Intervention by Mrs. Carolyn Handschin, Vice President, Women’s Federation for World Peace International (WFWPI)
Conference on the topic « Multiculturalism: A contribution to Peace ? »
United Nations Office Geneva • Room XIX (19), Geneva, September, 2011.
In this presentation, I want to use this opportunity to speak about some best practices of the Women’s Federation for World Peace in the area of women and development, targeting this issue of multicultural divisions or interreligious divisions. I chose a few quotes, one which was mentioned earlier today by Doctor Song, who himself quotes David Cameron's proclamation about the failure in multiculturalism in Great Britain, who said, “We have failed to provide a vision of society to which they (citizens) feel they want to belong.” I think that’s a good starting point. So, how can we make our compatriots, our very multi-ethnic, multicultural neighbors feel like they want to belong and contribute to our communities. I chose another quote from Eleanor Roosevelt that I like very much. She said, “Where after all the universal human rights begin? In small places, close to home... Without concerted citizens action to uphold them close to home, we shall look in vain for progress in the larger world.”
Let me give you just a brief overview of Women’s Federation for World Peace, founded in 1992 with a very simple motto translated from the Korean, “Humankind is one family sharing one home, the Earth.” That's a very broad motto. You can go anywhere with that. Basically, WFWP is a network of national chapters in over 100 nations, adhering to the principle that women working together, taking initiative and empowering one another across traditional lines of race, culture and religion, to create healthy families and vibrant communities, are resolving naturally the complex problems of our society and world. Ultimately, solutions that come as true partnerships between men and women are established throughout the society.
I won’t go into any detail here, but just to show you that we are active on many fronts: from the most basic health care and humanitarian projects to education-oriented activities in “living” human rights. In fact, my own personal love and passion is working with the Universal Declaration of Human Rights (UDHR) and am now creating a women’s training program, going step by step through each one of the articles of the UDHR and applying it in a very empowering way for women to work with.
Article 21 of the Universal Declaration, concerning the awareness of our rights and living our dignity, explains that everyone is “entitled to contribute to the betterment of society”, adding that it is even “essential to do so for one's dignity and free development of one's personality”. This is sort of a starting point of our lecture series, of our working together with women to empower them possibly in areas where they do not yet feel confident or view themselves as fitting in the category of “leaders”- maybe simply because in their family or religion, girls are not. We have to only look to see how women are leading, nurturing, guiding their children to recognize that potential.
WFWP is convinced that girls and women hold an incredible potential for influencing change, not in spite of, but because of our unique blends of “femininity”. Their concerns and style are often different than men’s, but when harmonized can provide the broadest impact and coverage. What some woman are able to figure out in conflict situations with no support or training is phenomenal, simply due to innate qualities, life experience and desperation to provide security and a future for their loved ones. We need a world in which all girls and boys are encouraged and educated from early childhood -to follow their hearts and consciences and get involved, to take responsibility freely when they sense a change is needed somewhere within their reach.
We work very much with the Millennium Development Goals in terms of our target areas and have many humanitarian projects that provide technical support and in which we always try to engage the locals. Our global poverty eradication programs and projects include holding large conferences at the UN in New York as a means to bring some of the grassroots successes to meet the strategists and policy makers. There are many humanitarian projects and educational programs throughout many developing countries, each garnered to fit the needs and resources of the local community. We are implicated with many works in different institutions at the same time thanks to our partnership with the UN.
My first case study looks at how WFWP has been engaged to support a better integration policy, again working with come components of the UDHR as a common language. We are trying to explain through life experience in a way that is less confrontational than is often the case with Human Rights. Those present in the audience who sit with me in the Human Rights Council understand what I mean. There are different ways that you can work with human rights, and I think the most powerful way is informing about rights, but in a way they can be used to instill a sense of inclusivity and empower not only ourselves, but also those around us to a greater sense of civic responsibility.
In Europe, we have a program called the “Living Dignity Program” which we've had for about 5 years. It's a campaign and educational toolkit, developed by our German WFWP and its President to develop a sustainably peaceful society. There's a whole lecture series you can find online at our WFWP Europe website, and we have proactive campaigns just working with local women to, for instance, gather women and mothers and go to lobby local kiosks that show very disrespectful images of naked women on the bottom shelf of the newspaper stand, in plain sight of children who come to buy candy. Somehow, by working together in solidarity, try to bring a change in small, very important ways. That way, women become more empowered to do more and more as they see success on those levels.
I don't want to dwell on this, but it's important that we understand the many things that are occurring in our world. Many of us here, a big part of the UN included, are working on these problems, but I believe it's vital that we understand where we can affect change. Maybe I can't stop a prostitution ring or international trafficking, but I can do something locally about taking care of my family to make sure that my children understand that conflicts and disagreements should be solved in a peaceful way, and that if we make a mistake and hurt someone else, we should reconcile that mistake before we go on to the next. The statistics fall far behind from what we're hoping for, and the many declarations that we're dealing with, especially in the UN or even in the government, shows us how much of a way we still need to go before we can be where we want to be. Declarations aren’t bad, but they are not made to be hung on a wall and forgotten about. They are meant to regularly remind us of where want to be.
Did you know that two thirds of the world's 871 million illiterates are women, three fifths of the 150 million children out of school are girls, only 20% selected to parliament are women, there is no country in the world where women earn as much as men, and since the founding of the UN, of the 49 presidents of the general assembly elected since 1945, only two were women. For a real breakthrough in our multiculturalism and peace topic today, we realize that we need better advocacy skills, inclusion of women's views in policy development and a value-based inclusive core to our strategy. I have chosen 7 different areas or projects to briefly highlight for the European Leadership conference today.
Since 1993, WFWP has been engaged in what we call “Bridge of Peace Reconciliation Programs”. It has been recognized as a very effective way of healing the wounds of abuse, intolerance, prejudice and war. It attempts to overcome collective pain and enmity as individuals, representing those collectives, take meaningful steps to reconcile, to heal and to commit together for actions of peace. As we heard earlier today, it is not just dialogue that plays an essential role in reconciliation, but actually the ensuing cooperation; we have to follow-up our dialogue by cooperating with each other based upon what we just agreed upon. Literally hundreds and hundreds of these were performed worldwide- to my great astonishment when I tried to collect some examples so that we could put them in the UNESCO Culture of Peace website. You’ll find the long 5 or 6 page list on our www.wfwp.org website. It is an opportunity for individuals, in this case, women, to have a sense of contributing to World peace, not just local peace. As you can see here in the picture of the German-French Sisterhood in Paris, this peace goes beyond personal experience, extending into the far reaches of the past and attempting to resolve these early WWI/WWII tensions. The atmosphere created when we make these ceremonies is profound and at times even, life-changing; it's like one of these moments where you have a chance to truly understand what you can do to make a change, and then of course it's up to you how far you are going to go with it.
In many cases, like in the next picture, the ceremonies lead to longer-term projects. This took place in Ireland, Belfast. It was an event that brought together many women activists from the north and south of the Irish Isle. They spontaneously decided to maker a project together, and they made a peace garden in Belfast, which sprang from these women who were very inspired and encouraged about what kind of valuable contribution they could make to peace in their country. Others examples of Peace Bridge we had were Hungary/Slovakia, Czech/Slovak…The most recent event we've had was in Spain; it wasn't a ceremony like all others, but in the context of our annual European meeting, we invited the 87 women leaders in attendance to cross the Bridge of Peace, two by two, by lottery. There were some amazing discoveries as we got to know each other later, and we all together thought, “Okay, what can we do together?” for Europe.
Here you see a list of one of about 10 pages of these ceremonies. I know you can’t read them, but I just wanted you to have the impression. You have Germany/Russia, Britain/Germany, Norway/Germany, Austria/Germany, Germany/Jewish women, France/Germany/Spain, France/America, Japan, and so on… These examples here are Europe-related events, but these conference took place all over the world: Japan/Korea, etc. If you can imagine the kind of deeply painful things that happened in some of these enemy relations, we can experience this kind of reconciliation. These two pictures here are taken from a reconciliation ceremony in North Korea, and the ladies, one of which is the WFWP president, are speaking to a North Korean leader who was sent by the North Korean government to represent women of the north. We followed up making projects together with North Korea, from aid to flood victims, and we mobilized some youth from South Korea to work together with farmers in North Korea, and many other projects…
So this almost magical Bridge of Peace ceremony became a beginning point for personal and profound revolution of heart that opened lasting partnerships between former enemies. This next slide is special because it is the youth program that sprang out of our many WFWP development programs. It started in 1992, and it didn’t start with “Let’s eradicate poverty”, it started out with the idea “Let’s put our minds and hearts together and see what we can do for women who are underutilized and who have so much to offer. We have so many problems in the world and women have much to give. They can do such a good job in their families, in their communities. How can we expand that so they can work on a higher platform in their communities and in their world, and have the sense of contributing to a larger benefit?”
In this picture, these are the children of the women who went out on missions in 1992 through 2000. They experienced their mothers sometimes going away for months at a time to Africa, to South-East Asia, to South America, coming back with great testimonies of what they did in these local communities, supporting the women, creating education programs or humanitarian projects, whatever was needed there. They helped the women to try and figure out how to implement their ideas for change. At the time it wasn’t so easy for the children because the mothers went away. Eventually these children grew up and started going to the countries where their mothers had been working, and had life-changing experiences. I’ve recently seen a book of different testimonies of these youth, of how their worldview changed through their experiences in a culturally very different country. Many were Japanese youth who went to these far countries. This clearly shows how this process can be multiplied, trans-generationally too.
Here is another project that came. An interreligious service prayer for peace in Birmingham, England, in 1993, between women of many different cultural heritages. They continued to meet every month since. From those gatherings sparked the idea of doing a large project together. The founder and initiator, the WFWP leader, went to India and saw such a great need, and together, they built an Interfaith Children’s Home, which you can see here. In an ongoing way, they’re contributing to that. To this day- and have done many other projects together.
I unfortunately don’t have more time to tell about this project, so I’ll directly go to the conclusion. My conclusion is that the trend towards multicultural societies is inevitable. But making people want to belong depends on our providing opportunities for inclusion. I think this incredible resource of girls, women, femininity, motherhood, and all these aspects that have been long under-utilized, especially in terms of strategic development in the society and strategic planning, deserves a chance. I think if we really take that more to heart, and give serious consideration to the role of the family as basic building block for integration and stability, then our possibility to reach our goals of “peaceful, prosperous, multicultural communities”, can be realized.
Thank you very much.
Author: Mrs. Carolyn Handschin-Moser
Vice President, Women’s Federation for World Peace International (WFWPI)
Mrs. Handschin-Moser is overseeing the development of WFWP (www.wfwp.org) in Europe. Before becoming the Director of the UN Office for WFWPI, she led its advocacy team at the United Nations in Geneva for 19 years, focusing on peace and human rights through the empowerment of women and girls and protection of the family. Her concern for youth led her to found the WFWPI-UN Internship program in Geneva in 2005, where she is the Director. She has been the co-coordinator of the Middle East Women’s Conference Series for 12 years. Mrs. Handschin is also co-founder of the Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance (www.giia.ch), a youth Model UN Interfaith Council Program. She has seven children, three granddaughters and a supportive husband who are a resource and inspiration for her work.