“My Seat at the United Nations” found below, is the insider’s version of the Global Women’s Peace Initiative. The following one is the Cover article that was published by Bloom Magazine. This title was the name of the conference at the time. I will add that this Initiative was the first, and, now re-named the Global Peace Initiative of Women, the organization is still effecting remarkable change in the world. It was a tremendous honour to have been invited to participate in 2002, and I hope my life will allow me to be a part of it again some day. You can read about them on their site GPIW
The Global Women’s’ Peace Initiative of Spiritual and Religious Leaders
United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, 2002
by Judith Cockman
Cover Story, Bloom Magazine, December 2002
The mothers of the World came together in the great halls of the United Nations in Geneva, Switzerland on October 7, 2002. They came carrying the mantle of religious and spiritual leaders. They came as business and government leaders. As women dressed in saris and slacks, simple brown tunics and Chanel suits. Women committed to taking action for Peace. Women determined to change the world.
And they did.
Five hundred women crossed oceans, crossed nations, crossed faiths, crossed race and crossed economic boundaries with an urgency that combusted. The prayers of these powerful women lifted the roof of the United Nations off its hinges. The intensity with which they worked for fours days shaped the paradigm shift we have been waiting for.
They did it by creating a global network marrying women’s powerful spiritual resources with their political expertise, business acumen, financial resources, contacts, and a burning determination to raise our sisters and children from this crucible of pain.
The untold story of war is that of the true victims – women and children. In staggering numbers and with inhumane means, women are being silenced through the annihilation of their communities and their hope. The Global Women’s Peace Initiative of Religious and Spiritual Leaders demand an end to the devastation.
Noeleen Heyzer, Executive Director of UNIFEM, the United Nations Development Fund for Women, is working hands-on with the women of the ravaged regions of our world. She is clear on how we can build the bridges between what is needed and how we as businesswomen can meet those needs. It’s critical that we help women in war and post war regions develop resources and the markets to deliver them to.
Noeleen introduced us to a few women of the Avega Widows Association in Rwanda. Previously warring Hutu and Tutsi widows belong to the association and have adopted each other’s orphaned children. It was a humbling experience to meet these women, wrapped in brown scarves and silent courage. They are struggling to revitalize their communities after the genocide killed 70% of their men. Even as they carry the anguish of their murdered children, they adopt babies born of rape, tend their sisters and daughters suffering from intentionally induced HIV Aids, care for children who have been sexually mutilated. They make beautiful, elaborately constructed baskets that, if sold, could begin the economic revitalization of their community. Anne Glauber, the facilitator of the Business Roundtable, orchestrated the partnership of the handicraft importing company, Eziba, and UNIFEM, to facilitate the distribution of these baskets into North America where they will be marketed through catalogue, internet and retail.
We also met several women from Afghanistan. The extraordinary beauty of one, her gaunt face consumed by haunted eyes, pierced me. The Minister for Women of Afghanistan asked for our help in teaching the women of her country their basic rights. Help in establishing businesses of raising poultry, raising animals, the honey industry, the leather industry for handbags, briefcases, shoes. In order to bring her country’s women into the modern world they need our help to teach them business, accounting, computer expertise. Our newly formed Business Council committed to creating a web site to act as a reverse e-bay whereby women of war regions can post their needs on the site – be it legal advice, books, computers, etc – and have these needs met by women in the West. The Council is calling for businesswomen willing to mentor women of these countries in business skills.
We determined to assist UNIFEM in raising the funds to build and support 30 women’s shelters across Afghanistan to serve as safe places for women. Havens where guns and oppression are banished for the moment, where they can drop their burkas, be in community and learn basic life skills such as cooking, sewing and reading. Under Taliban rule, women were not permitted to go to school or work and the Afghan illiteracy rate among women is estimated at 85%. Noeleen cautions us that what we offer to the women of Afghanistan and how we integrate it into their communities is a very delicate operation. The transitional government of the country is fragile and any shift in power could result in women who are seen to have rocked the boat in being shot.
This Summit was one of tremendous healing and power. In the words of Dena Merriam, the Convener of this summit, “I have been to many inter-religious gatherings over the years but have never found the degree of spiritual harmony that we achieved in Geneva. This confirms to me that women can see unity where others see differences, that women can bypass political barriers and through empathy create a state of true listening and sharing. I am enormously grateful for the environment of trust and caring that we were able to create in Geneva.”
During our brief but life-changing time together, women whose own children had been murdered in the name of the religion of she who sat next to her, prayed together. Muslims – who make up 90% of the world’s refugees, 80% of whom are women and children – broke bread with Jew. Lily, a Palestinian woman, collapsed upon her arrival after a frightening two-day escape from her country. On the third day, she sat in a Circle of Compassion with an Israeli woman, sharing her story of anguish – the curfews, the killings, and the paralyzation of her community’s economy – and was heard. An Israeli mother of four who’s 14 year old son was found with his head bashed in by Palestinian terrorists described her excruciating journey from agony to her creation of a camp for children who have lost family members to terrorist acts. A young Muslim woman, her pain stretched across her skin like a strait jacket, recounted her determined journey from the destruction of her teenage world during the five-year Bosnian war to her degree as an architect and her present job reconstructing the architectural heritage of her beloved city.
Israeli and Palestinian educators alike spoke of the hopelessness of their children. The critical need for peace education to break the legacy of hatred and intolerance. Americans shared their efforts in establishing peace education in their schools and the urgency with which we must address the problem of racism, beginning in kindergarten.
A young firefighter from New York, who was involved in the September 11th tragedy, arrived at the Summit cynical in her expectations and full of anger toward the terrorists. By the time she left she spoke of the transformation of her heart and her attitude, and announced plans to start a worldwide magazine for the voices of youth around the globe. Financing for her project was fully committed by a Summit participant before the closing ceremony.
All of the Religious and Spiritual leaders who spoke at this unprecedented Initiative repeated one shared message, again and again … The only way we are going to save the world is through prayer. By developing a pure mind and a pure heart, clearing our “pipelines”, giving us access to the God-given energies within us. Through the conscious decision of each one of us to love, to be in truth and to act with compassion, we can heal ourselves. Peace will be reflected in the world around us when we choose peace within our own hearts. This spiritual evolution is the paradigm shift we have been seeking.
This takes courage.
But we are the mothers of the world. The job is ours. The web is being woven. Let us join our prayers and our actions and become weavers of the transformation.
Copyright © Judith Cockman