The 19th Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East was held at the Metropolitan Hotel in Athens. A total of 71 women from 23 nations attended, mostly from the Middle East and North Africa, but also from Europe, Korea and Japan. The Korean participants were a 25 member strong delegation from WFWP-Korea, invited by WFWP Japan.
The conference focused on the ways to include young people in the different peace processes, as well as to protect and raise them to meet the challenges of our times. Cooperation of women across all ages was the recommendation by the Co-chair, Dr. Amal Osman, former Deputy Speaker of the People's Assembly of Egypt, who also urged to empower women starting from adolescence, as this is the most formative period in a person's life. The Chair, Dr. Zoe Bennett, underlined the responsibility that women have to create an environment where human life and dignity are respected and where women can influence towards peaceful solutions. The WFWP International President, Professor Yeon Ah Moon, sent her message through the Secretary General of WFWP Korea, Mrs. Young Sun Choi. She described the experiences of WFWP members during the earthquake in the Philippines, and emphasized the uniqueness of parental love. She explained that if every woman's effort for success was geared towards the common goal of world peace, our individual successes would be far-reaching.
Challenges to Peace and Security in the Middle East and Ways to intervene
The representative of the Office of United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights (UNHCHR) in Tunisia, Ms. Seynabou Dia, spoke on "Tunisia in transition and its women: A Model to follow?" She described young women as guardians of the 2011 revolution. She gave a historic overview of women's leadership. There exists a divide between the generations to which she recommended possibilities for healing. Dr. Firdevs Karahan from Turkey, depicted the deeply conflicting situation of the Middle East and the historical impediments to peace, concluding that dignity, sincerity and maturity are the elements needed to be displayed by all parties if we want to construct a peaceful future. H.E. Mrs. Najah Al Azzeh, a Member of the Parliament of Jordan, prepared a presentation on the current situation in the Middle East and she emphasized that solving the Palestinian issue would be key to peace throughout the Middle East. Ms. Rawan Fadayel, also from Jordan, ended the session by explaining passionately the need for more solidarity and networking in order to build a more peaceful and safe society.
Improving Young Women's Participation in Peace and Development Issues in the Region
This session included the presentation of Dr. Shokouh Navabinejad from Iran, who described the conditions of the youth in her country, representing 60% of the population. They are gradually being educated and empowered to be more active in the country's decision making. Mrs. Svjetlana Jovic from the United Nations Interim Force in Lebanon (UNIFIL), described the difficult living conditions of the Syrian refugees in the camps of south Lebanon. "..not only victims of wars but one should not forget that women have been capable of building bridges of dialog and empathy in polarized societies. The rising of radical extremist groups in the region puts women's safety at stake". Dr. Hajiba Ayoubi from Morocco listed the obstacles that prevent women in the MENA region from participating in decision making and peace making processes. She asked "how can we make war against the culture of war and conflicts?" Education and civic engagement are the key. Mrs. Henem Ennaifer from Tunisia, concluded the session by explaining in detail the victories and challenges that the Tunisian women are facing today.
NGOs, Civil Society and Governments' Partnership with Youth
The sub-theme that was examined first by Dr. Lamya Hayat from Kuwait; she reported on the fruitful cooperation between the Kuwaiti government and a US-based NGO, the US-Middle East Partnership Initiative, in regard to youth education and empowerment. Next, Ms. Nada Harward, resident of the UAE, explained the high rate of education of the youth in the Emirates, but also the youth's challenges in developing their knowledge and skills for the benefit of the global Emirati society. Finally, Mrs. Domniki Boyiadji from Cyprus explained the twofold activities of her NGO (SPAVO, the Association for the Prevention and Handling of Violence in the Family), namely the protection and care of victimized women and children, and information sharing. The final speaker, Ms. Milina Shahin, public information officer of UNRWA, was not permitted to exit Gaza to attend the conference.
How can a "Compassionate" Society be Created?
Ms. Iris Dotan Katz from Israel explained the practices of Buddhism as a means to conflict resolution in Israel and Palestine and her experiences in working with activist groups in Israel, Palestine and elsewhere. Justice Ioanna Mari, President of the Prenatal Education Association International, demonstrated the importance of the prenatal period of human life in forming individuals endowed with good and peaceful characters and the responsibility of the mother.
The final session was dedicated to a very informative report on the many worldwide activities of the sponsor and main organizer, the Women's Federation for World Peace-Japan. The report was given by Minako Kobayashi, staff of the WFWP office in Japan.
The very profound testimony of Mrs. Asmaa Kftarou, President of the Muslim Syrian Women's Forum at the Islamic Studies Centre, closed the conference. She emphasized the need to empower the Syrian women, and to pressure the UN to secure their safety and their participation in the peace processes of their country.She said:
"Women are able to make different kinds of decisions for peace, using both their heart and their mind."
Middle East Young Women's Peace Network
A new youth club was created this time, the "Middle East Young Women's Peace Network." The purpose of the club is to develop among the youth of each country a network for discussion on subjects related to peace and well-being that would be followed by activities.
A set of recommendations was voted at the end of the conference.