more generally — she wanted to help them become survivors of war.

This diary is not so much to sell her organization to you, but to present the idea and let it speak for itself. Salbi created Women for Women International, an organization that has had enormous success helping the survivors of war in Afghanistan, Bosnia and Herzegovina, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Iraq, Kosovo, Nigeria, Rwanda, and the Sudan. Women for Women International in on the ground in each of these countries making a measurable difference.

Nicholas Kristof and Sheryl WuDunn are also presenting this idea as a sound way to create peace. They recently published Half the Sky which proposes creating microcredit programs directed toward women to create prosperity and overcome extremism.

A successful microcredit program will first attend to the women’s immediate economic needs — they need to be able to eat and send their children to school. But they need to address long term economic needs, as well. Women need education; to become empowered, they need to understand their basic rights, and they need vocational skill. They need to be able to run a business. Women for Women International sponsers women in year-long training programs to this end for women who are marginalized by war.

The 2009 global initiatives report on Afghanistan provides some hope:

Whether women are suffering from poverty, domestic violence, or war, it is vital to address their economic and educational realities because if we do not, others will take advantage of the situation. The stark reality is that when an Afghan widow and mother of eight is approached by a Taliban member offering her a sack of rice every month with a promise to put the boy through school in return, she is forced to choose between knowing her son’s fate and feeding the rest of her children. This is not a choice that anyone should have to make. Many women in conflict and post-conflict areas are facing similar dilemmas. Unless we go to these very same women and offer them solid opportunities, along with sacks of rice, there is little chance of change. The women are very smart and they will choose what is best for their families; they simply do not have many choices. When we address the economic and educational realities of people’s lives, we build peace from the back-lines forward.

If we empower these women by giving them economic choices, their outcomes will improve — and the outcomes for their children and communities will improve. Strong women create strong communites. The following is a 2007 video report from Women for Women in Afghanistan:

And another video report about the effects of a microcredit program that Women for Women started in Bosnia/Herzegovina a decade ago. These are not isolated results.

Out beyond ideas of wrongdoing and rightdoing,

there is a field.  I’ll meet you there.

When the soul lies down in that grass,

the world is too full to talk about.

Ideas, language, even the phrase each other

doesn’t make any sense.

-Rumi, from Essential Rumi, tranlated by Coleman Barks

I am convinced that empowering women is the key to overcoming extremism and poverty, as well as building longstanding peace. I hope you take some time to learn about this approach to conflict resolution.

I am told that Kristof is scheduled to be on Oprah tomorrow, along with Lisa Shannon, who is the woman that organizes Women for Women’s Run for Congo Women in Portland, Oregon. I will probably skip the Oprah show, but Kristof’s book is next on my reading list.

One woman can change anything, but many women can change everything.

—Zainab Salbi, founder of Women for Women International


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    • rb137 on October 1, 2009 at 06:09


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