Tuesday, May 8, 2012

Walking the Path of Peace with CARIWA

It was a great honour and privilege to take part in the Caribbean Women’s Association (CARIWA) 21st Biennial Conference hosted by Grenada National Organization of Women (GNOW) and held in Grenada last week. The theme of the conference was ‘Creating Cultures of Peace’ and as serendipity often does, it blew its magic in my direction as I was invited to facilitate a morning session on the concept of peace. I found myself in a room of Caribbean women leaders and was humbled and in awe of the opportunity to share peace teachings as well as learn and acquire new skills, experience, and knowledge.

The two day workshop was emotional, enlightening, shocking, empowering and humbling. Women’s personal, community, and national stories of violence against women was heart wrenching and yet at the same time hope shone bright as women’s solidarity spoke passionately of a commitment to fight harder for equality, justice, and peace through non – violent strategies to transform cultures of violence into cultures of peace.

During the Opening Ceremony the featured speaker, Dr. Greaves, spoke of the violent history of the Caribbean beginning with the genocide of indigenous people, to the brutal reality of African slave trade, to oppressive and deadly colonial systems, to continuous strife and chaos of a post-colonial world to present day political tribalism, state corruption, continuous forms of violence perpetuated against women and children, and economic and spiritual poverty. Dr. Greaves began with the Caribbean’s brutal history and its tragic effects however he also spoke powerfully of the strength, resiliency, and courage of Caribbean people who not only survived but overcame such atrocities. Dr. Greaves reminded us of the peace existing within the region and how the Caribbean shares a state of peace that is non-existent in many other parts of the world and because of this he suggested that we use the word ‘nurturing’ cultures of peace rather than ‘creating’ cultures of peace.     

President of GNOW, Ms. Bartholomew, in her welcoming words expressed how troubled Caribbean women leaders were regarding the high rates of domestic and sexual violence against women in the Caribbean. She voiced “violence in the Caribbean, on a whole, is alarming for a region that is not at war.” Ms. Bartholomew also spoke of some of the structural factors that give rise to conflict such as poverty, unequal distribution of resources, and the weak rule of law in the region. Ms. McQueen, President of CARIWA, too spoke of the alarming records of violence in the region such as the Caribbean having the highest rate of murder and rape in the world; the rise of youth violence in schools and gangs; the transhipment of illegal drugs; the high incidences of physical assaults and other criminal activity; and the pervasiveness of violence and disrespect for human rights in Caribbean music as well in daily language. Both Ms. McQueen and Ms. Bernadette spoke passionately of the human spirit, both women full of hope as they welcomed and acknowledged the presence of Caribbean women leaders throughout the region coming together in the name of peace and women. 

We began the two day workshop with the teachings of the peace line.  The peace line analytical modal (PLAM) is a participatory research tool that enabled us to critically examine the meaning and factors influencing peace and peaceless situations from our own personal experiences and perspectives.  We explored our own individual states of peace and peacelessness and acknowledged the importance of understanding ourselves first and foremost as a means of understanding more fully others.    As one  participant noted “war and peace begins in the minds of individuals.” While another participant spoke with passion on"trusting and understanding one another through understanding and trusting ourselves first.”    The peace line also gave us the opportunity to examine different perspectives of peace/peacelesness that women expereince both within our communities and societies.  

Lively discussions in the afternoon revolved around culture and the changing nature of culture. We discussed the meaning of myths, beliefs, attitudes and behaviours which led to women sharing very difficult stories of violence against women based on attitudes and behaviours within their communities. For example a story was shared of a 13 year old child who became pregnant. There were thirteen  men as potential fathers. Ages of the men ranged from 24 to 70 years old. Some of the people from the girl’s community reacted with “the girl greedy!”  Blame was placed on the child and not the men. At the court hearing, some of the women from the same community arrived in support of the men not the child.  It was voiced within the group  that too often young girls and women are blamed by both men and women for the sexual violence perpetuated against them. Other hard stories were shared by representatives from different islands that exemplified various attitudes and behaviours that continue to promote, tolerate and normalize violence against women and violence in general.

The highlight of the second day was a powerful talk by Hon. Joan Purcell, a former elected Member of Parliament and appointed Cabinet Minister who was actively involved in the political process for many years.  Ms. Purcell is also a community activist, child and woman’s advocate, development worker, author, and adult educator.  She spoke on the topic of power and peace. The highlights that stood out for me were the naming of three important tasks Caribbean women were challenged to pursue: first to understand power, second to pursue spiritual power and third to practice non-violence through finding  power within ourselves, with others, and then using that power to affect change.   Ms. Purcell spoke passionately of the power of women friends in supporting and nurturing one another.  Two important questions arose while discussing the power of women friends,  “Why are women tearing one another down rather than building each other up?” and “How are we going to use various forms of power to increase peace?”

During the break one of the participants received heart breaking news, news that brought the reality of violence  into the room with us.  The news was of a rape and chopping of an elder woman who died upon reaching the hospital early that morning. We took a few moments to inhale the pain our sister was going through and wrapped our hearts around her fragile state and then we carried on with the last session identifying strategies and activities that we could use to cultivate cultures of peace within our work.   

Although the last session, identifying various strategies to address the conflicts discussed, was one of the most important sessions of the workshop, I still felt a deeper analyses of the conflicts shared was needed in order to identify the root causes and therefore create strategies that addressed these root causes. However, I also believe questions were posed throughout the workshop that provoked further reflection and analyses upon our return home to our work, families and communities.  I strongly believe introducing various critical conflict analyses tools is a powerful way to assist community leaders in understanding conflict and thus addressing the root causes through non-violent strategies.  I appreciated  the general discussion on identifying strategies and activities and they are as follows:  

 Gender awareness programs; addressing the need for pursuing spiritual power within; counselling in schools, communities, and workplaces;  programs that address issues of community tolerance related to violence in schools, communities, workplaces and families; self- awareness building workshops; enforcement of existing laws; creating and updating new laws; human rights education; confidence based education as opposed to fear based education; preparing a resolution on cultures of peace; peace education through media; creating  safe spaces for dialogue on peace and conflict; male support groups that assist men in knowing their own violence and taking responsibility for the violence they perpetuate; and practicing non- judgement.

Once again I express deep gratitude for being part of this powerful gathering. My passion for peace education continues to grow in strength, hope, and courage as I meet and greet others walking the same path.

One love

One family