Building a Culture of Peace in the Family: Educating for Peace in the World

June 20-21, 2006 - UN HQ Geneva, Switzerland
Culture-of-Peace/Middle-East-Conferences/Switzerland-2006
By: Carolyn Handschin

10th Annual Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East

The theme of WFWPI and WFWP Japan's tenth annual conference for peace in the Middle East was "Building a Culture of Peace in the Family; Educating for Peace in the World". It was chosen in parallel with the UN's 2001-2010 "International Decade for a Culture of Peace and Nonviolence for the Children of the World". Conference planners decided it was critical to look at existing methods and models of peace education, such as the family, as they relate to women in the Middle East. More than 100 women participants came from governments, academic institutions, international organizations, media, business and civil society leadership from nearly all countries of the Middle East and Japan. Speakers from Geneva-based U.N. Agencies, governments and international NGOs offered expertise and opportunities to strengthen partnerships.

The conference co-chair, H.E. In'am Al-Mufti, former Minister of Social Development and current Senator in Jordan quoted Her Majesty Queen Rania Al-Abdullah of Jordan in her opening statement, "If you educate a woman you educate the family, if you educate the girls, you educate the future". Co-chair Dr. Lan Young Moon Park, President of WFWPI, stated that dedication of Korean mothers to their children's education has been the primary reason that Korea has advanced so rapidly over recent decades. Ms. Shaer-Bourbeau of the Swiss Mission to the United Nations welcomed conference participants on behalf of H.E. Micheline Calmy Rey and the Swiss Department of Foreign Affairs.

In the Opening Panel, "Educating for Peace in the World", speakers included Ameena Payne, Director of Geneva-based United Nations University for Peace. She emphasized the need to address underlying currents of real or perceived injustice, rebuild bridges of trust and establish a clear and common purpose guided by innovative and wise leadership. The second speaker, Andres Guerrero, UNICEF Program Coordinator at the International Office for Public Partnerships stressed that exposure to injustices without means to improve leads to despair, apathy and violence in youth. Mr. Guerrero stated the need for education philosophies and strategies to address this. The next speaker, Zainab Al-Suwaij, Executive Director of the American Islamic conference in Iraq, reported on a recent project she facilitated in Iraq to train 36,000 teachers to move away from insidious and damaging wording used by the earlier regime in school textbooks. She spoke of the indelible effect that those schoolbooks had on her childhood. A new, forward-looking culture of peace curriculum is now being disseminated. Tanya Gilly, a newly elected parliament member in Iraq gave vivid testimony on the situation of women. They are eager for education and training so they can better influence policy making and accelerate their country's reconciliation and transformation.

In Working Session 2, "Women as Educators for Peace in the Family: Principles and Practice", Maria Ioannou, a clinical psychologist working with women and children in Cyprus prisons explained that not having learned a lesson of peace in early childhood is prevalent among incarcerated women. Parents can play a primordial role in prevention by investing in their children and validating their goodness. Arezoo Khosravi (Iran), a human rights activist and Zainab Mirza Ghandour, a lecturer with the Lebanese Association for Human Rights both shared insights regarding women role models and family ethics in their country. H.E. May Abu Al Samen, a Senator in Jordan addressed women's role in the family in creating a culture of peace and efforts of the queen and government to design infrastructure that fosters peace.

Professor Arbia Ben Ammar, a University Professor in Tunisia spoke in Working Session 3, "Educating for Peace in the Middle East: Norms, Resources and Tools". She stressed that the family is the first resource in peace education and that character education starts at home, where women are of utmost importance. Dr. Hiba Othman, National Coordinator for World Safety Organization in Lebanon quoted Robert Fulghum's book "All I really need to know I learned in kindergarten". Share everything. Play Fair. Clean up your own mess. Say you are sorry when you hurt someone. These are simple concepts that constitute basic principles of a culture of peace. A good investment in peace is to pay special attention to the primary educator, the mother, so her role in family peace education is properly understood and exercised. When women participate in peace negotiations and in crafting of peace agreements, the future of societies, communities, and families are the focus. Dr. Fawziah Al Bakr, Associate Professor in Saudia Arabia, concluded the session.

Robert Bebee, Vice-director for Curriculum Development of the International Educational Foundation spoke at Working Sessions 5 and 6. His character education curriculum has influenced educational institutions in seventeen countries. Topics were "A Culture of Peace in the Family through Character Education" and "Causes and Resolution of Conflict".

Session 6 was "Future Plans and Recommendations". Oya Talat, President of the Patriotic Women's Union of Northern Cyprus, and co-founder of the Peace Village Project spoke of the model program of the desperate women of North Cyprus and Cyprus facilitating conflict resolution and peace building for youth. Carolyn Handschin, Deputy Director of the WFWPI Office for United Nation's Relations reported on a recent jointly sponsored WFWPI conference at UNESCO. She discussed, "Dignity, Development, Building on a Culture of Peace", sharing her experience of finding dignity among Israeli and Palestinian women during a WFWPI outreach program, "Heart to Heart" in 2004. Programs creating solidarity among women in conflict situations can be a valuable source of empowerment for both sides. Training of girls and young women to take the lead in such practices is an excellent method of peace building.

A committed group of 15 to 20 women worked to create a conference outcome plan of action. A letter was drafted and delivered to the new President of the Human Rights Council outlining recommendations from the conference and participants' commitment to them. A long term project to translate and develop peace education curriculum suitable for the religious, cultural and gender needs in the Middle East was accepted. Pilot projects in three countries were proposed.

The consensus is that now, more than ever, with humankind at a crossroads between destruction and development, the transformative and educational mechanisms in a healthy family are the best paradigm for peace building and fostering human dignity. The recommendation is that women receive access to tools and resources for leadership towards a culture of peace and development. As Kofi Annan recently stated, without more equal input from women, we can never hope to achieve our goals.