MEW Conference

Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East

WFWP gathers women leaders from the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) for an annual conference to explore solutions for peace in the region.

Participants from areas with a history of conflict, separation and conquest are given a rare chance to be at the same table and engage in a candid exchange. Feuds cannot always be avoided due to the charged political climate. However, in every instance, the results have been remarkably guided toward mutual understanding, going beyond anger.

The women who attend this conference find themselves in an atmosphere of respect and understanding where they are able to discover the humanity of the "other side." They are delighted to meet women whom they would have never been able to meet otherwise because of the political situation in their countries. Many have formed friendly alliances.

At the end of each conference, a set of Recommendations, summarizing the proposals expressed during the conference, is proposed and voted upon. The participating women leaders disseminate these Recommendations to government agencies in their respective countries.

The fact that this women's conference has continued for 21 years shows that this blueprint has truly met the demand of the times.

Reconciliation and Middle East Peace: A Remarkable Model

Reconciliation and Middle East Peace: A Remarkable Model


For many, any hope for peace in the Middle East revolves around peace between Israel and Palestine. Yet, regardless of decades of both formal and informal peace processes, insecurity and mistrust weigh heavily on hopes for peace. Many seasoned negotiators have retired in frustration over recurring eruptions. Are the "experts" missing something?

Over the past 21 years of WFWP's Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East (MEW), something remarkable has developed. Year after year, scores of women leaders from the MENA region have met to debate pressing issues affecting the region. Their strength, intelligence and dignity defy the stereotype of a subordinated class. The respect they express for their fathers, husbands and sons in a predominantly patriarchal society and the stories they tell of how they were empowered by them is inspiring.

During the first ever MEW in 1997, WFWP Japan President, Motoko Sugiyama, explained, "not only are women the nurturers and preservers of traditional cultural and social values, they are predisposed to resolving conflicts and making peace." Maureen Reagan said something very similar at WFWP's side event at the 4th World Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995. "We need only look into the mother's role in families to find the most effective models of mediation, reconciliation and peace making."

What is it that makes this tool so elusive to formal peace processes? At the 13th MEW in Greece, "Reconciliation: A first step to lasting peace," the Focal Point on Women's Issues for the United Nations Institute on Disarmament Research (UNIDIR) pointed to one important factor: Reconciliation between states is difficult because the enemy remains "faceless." Understandably, the aggressive, defensive mindset at most negotiating tables, is not conducive to sincerity and mutual concern. Women are rarely considered important partners in these fora. However, statistics published by UN Women show that the participation of women can dramatically increase the sustainability of peace accords.

Over the past 17 years, I was often called on to facilitate sessions where emotions were expected to run high. No matter what else was happening in the region, the state of affairs between Israel and Palestine seemed to have either predominant or underlying influence. Every year, it seemed like violence would flare up just days before the conference, leaving the participants raw and passionate as early as the registration table.

My first experience "mediating" was a shock. It seemed like we would never resolve the differing views and dampen emotions. The debates often felt like personal attacks. The rules dictated that everyone has the opportunity to speak and, very importantly, that everyone listen respectfully. We took unscheduled coffee breaks when the debates spiralled out of control. The first time this happened, I fully expected most people to not return to the meeting room, but to my surprise, everyone did. Their desire for future peace brought them back. Even those who seemed to have the most vehement exchanges were standing next to each other ten minutes later, calmly eating cake.

Many of these important women leaders had painful personal tragedies buried deep inside. Some of the most eminent participants were surprised at how their emotions burst forward in this "safe" environment. Heroes emerged during some of these exchanges as some women silently absorbed the frustration and hatred hurled at their culture or nation.

But as more victims began daring to make themselves vulnerable to the "enemy," we all came to understand that we were both victims and obstructers to peace building on some level. One beloved former government minister shared the painful memory of being evicted from her home as a young child; how it devastated her parents and affected her entire life. Her words came out like an accusation toward Israel. Remarkably, the lone Israeli, a former senior government official, received her anger and pain. She hesitated for a long time before responding and apologized. It is difficult to describe the power and depth of that moment. My first thought was, "Peace is actually possible." If only this could happen at the negotiating table.

Some strategists may reject the idea of reconciliation as a methodology for peace making. In the words of WFWP Co-Founder, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, "People often think that politics move the world, but that is not the case. It is culture and art...It is emotion, not reason, that strikes people in the innermost part of their hearts. It is when hearts change and are able to receive new things that even ideologies and social regimes change as a result." 
Such trust and vulnerability was only possible through so many years of investing in these MENA nations. In 2011, we started inviting more young women to participate in the discussions. They were often even more outspoken then their more senior representatives. I vividly remember one discussion escalating when one such lady shared about her relative being killed by Israeli tanks just days before. We all exchanged nervous looks as the atmosphere intensified. The room went silent when a Palestinian shouted over the crowd that to a Palestinian, their brother nations turning their backs on Palestine is even more hurtful than what Israel has done to their country.

In 2014, the 18th MEW was held in both Jordan and Jerusalem, so Israeli participants could attend. Some of them risked their lives by potentially being photographed with "the enemy." I saw them flinch or turn away as they were introduced to someone they shouldn't be seen with. A highlight of that conference was a renowned Palestinian medical doctor sharing his story. A few years earlier, while tending patients at a hospital in Israel, he lost his two young daughters when rockets were fired into his home in Palestine. The room quieted as he described his shock that day. He later created an organization, I Will Not Hate, which provides scholarships for young women. That conference, too, ended with many personal victories in mutual understanding and reconciliation.

In July of this year, the 21st conference was held in at the United Nations in Vienna. The depth of candid self-reflection was remarkable. The highlight was the plenary presentation by the director of "Save Israel, Stop the Occupation." She presented an analysis of one aspect of the Israeli education system where Jewish children are taught from an early age that they are the real victims of the Israeli / Palestinian conflict, even though most Israelis have never met a Palestinian. She described her fear that if her nation's government does not reflect on and reconsider their policies soon, they will bring destruction upon their people and nation.

To a surprised Arab Muslim audience, she explained that there are an increasing number of civil society initiatives in Israel that promote networking and reconciliation between Israel and Palestine. There was something just and clear in the way she critiqued her own government for the injustices they have been committing unapologetically. The mature and uncomplicated way she internalized reconciliation seemed to prevent any need for reaction from the audience. That mindset would be very effective at the negotiating table.

The atmosphere in the room was excited at the end of her talk, as if they had heard something revolutionary. I fully expected the first few comments to be negative, as any speech from that country's representative would have triggered in the past. But not one! There was only appreciation. Someone even said, "Maybe there is hope for peace after all." I think every person in the room was changed that day-the culmination of two decades of this extraordinary platform.

MEW21 Overview

MEW21 Overview


Honoring Women's Important Contribution to Peace and in Creating Sustainable Environments during these Uncertain Times in the Middle East


On July 6-7, 2017, the Global Women's Peace Network, sponsored by WFWPI, welcomed representatives from nine governments and UN agencies such as, UN Women and United Nations Office on Drugs and Crime (UNODC) to Vienna, Austria for the 21st Annual Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East. Women leaders from 18 countries in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region and other experts from Europe and Asia met at the UN Vienna to assess and honor women for their contribution to peace and creating sustainable environments in the Middle East, as well as to facilitate their forward looking strategies.

Opening Session chaired by Ms. Carolyn Handschin
Ms. Carolyn Handschin, Director of WFWPI UN Offices, opened the conference by reminding the audience of the celebratory theme of this event. WFWP is marking its 25th year, 20 years of working with the UN, and 21 years of the Middle East Peace Conference series. She expressed appreciation to the Japanese WFWP who initiated and continue to finances this project. She also lauded the United Nations for the framework by which the successful local activities of women can be brought to a global platform and from that, women in return can be empowered by the knowledge that they are contributing to a larger peace and development agenda.

Prof. Yeon Ah Moon, President of WFWPI, gave a key message explaining that a peaceful world can be created when individuals first realize peace and true love within themselves and in the family, practicing to live for the sake of others. The role of women and mother's in creating peace through their participation in all aspects of life is crucial. Honoring women's peace work in the Middle East, she encouraged them to be examples in creating peace culture and improving quality of life each day in the Middle East.

Mr. Jean-Luc Lemahieu, Director, Division for Policy Analysis and Public Affairs at UNODC, described growing inequalities and discrimination against women and girls. Five million girls will never have the opportunity to learn to read or write and one in three women in the world experience violence by their partners. Nevertheless, he named opportunities in development if women are included, such as in the labor force. The Sustainable Development Goals (SDG's) and the Plan of Action 2030 are a roadmap, presenting women as part of the solution. He quoted the new Secretary General of the UN, António Guterres: "Empowering women and girls is the only way to protect their rights and make sure they can realize their full potential. We can't achieve any of our goals without the participation of women and girls." He added that actions need to follow.

Dr. Amal Osman, Former Minister for Social Affairs and Social Insurance in Egypt, identified a culture of peace as a set of attitudes and a way of life. She highlighted the importance of the family. She expressed that the process of peace is dynamic, requiring participation of everyone, that each fulfills their roles and civic participation, "leaving no one behind."

Dr. Lan Young Moon, President Emeritus of WFWPI, Co-chair of the National Council for Reunification and Cooperation of South and North Korea (2003-2016), stated that increasing selfishness and religious discrepancies can only be solved through love. Based on her experiences in the last 20 years, she is convinced that women and mothers can change the world and resolve conflicts by taking leadership and being engaged. She expressed how the co-founders Dr. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon have
been an inspiration to see women as a central point in peacebuilding.

Session 1: "Quality Education and Sustaining Peace in the Middle East (SDG4)" chaired by Ms. Carolyn Handschin
Dr. Sakena Yacoobi , Founder and Executive Director of the Afghan Institute of Learning, awarded the Sunhak Peace Prize, expressed her motivation to work with women and mothers, to educate them, to give them confidence and to empower them to get out of poverty. She has impacted 11 million students in over 300.000 centers in Afghanistan. She started with offering secret homeschooling during the timeof the Taliban regime and later created women centers where women network, learn to negotiate, to think critically, reconciliate and practice peace in their families and communities. A new beginning requires an internal change. She analyzed that safety, security, peace, education and sustainability is a package which needs to be addressed simultaneously and that she welcomes the fact that the UN is currently focusing on capacity building in communities.

Ms. Hanan Al Hroub, Palestinian teacher, awarded the Global Teacher Prize, focuses on peace education, meaning to create peace in each individual by changing attitudes, learning to communicate, to forgive, to appreciate cultural diversity, to respect each other's differences and to be accountable to each other. The root cause of conflict needs to be addressed. Since peace starts in the home, families need to be empowered and women included in peace building processes. She described that peace can have different meanings, but that for her Peace without justice is not peace and that peace means ending the occupation.

Session 2 "Women as Educators and Nurturers in the Family (SDG5)" chaired by Dr. Amal Osman
Dr. Farkhonda Hassan conveyed the statement of Dr. Maya Morsi, President of the National Council for Women in Egypt. She said that Egypt recognizes the importance of the family and the role of women as educators in the society due to the mother's instinct for justice and bringing peaceful human relationships. The president of Egypt requests women to be at the forefront, participating on all levels, which is encouraged by the "Secret of Your Power" campaign. She quoted the Former Secretary General of the UN Kofi Annan, who said that women can have a huge transformative force by being role models and setting values.

Dr. Lilly Sucharipa, President of the UN Women National Committee Austria, described around 80.000Syrian refugees living in the Zaatari refugee camp in Jordan, 80 percent being women. UN Women created safe spaces for women, where they can exchange their experiences and receive social and economic empowerment through educational programs, cash for work programs and opportunities to be involved in camp management. Women received more respect, gained hope, dignity and skills, and men learned about the value of women. Domestic violence was reduced to 20 percent.

Ms. Fatimah Al Akroka, Cultural Attache at the Kuwaiti Consulate, spoke about her pioneering initiative to create peace in Kuwait and reverse the trend of early school dropout. Women from different parts ofKuwait gathered for three day seminars three times a year to create internal peace and good communication among each other, understanding how important women are to peace and development. She explained that economic empowerment is crucial for women to feel empowered and to change their attitudes.

Ms. Alice Keirouz Sleiman, President of the Forum of NGOs of Child Rights in Lebanon, stressed the importance of peace building values such as open mindedness- and having open hearts. Mothers should be promoters of peace within their own families and in their social and political life. They play an essential role in providing security and creating loving relationships within the family and in educating their children about values such as trust, justice, love, and taking responsibility, which has a positive impact on communities. She expressed that there is a healthy cooperation between the Lebanese government, UN organizations and civil society.

Ms. Sevilay Yildirimer, Activist with the women's NGO KAYAD in Cyprus, addressed safety and security issues of women and presented activities such as trainings for women to become educators aiming to empower women, strengthen families, provide skills and therefore develop communities. Spaces to network were created for women and multicultural camps for children, focusing on conflict resolution and gender equality.

Session 3 "Women's Remarkable Participation in Peace and Development Issues in the Region (SDG1,3)" chaired by Ms. Natascha Schellen , MBA student in Corporate Social Responsibility & NGO Management
Ms. Mouna Echemmakh, Director of a shelter for women and child victims of violence, Federation of the Rights of Women in Morocco, presented their activities such as offering legal support, women's shelter, twelve listening centers, educational programs for youth and capacity building for women advisors in communities. In 2011 the new constitution brought equality between men and women at all levels (Preamble Article 19). However, there is a lack of the implementation of these laws. Women are still suffering polygamy, illiteracy and violence.

Ms. Amal Al-Jubouri, CEO and Founder of Arab Human Rights Academy in London and Baghdad, depicted how she grew up with war in Iraq, over 5000 women and girls leaving Mosul, traumatized by mass killings and displacement. She is now improving the psychological well-being of children in Iraq through art and sport, which they desired. She mentioned that terrorism in Iraq is cultivated through the education of children when the Sunni and Shia schools may project discriminatory narratives. She concluded with the statement that a few women can change a lot, but many women can change everything.

Ms. Sophia Giorgalla, Founder and President of Women without Frontiers Cyprus Branch, expressed how women need role models to be empowered, describing how she became the first female banker inCyprus and pioneered the way for more women in managerial roles in her bank.

Ms. Jessica Montell, Executive Director of Save Israel, Stop the Occupation (SISO), started a groundbreaking conversation between Jewish Israeli women and Palestinian women in the conference room by critically analyzing the Israeli educational system, where Jewish children are taught from early age that they are the real victims of the Israeli- Palestinian conflict. Most Israelis have never met Palestinians. She explained that hers and other organizations, trying to bring together Palestinians and Israelis, often are restrained. Nevertheless, there are networks of fast growing civil society organizations which support reconciliation campaigns. This honest and courageous analysis by her of her government opened the way for a depth of discussion between Palestinian and Israeli participants which seemed impossible to imagine in political spheres. Based on this breakthrough, conference participants who were overwhelmingly from Arab countries expressed a glimmer of hope that viable peace may be in sight for this seemingly unresolvable conflict. This demonstrated that although women are often left out in peace negotiations, the quality of their contribution might bring the critical difference.

Session 4 "The UN and Civil Society: Influencing Change and becoming Owners of Peace (SDG17)". Dr. Zoe Bennett, President WFWP Middle East chaired the discussion following the presentation by Ms. Carolyn Handschin. She gave several examples of grassroots' initiatives, such as the eradication of Female Genital Mutilation, which found voice through WFWP at the UN. She described the role of civil society to inform the UN and governments and work together. She explained that any sustainable peace culture must be a culture of a "global family" that can change the world by "moving the hearts of people". Beginning with an internal change, women and mothers need to guide and nurture their families toward empathy and to learn to focus their talents and life goals for the greatest good. The Sustainable Development Goals currently provide a viable plan to start to mobilize to think and act like a human family, but motivation is lacking. She referred to the speech of the Founder of WFWPI Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon in 1993. "A lasting solution has to include the understanding of the root of the problem as well as the Source of our existence." Tapping into a benevolent and common Source would be a natural incentive towards the fulfillment of Human Rights responsibilities and fulfilling the mandate of the UN for peace.

Session 5 "Women Fostering Peace and multiplying Environments of Healing and Compassion (SDG16)" chaired by Ms. Kawther Al Jouan, Director of the Women's Institution for Development and Training
HE Ms. Wafa Bani Mustafa, Chairperson of the "Coalition of Women Members of Parliament to Combat Violence against Women" in Jordan, emphasized that education of women and girls is a right included in the Universal Human Rights Declaration and the SDGs. The percentage of women's enrollment in Jordanian universities is 51.2, but their participation in the labor market is less than 14 percent, most working in the informal sector for lower wages and not achieving leadership positions. A whole generation of Syrian children is at risk of losing their future because of diminishing opportunities in education.

Ms. Ehteram Malakouti Nejad, Founder and Executive Manager of the Support Network for Single Women in Iran, started her work as a volunteer from an early age in her home country. The mission of the Network is to empower single women and to provide support and resources for them to become self-sufficient.

Ms. Marilyn Angelucci, President of WFWP in Afghanistan, spoke about their activities such as opening an internet café for educational purposes and a library in Kabul. When forced to leave the country they founded a school for Afghani refugees in New Delhi, giving scholarships especially to Afghan refugee girls, who are usually the last to receive education. Furthermore, WFWP Afghanistan provides character education in English language schools and family counseling in women's centers. They created micro financing progams to develop their small businesses.

Ms. Lama Al Atassi, French Syrian consultant and teacher in intercultural relations and career management in Paris, aims to preserve the Syrian cultural heritage in spite of war and as a means to facilitate peace. She developed the concept of a project where Syrian children, regardless of their origin would dance together and convey a message of peace, giving children confidence and a purpose in life. This project was inspired by the Little Angels Children's Folk Ballet of Korea.

Session 6 "Conclusions, Recommendations" chaired by Ms. Brigitte Wada, President WFWP France
Ms. Carolyn Handschin, presented the "Conference Recommendations" for civil society and governments, as is the annual tradition. In the form of a call for the creation of a "Global Women's Peace Network" for the Middle East, the outcome document was read based upon the deliberations during the two days. Accepting them by consensus, the participants formulated concrete action steps to realize the set goals.

Ms. Nada Abdallah Harward, Consultant for International Affairs at the UN in the UAE, mentioned that the key factor is to change the mindset of women first, to heal, to forgive, and to convince women to participate in peacebuilding processes. In this interesting time we are living in right now, where there are no borders due to technology, we need to trust youth and teach them love, critical thinking and open mindedness.

Ms. Moriko Hori, President WFWP Japan, specialized in reconciliation studies between Japan and Korea. She informed the audience that the occupation of Korea by Japan is not taught in Japanese schools. She herself did not realize the tense relationship until her visit to Korea much later. She emphasized the importance of the 21 years conference series in bringing women together to listen and learn from each other for the sake of peace and reconciliation. Recently the Japanese government invited her to report about WFWP Japan programs in the Middle East. Recognizing the far reaching impact, they thanked her, acknowledging how much women can do.

Dr. Zoe Bennett, President WFWP Middle East, stressed that every individual needs to take ownership and responsibility to create peace, since it needs to be created out of a genuine love for people. She hoped for a valuable impact on their personal lives and work, encouraging all to remain committed to the action steps we agreed upon.

Closing remarks were given by Dr. Amal Osman who summarized that it has been mainly focused on the role of women to prevent violence and to create peace in the family, community, society and nations through being involved in peacebuilding and reconciliation processes. She expressed her gratitude to all speakers for their statements, participants for their interventions and especially their commitment to continue in their engagement for peace.

Representing all organizers, Ms. Brigitte Wada thanked and appreciated all, while expressing words of encouragement to reach the goals. She suggested cooperation and joint efforts to realize the SDG's and especially women participation in peacebuilding processes in the Middle East region.

MEW21 Recommendations

Honoring Women's Important Contribution to Peace and in Creating Sustainable Environments during these Uncertain Times in the Middle East

JULY 6-7, 2017 - VIENNA, AUSTRIA  

21st Annual Women's Conference for Peace in the Middle East: Recommendations

Over 100 women leaders met at the United Nations in Vienna July 6-7, 2017 to assess and encourage the remarkable contribution of women to peace and sustainable development. This 21st anniversary event of WFWPI hosted educators, academics, lawmakers, governments and NGO leaders from 18 MENA region countries, as well as Europe and Asia. Yet, even with the recent efforts to strengthen partnership towards these goals through international agreements such as SCRes1325 and other enabling mechanisms, progress has been slow. We witnessed a breakthrough during our deliberations when representatives of deep routed conflicts engaged in reconciliation of an unparalleled depth. By recognizing the suffering of the other with humility and trust, they opened, we believe, a model for healing and liberating the genuine goodness and desire of humanity for a culture of peace "where no one is left behind."

Building upon the momentum of this conference series on Middle East peace, we appeal to all women and girls to rise to the challenges of these uncertain times with confidence, optimism and determination by investing their combined efforts in concrete actions for the advancement of peace and human dignity. We therefore call for the creation of a "Global Women's Peace Network" and commit to a greater focus on education for peace through the following:

1. Work with the SDG's as a tool to restore human dignity, cultural pride and to engage youth in nation building and responsible global citizenship.

Action steps:

  • Make training seminars to inform youth how to work with SDG's in their nations

  • Bring together youth from different conflict zones to participate in workshops to cope with traumas and release the pain and anger

Women's role
2. Become good women, who can lead because peace begins in the human heart and grows from the bottom up and from the inside, out.

Action steps:

  • Promote women centers, even networks between nations to provide literacy programs, skills education (communication, negotiation and entrepreneurial skills)

3. Call for the inclusion of women in peace processes and conflict prevention. Women, especially mothers long for a future peace for their children and have an inherent capacity to reduce tensions and create environments conducive to peace.

Action steps:

  • Conduct scientific studies and disaggregate statistics to validate women's capacities in this field

  • Encourage and provide capacity building for more women to engage in all fields of politics

4. Call on women to advocate and work with their governments in all fields to care for their vulnerable citizens. Include men and boys.

Family based education/mother's role as an educator
5. The family is nurtured in an environment of trust and love. The family is a natural paradigm to teach and experience peace and deserves protection to function at its optimal.

Action steps:

  • Advocate to governments for the protection of the family

  • Train teachers in peace education appropriate to the local culture

  • Create a pamphlet on family to show its importance to society

  • Provide training for mothers to detect and prevent youth radicalization

Cultural approach
6. Give greater priority to literacy for all, character education and peace curricula at the earliest age and in schools. A culture of peace must be nurtured and cannot be artificially enforced.

Action steps:

  • Develop creative ways to use art, sport and cultural expression as a mean to promote peace and prevent mental and physical violence, and extremism

  • Provide peace education activities that include storytelling and the production of documentaries, etc.

7. Cultivate vibrant partnerships among civil society, with governments and other actors and provide capacity-building to successfully achieve this.

Action steps:

  • Work with national governments to implement national action plans on Security Council Resolution 1325 and other mechanism for women's empowerment.

  • Coordinate simultaneous regional and global actions among NGO's for a bigger impact.

8. Call on religious leaders to unite. Create solidarity to promote reconciliation and peace- and prevent violence.

9. Take advantage of social media platforms

Action steps:

  • Open online resource platform, share advocacy and educational tools

  • Use apps, social media (facebook, twitter, Instagram) to reach young people to help disseminate peace messages

10. Address conflict induced trauma, victims and perpetrators. Human beings
are part of a collective consciousness. Healing collective traumas is
essential for global peace.

Action step:

  • Online reservoir of stories, joint workshops in conflict zones including mental health programs (counselling, therapy services)

11. Have follow up meetings to share about developments leading to the next year's meeting.

Action step:

  • Newsletter (every 3 months)