On this International Day of Non-Violence, established by the UN General Assembly resolution A/RES/61/271–we commemorate Mahatma Gandhi’s October 2 birthday.
As our world faced COVID-19 pandemic, the UN Secretary-General António Guterres called for an “immediate global ceasefire in all corners of the world…..to put armed conflict on lockdown and focus together on the true fight of our lives.” The call fell on deaf ears–wars, conflicts and genocidal campaigns have unleashed worldwide further exasperating the fight against a pandemic.
“Non-violence is the greatest force at the disposal of mankind. It is mightier than the mightiest weapon of destruction devised by the ingenuity of man,” said Mahatma Gandhi.
Women Activists Raise Their Voices for Non-Violence
Women peace builders and change makers are at the front lines of the world’s most brutal conflicts. Today they raise their voices for non-violence as concurrent wars rage in Syria, Yemen, Libya, Congo, South Sudan, Nagorno-Karabakh–with political instability in Venezuela, Iraq, Lebanon, Egypt, Mali–Islamist militancy in Pakistan, conflicts between Israel and Palestine, India and Pakistan, Turkey and Kurdish groups, with and violence and crisis in Central African Republic, Nigeria, Mexico, Somalia, Myanmar/Burma among others.
Since the 2014 start of the Yemeni war, the man-made humanitarian crisis has put over 16 million on the verge of famine. Muna Luqman Executive Director of Yemen’s Food4Humanity, Founding Member of Women’s Solidarity Network, and member of Women’s Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) believes, “violence in Yemen will stop when we put the society’s interest first and not the elite warlords. When we think of the misery, devastation, and bloodshed it has caused and the generation of children that have lost their present and future and when we realize that eventually those with the guns will be killed by them, that violence breeds more violence and revenge is a vicious, endless cycle.”
The late September insurgence by joint military forces of Azerbaijan and Turkey on the small disputed enclave of Nagorno-Karabakh (a historic, Armenian-populated region) have left over 100 killed and hundreds of civilians injured. The war rages on while various world leaders have called for “immediate cessation of hostilities” –French president Macron’s office has expressed “concern over reports that Syrian mercenaries had been transported to Azerbaijan by Turkish security companies.”
“In the 21st century of a technological era, we must unequivocally condemn all violence – especially violence against women and children. I share the voices of all Armenian women worldwide, calling for the dissemination of peace in the world. Parallel to the sad reality in every corner of the world, international organizations raise their voice on empowering women and protecting children,” says Amalya Yeghoyan, executive director Gyumri IT Center (GITC) in Armenia’s second largest city, Project Manager at Enterprise Incubator Foundation (EIF). “We must all join efforts towards building a safe and peaceful environment with not only words but actions. We must invest efforts to end violence against vulnerable children and peaceful populations. I call on all women to spread the virus of kindness, love and peace–so we deprive no child of blue, peaceful skies.”
The Southeast-Asian country of Myanmar (formerly Burma) of 54 million has over 100 ethnic groups. Led by the National League for Democracy (NLD) of Aung San Suu Kyi–human rights activist, Nobel Peace Prize Laureate turned politician–the country’s ethnic Rakhine, Rohingya and Chin communities have endured Myanmar military air strikes, torture, extrajudicial killings, rapes, and mass displacements.
“Nonviolence is the greatest positive force at our disposal we can apply to find solutions to meet our needs and resolve differences through respect and recognition on differences and diversity, understanding, trust and confidence building, empathy, and compassion while addressing and ensuring justice and accountability for victims and survivors of violence,” states Khin Ohmar, founder and chair of the Progressive Voice and founding member of the Women’s League of Burma (WLB). “This is the only way to end the circle of violence where our peace building work will bear fruits and peace will be durable and sustainable,”
Across Kenya, the pandemic lock-down has exasperated gender-based violence where 45 percent of women and girls already faced violence. With ethnic conflicts, world’s highest HIV prevalence, 250,000 poverty-stricken street children, Kenya’s widespread tax evasion and weakened judicial system have pushed Nairobi’s modern urban sprawl to edge the expanding slums.
The 30- year-old Rose Mbone, founder of The Legend Kenya in Korogocho, one of the largest shanty towns with 200,000 residents in northeastern Nairobi, insists “if only we paused for peace the world will be patient and kind enough to listen to us.”
“If we are to teach real peace in this world, and if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children.” Mahatma Gandhi
Across Beirut, Lebanon following the August 4th Beirut port explosion, nearly 200 are dead, over 6,500 injured, and 300,000 homeless–with $15 billion in damages. As additional unexplained explosions and fires rage, 50,000 homes, nine hospitals and some 178 schools are damaged. Meanwhile, talks for a “framework agreement” between Israel and Lebanon were held under the auspices of the U.N.
“A nonviolent world is the ultimate win-win situation where financial or human resources are met with long-term sustainable impact. Non-violence is a determination to make it through together as a world. It brings forth honest, clear and non-confrontational arguments to the negotiations where both parties share their care and willingness to end a dispute utilizing the resources they have–ultimately taking the path for human security, recognition of the blessings we have,” says Shirine Jurdi of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) and Stop Killer Robots Campaign Team leader in Lebanon.
In Egypt, the Saudi-backed Sunni, general-turned president, Abdel Fattah el-Sisi’s justifies state-sanctioned virginity tests for female prisoners “to protect the girls from rape, and the soldiers and officers from accusations of rape.” Since 2014, Egypt’s military Islamic dictatorship has stripped women of most all rights.
“Many of us know violence all too well–trapped in a war zone or in a peaceful protest that brought the wrath of government guns on us. It is hard to imagine real violence if you have not witnessed it. Celebrating a day for non-violence is crucial to women peace builders specifically who, more often than not, have witnessed violence first-hand and dedicated their lives to stopping it despite the hardships and the threats to their lives. On Non-Violence day, if you have the luxury of not witnessing violence, talk to someone who has witnessed it, support them and stand with those who build peace,” says Rana Allam, Senior Editorial Adviser and Strategic Communications Director for International Civil Action Network (ICAN) and the Women Alliance for Security Leadership (WASL) organization.
Former UN Special Rapporteur on contemporary forms of slavery, human rights expert Gulnara Shahinian of Armenia, Founder and Chair of Democracy Today NGO believes for the possibility “to meet regularly and discuss even the hardest issues will help invest in better understanding and eliminate violence. Even in the most difficult conversations, there is an opportunity for common ground. To eliminate violence in a conflict, we need to better understand what peace will provide. Non-violence and honest discussion are key to finding a solution to a conflict. Violence never leads to peace–listening, understanding and negotiating does. When negotiations include women there’s everlasting peace and less violence.”
Let us then celebrate and take to heart Gandhi’s reasons for objecting violence.
“I object to violence because when it appears to do good, the good is only temporary; the evil it does is permanent.”