In regions of conflict, the roles that women play in society prime them for their unique contributions to reconciliation activities. In Musalaha’s experience, Israeli and Palestinian women have been active in our projects since our beginning. From conferences to prayer meetings, Palestinian and Israeli women have come together to participate in the process of reconciliation.
Men and women experience conflict differently, and have access to different resources in order to resolve and transform conflict. Women and children often take the brunt of the conflict, being victims of violence more often than its perpetrators. However, women are not confined to a passive role, rather they are widely involved in many stages of conflict-transformation and reconciliation.
On a political level, women are less involved than men in formal discussions and policy making. Nevertheless, women’s roles and occupations in their communities give them unique skills and positions to be active on various levels of peacebuilding. They can have great influence in the home, as mothers they have a kind of “moral authority” and are responsible for educating and passing on values. Women are survivors and protectors, activists and educators.
Aisake Casimira, in a paper presented in Fiji at a reconciliation workshop, outlines three areas where women have unique qualities to offer. First, women are apt to focus on narratives. While men tend to discuss issues and negotiate positions, women share stories of community life. They feel comfortable in the exchange of personal narrative and experience. “Aside from the capacity to respond effectively by creating safe space, women also have a specific narrative of their own. Women know what it means to be different.” Second, this awareness of what it means to be different may be a key resource in reconciliation. Knowing what it means to be different helps when it comes to facing and embracing others’ differences. Third, women have “ability to give grief a public expression.” The role of grief, of coping with personal and others’ losses, is intrinsic to reconciliation. A sincere understanding of the other only comes with a willingness to understand pain, to accept, to confess and forgive.
Women involved in Musalaha’s activities reflect these trends. They have shared their stories of how they came to reconciliation. Many of their stories traced journeys from places of hatred to acts of embrace. Tears have been shed; sins confessed; lessons learned. Women have expressed grief that comes with living in this conflict, and drawn attention to the painful effects of the situation.
Last month, 15 women met to discuss their roles in their communities and homes. The group represented teachers, counselors, women in various work places and in ministries. In conversations, differences arise. The group has repeatedly grappled with these differences, trying to make sense and understand one another’s cultures, politics and theology. Often we have returned to the issues, looking at the Scriptures and questioning how to build unity with such conflicting identities. How do we live out the words of Ephesians 2? “For he himself is our peace, who has made the two one and has destroyed the barrier, the dividing wall of hostility…. His purpose was to create in himself one new man out of the two, thus making peace….” Each encounter ends with the questions, “Where do we go from here?” “What do we do with this practically?”
In our last conference, one woman shared about her role in the community and her impetus for reconciliation .
“The verse I mentioned, goes on, ‘Open your mouth for the speechless in the cause of all who are appointed to die. Open your mouth, judge righteously and plead the cause of the poor and needy.’ Prov. 31:8&9. This verse seems to be my life verse. I guess I am drawn to the underdog. I am bothered by injustice. I hate exclusivity and inequality or anything that is ‘elite’ that would exclude ‘the other.’ The people I admire most are the Mother Theresa’s of the world, the faithful tillers of the soil and not the stars.
As a junior high English teacher, I speak to 70 adolescents. Along, with grammar, I try to impart to them biblical principals and respect for each other. I allow no racist talk in my classroom. And, I speak to my children who hopefully will speak to other children who hopefully will speak to others, spreading the message of God’s love through his Son, and peace and reconciliation through Him.”
Many women like this one are impacting their communities with the message of reconciliation. As a result, Musalaha is searching for more ways in which to empower and involve women in the process.
1. Aisake Casimira. (2003). The Role of Women in Developing a Culture of Peace. Paper presented at the Ministry of Reconciliation and Unity workshop titled “The Hand that Rock the Cradle holds the key to a United Fiji”