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Since the 1970s the United Nations and other international women’s conferences have adopted Equality, Development and Peace as an organizing theme and framework for women's activities in development. Women would not only benefit from peaceful structures, as opposed to violent structures which oppress them, but they also have a role to play in building peaceful relationships and structures, and cultivating values, attitudes, relationships and structures which UNESCO has referred to as a "Culture of Peace".

Culture of peace is consistent with the women’s movement theme that equality, development and peace are inextricably linked. There can be no lasting peace without development and no sustainable development without full equality between men and women.

This interdisciplinary program by UNESCO is meant to encourage member states, individual citizens and other public and private agencies to promote principles, practices and conduct based on the universal values of peace, respect for life, justice, solidarity, tolerance, human rights and equality between women and men. A culture of peace calls for non-violent relations not only between states but also between individuals, between social groups, between a state and all its citizens, and between humans and their environment. It seeks to overcome within and across societies problems of militarization and militarism from macro to micro levels, of direct violence, of structural violence of poverty and inequalities, human rights violations, cultural intolerance and conflicts, environmental destruction and personal peacelessness. It therefore seeks to promote economic security and equity as well as respect for human rights; cultivate cultural solidarity, environmental care and sustainable development; establish political security and democracy and facilitate the empowerment and full participation of women.

Women have been taking lead roles in defining social concepts and global issues in areas such as development, democracy, human rights, world security and the environment (Bunch, 1995). Women have therefore contributed significant efforts in movements for peace in diverse cultural, social and geographical contexts. Women are highly visible in peace building groups and initiatives (Sylvester, 1992). Polls show that women oppose budget increases in military expenditures and deployment of new weapons more frequently than men (Brock-Utne, 1985). It is therefore common to think of women as being pro-peace. Women in general have sometimes been characterized as “natural pacifists” with a “proverbial” interest in peace (Aronof, 1986). Women’s struggle for peace is connected to the concern for human life, for children, for themselves and for other women. Women always strive to reach other women in the opposite camps. Women usually employ a varied set of nonviolent techniques, acts, strategies to resolve issues (Brock-Utne, 1985).

Are women more peace loving than men? Saraicino (1988) said human aggression is a problem for men, not women, It is men who wage wars, engage in bitter competition fight each other individually and maintain vendettas lasting for years or even decades. Schreiner (1991) said men have made boomerangs, bows, swords or guns with which to destroy one another. There is no battle field on earth which it has not cost the women more in actual bloodshed than it has cost the men who lie there. Women peace efforts are often dismissed as simply part of general softness of women nature or as part of their motherhood role (Vellacott 1988). Women have never institutionalized violence (Brock-Utne 1985). Girls are taught to be more submissive, less demanding and more nurturing than males. Women fulfill their assigned roles in war as well as in peace sacrificing their sons, husbands and lovers without complaining but mourning their loss (Vellacot 1988). Sylvester (1992) however does not think it is an advantage for women to be so docile. They should embrace classical Marxism which she says has a warrior philosophy to fight patriarchy that has bolstered male supremacy.

Mahatma Gandhi viewed women as the incarnation of ahimsa and added that due to a different socialization process, women have tended to grow up more peaceful than men and more capable of solving conflicts in a nonviolent manner. Peace often starts in the minds of women, Mahatma Gandhi added (Gandhi 1992). Margaret Atwood once commented that as far as she heard, war and rape were two activities not extensively engaged in by women (Vellacott, 1985). While most of the world’s violence is perpetrated by men, most of its nonviolent nurturing is done by women (Brock-Utne, 1985). Almost all of the women’s human rights organizations of the late nineteenth and twentieth centuries saw world peace as part of their vision for a new society (Ruether, 1987). Women usually assume roles of peacemakers in families, in communities and in societies. They are seen as women as saviors of the world (Brock-Utne 1985). Historically women have made efforts in movements for peace. They are considered to be natural peace lovers. Peace Pilgrim the indomitable American Woman (1951-1981) covered 25,000 miles on foot for peace and vowed to continue to walk for peace until human beings have learnt the way of peace (Pilgrim 1982). Betha von Suttner the German actual initiator of the Nobel Peace Prize (1843-1914) without whom there would be no Nobel peace Prize worked relentlessly to promote peace. She was the one who having known and worked closely with Alfred Nobel urged him to set aside some amount as a prize for anyone who worked for peace. Alfred Nobel invented dynamite, a weapon of destruction, but regards himself as a pacifist and made some fortune from the invention. Betha was never mentioned, until she herself got a prize which she should have received much earlier. However women have traditionally not been well represented at international peace negotiations.

As noted in the Declaration on the Participation of Women in Promoting Peace and Cooperation, which was proclaimed by the UN Assembly in December 1982: Although women non-governmental organizations (NGOs) have been working in the field of disarmament and arms control, more opportunity is still needed for women to participate in national and international meetings on peace, conflict resolution, the disarmament and meetings of the Security Council. Betty Reardon (1992), one of the pioneers in education for a culture of peace, has challenged our contemporary realities of a war system as opposed to a peace system using the gender centered concept of nurturing. If we are to think peace, we need a paradigm of peace to move us from a “warring” society to a parenting or caring society, in which all adults parent the young and care for the vulnerable. In this quest for building a more peaceful world, Reardon (1988) equally highlights the crucial contributions of women. She says the acquisition of peace knowledge helps women to become peacemakers and peace keepers, to subvert the "war-system.” The war system refers to the practices, institutions and interrelationships which are essentially violent, and which destroy relationships, impede social development and human fulfillment. The alternative is to enthrone a "peace-system" where the society becomes peaceful and the natural order becomes what nature ordains, “… an organic peace that sustains healthy persons and creative societies” (Reardon, 1988 p.51).

UNESCO in acknowledging women's role in giving and sustaining life, thereby contributing to a culture of peace, said women have been provided with skills and insights essential to peaceful human relations and social development. Through different socialization modes, women subscribe less readily than men to the myth of the efficacy of violence in bringing peace. Women can also bring a new breadth, quality and balance of vision to a joint effort of moving from a culture of war towards a culture of peace (UNESCO 1995). In building this culture of peace, women as we shall see have been organizing themselves into various groups addressing issues that would lead to overall peace.

Women and Demilitarization

Long before the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies for the Advancement of Women (1975) recognized the role of women in peace, women have already been very much involved in peace building and the anti-war and anti-nuclear movement (McAllister, 1982). At the beginning of World War I, women from 13 countries came together in Hague to protest the war. They started the Women International League for Peace and Freedom, The Dutch Women for Peace and against Nuclear Weapons and the Nordic Women for Peace which lobbied for all acts of aggression to be abolished (Oslo, 1980). In 1981, the Women of Greenham Common in Wales marched 125 miles to protest against the cruise missiles that government planned to install in all of the 102 NATO bases in Britain. At the foot of Mount Fuji in Japan, some Shibakusa women built a cottage where they maintained a permanent peace and protest camp (Brock-Utne, 1985). As a social group, women have been appropriately identified as being pro-peace. Women are highly visible in peace movements. Polls show that women oppose increases in military expenditures and deployment of new weapons more frequently than men (Brock-Utne, 1985; Sylvester, 1992). In spite of all the barriers of gender discrimination, women's interest in peace has been powerful. Women have been highly visible in the forefront of movements for nonviolence and peace worldwide. Women usually assume roles of peacemakers in families, in communities and in societies even though they have often always been victims (Brock-Utne, 1985).

Women and Development

A growing body of advocates have been calling for a close linkage between the concepts of development and peace. There can be no peace without equitable development for all human beings, and no development without peaceful conditions in society. During the first United Nations Development Decade (1960-70), questions such as "have women been equally affected by development?", "have men and women been equally empowered to influence and control the natural and social environment and to have power over events?" were noticeably absent in discussions of development (Young, 1993). Development practitioners never considered women's needs. Women were thought of as part of the household, which is headed by the male. The assumption was that the benefits trickled down to the women as a member of the family unit (Moser, 1993). Women's activities as cultivators of land, processors of food traders, wage workers, unpaid laborers did not enter into planners' concept of development (Charlton, 1984; Ostergaard, 1992; Moser, 1993; Young, 1993). However recently, more attention to subsistence agriculture has led to a greater appreciation of women's work. Concern for wealth distribution has led to the awareness that women constitute a large portion of the poorest of the poor while still providing almost all the family's basic needs. Through the 70's, the rise of women's movements on development issues and supportive organizational development in United Nations other aid agencies led to a decisive link between women's rights, equality, equity, development and peace (Young, 1983; Charlton, 1984; Ostergaard, 1992; Moser, 1993; ILO, 1980).

The declaration of the United Nations Decade for Women (1976-85) as well as the four International Women's conferences in Mexico, Copenhagen, Nairobi and Beijing were also vital forums for promoting the connection between development and peace especially as it impacts on the status of women (Pietila & Vickers, 1984; United Nations, 1995). Theorists and practitioners within the women's movement have advocated a succession of paradigms or frameworks on women and development problems, namely women in development (WID), women and development (WAD), gender and development (GAD), women environment, and development (WED) for promoting greater equity and participation of women in development which they claim would lead to world peace.

Women and Human Rights

Since the adoption by the General Assembly of an International Bill of Human Rights for Women called the 1979 Convention on the Elimination of All forms of Discrimination Against Women (CEDAW), many women’s organizations have been working for the protection of the rights and dignity and needs of women. Although the gap between women and men in terms of human rights promotion remains great, such advocacy has yielded progress across many specific areas. This was evident in the 1993 Vienna Conference on Human Rights at which several clauses on women’s human rights were included in the final declaration and framework for action.

In spite of the Convention on the Elimination of Violence against of all Forms of Discrimination against women (CEDAW), violence against women continued to be the greatest social problem of women's rights violation (Fitzpatrick, 1994). Violence denies women their fundamental humanity, and their freedom to be women (Romany, 1994). It also maintains patriarchy. International Women's Rights Action Watch and Women's International Human Rights Law Rights Organization are using the language of rights and international laws in quest for women's equality, protection and individual dignity to advance claims for social justice at international and local levels for women (Ilumoka, 1994; Sotela, 1994).

Women’s rights is an equal opportunity concept which have been impeded by civil and political limitations placed on them, social laws economic and cultural laws and an emergent one is their marginalization even in the spiritual realm. In addition to the original issues being mentioned as violations of women rights, like equal pay for equal jobs, equal opportunity, and so on, some other issues have gained currency in public debate about women’s rights. Gender based violence has become a human rights paradigm (Bunch, 1995). Some of the other issues are lesbian rights, reproductive rights, welfare and poverty, and child custody. Rights of women of color is gradually seeping especially in the discourse on feminization of poverty (Stetson, 1997).

Charlesworth (1994) believes that international human rights law has not been applied effectively to redress the disadvantages and injustices experienced by women. In this sense respect for human rights fail to be universal. She argues that there is basic lack of understanding of the systemic nature of the subordination of women as a human rights violation and lack of state practice to condemn discrimination against women. Coomaraswamy (1994) argues that for human rights to be effective they have to become a respected part of the culture and traditions of a given society. She warns against dividing the world into bipolar categories, and contributing to the concept that those in the West or North are “progressive” and those in the East or South are “barbaric” and “backwards”. Also those in the East and South must be equally cautious not to subscribe to the reverse notion that accepts the division and believes that the East and South is “superior,” more “communal” and “less self centered", believing that human rights law was instituted by colonizing powers to replace indigenous, religious, and social traditions.

Mahoney (1997) also warns that there will always be a backlash to human rights for women. She describes backlash as the politics of resentment, the reaction by groups which are declining in a felt sense of importance, influence and power. She adds that reaction is not only to women’s rights but also to other society’s “outsiders” like the first nations, people of color, feminists, lesbians and gay. She says resistance to human rights operate when specific efforts are made to improve the status of minority groups and women. Backlash promoters usually see these efforts as threats to their economic and social well being, and so fears, resentment, ignorance and intolerance are manipulated for the purpose of rolling back the progress and recognition of human rights in both public and private spheres.

Women and the Environment

In recent years, the dimension of environmental violence and environmental care has also been increasingly recognized as vital to women’s development and peace. In all South regions, environmental degradation and destruction have impacted severely on women’s livelihood and subsistence (Shiva 1988; Rathberger 1990; Chimedza 1993). This analytical deepening has been referred to as “women, environment and development” (WED). Gender, environment, and development (GED) came into mainline thinking after the Earth Summit in Rio where the full integration of women in the tasks of solving environmental problems and promoting sustainable development was called for.

There is a commonly held belief that women are responsible for much of the environmental destruction taking place in rural areas. Laying blame on the women is to ignore the globally linked causes of environmental destruction, which have created and continued to create a situation of scarcity that often forces women into ecologically destructive actions (Wiltshire 1992). The women and environmental movement is based on the full recognition of the fact that without a healthy environment there is no life.

Women’s mobilization for the environment therefore engages two battles, first against the ecological degradation that surrounds them and second against traditional power structures that subordinate their needs (Suliman, 1991). Wiltshire (1992) has contested the northern developmentalist myth that the poor are destroying the environment, that population growth is responsible for environmental degradation and that the South women need to be taught by northern experts how to recover their environment. She also drew attention to the consumption pattern and affluent life style in the North and of the elite of the South, which she claimed is equally destructive to the environment. Since then, many have called for people centered approaches to natural-resources use (Braidotti et al, 1997). Since its emergence, WED thinking has been enriched by the field of feminists discourse popularly known as “ecofeminism.” As Gaard (1993) noted, ecofeminism argued that no attempt to liberate women or any other oppressed group will be successful without an equal attempt to liberate nature. Ecofeminist movement works on the premise that the earth is at a turning point and women's efforts are critical at this time. Ecofeminism is a holistic value system with some basic precepts namely: the need for social transformation, a reconstruction of values, promotion of equality, nonviolence, cultural diversity, reverence and empathy for nature, and awareness of the interconnectedness of all life processes (Birkeland, 1993).

A culture of peace requires that the violence of economic and social deprivation is confronted. Poverty and social injustices such as exclusion and discrimination weigh heavily on women. Efforts to move towards a culture of peace must be present in all sectors of human existence. Women as peace makers have been contributing to the building of a culture of peace in their multidimensional involvement by weaving a cultural tapestry of peace, observing the seven principles, norms, values of compassion, conscientization, constructiveness, conciliation, communion, commitment, and contemplation which are indispensable in building this culture of peace (Toh & Floresca-Cawagas, 1990).


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Adenike Yesufu from Nigeria obtained her Ph.D. in International/Intercultural Education from the University of Alberta, Edmonton, Alberta, Canada. Office address : Education North Building 7th floor Education Policy Studies. Telephone : 780-476-6589 (home ) Fax : 780-492-076---e-mail:

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