by student contributor Laura Kilbury
Throughout history women have been the leaders and defenders of peace. Does that make women “dangerous”?
On the evening of May 19th, the Global Women’s Institute (GWI) held the event, “Women in Peace and Conflict”. The conversation centered on the roles that women have played in peace operations throughout history. The event was honored by the 1997 Nobel Peace Prize Laureat and Chair of the Nobel Women’s Initiative, Jodi Williams and Dr. Wendy E. Chmielewski who is the George R. Cooley Curator of the Swarthmore College Peace Collection.
The first question centered upon the contextualization of women and peace throughout history. Chmielewski discussed how throughout history women led the mainstream peace operations, particularly beginning in the years 1812 through 1850. This brought up the a underlining note; what if there were more women peacekeepers in the United Nations broad and narrow peace operations? What would that look like? How would that alter not only the outward view of UN peace keeping operations, but the internal armature of how those peace keeping missions are conducted? The discussion did not come up with a complete answer to those questions, but highlighted the fact that women throughout, America’s own history, have been leaders in the change and drive for peace and social justice.
Chmielewski continued with the fact that during times of violence women are the ones that face the burned of economic and emotional hardship, which, according to Chmielewski, resulted in women taking the charge in the drive for peace. Women faced, and still do, the more pressing ramifications when there is conflict. Whether it be working on children’s tempers in the home or civil rights for all citizens, women according to were the leaders.
This echoes what Patricia Arquette said when receiving her Oscar, “”To every woman who gave birth to every taxpayer and citizen of this nation, we have fought for everybody else’s equal rights… It’s our time to have wage equality once and for all and equal rights for women in the United States of America.”
Chmielewski was concentrating on the historical aspect of the conversation, however, Williams brought the dialogue towards an issue she has found from her studies and working in peace operations, which is that , “Women are not taken seriously.” Williams cites the fact that while the United Nations was touting UNSCR 1325 which calls for the inclusion of a gender perspective in all levels of UN peace and security efforts and asserts the critical role of women in peace processes, there was only two women that were represented on the board. While Ban Ki moon added two more women on the table of peace negotiations, Williams expressed how troublesome this was to her. How can the U.N. show off the very impressive 1325 resolution, but at the same time not have a woman leading the table of peace negotionations? What does this still say about our society? Accordingly, Williams closes her argument with her views that while 1325 is a step, there are still gaps and miles to go.
One woman in the crowd asked the question of whether or not war contributed and perpetuated violence and enforced society to consume violence through other means such as, video games. Williams was the first to respond with how she perceived America’s exceptionalism, particularly emphasizing what she realized as a grassroots activist during the Vietnam War. She touched on how she feels that America embraces the “glory of war” and how “real” men feel that they have to defend. It has been engrained into American society. However, she then stopped and pondered upon the question of, “What is glorious about war?”
This leads to the question of, what is peace. As Williams further stated, “peace is hard work”. However, can women be taken seriously in peace operations?
This is where the conversation started hitting deeper at the root of what is at stake for Women in Conflict and Peace. Chmielewski discussed how the year 1915 saw women as “dangerous”. Dangerous and peace are two words that don’t fit together. However as Chmielewski pointed out, women were challenging war in various facets. Ultimately by challenging war, women were challenging the hegemony of the masculine world. The roles that women were assigned early on as well as the roles that men were assigned were, and still are, hard to let go.
Williams at the end of the conversations spoke directly to the crowd. “Dangerous women. Celebrate it. We need more dangerous women.”