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University of San Diego celebrates 20 years of women peacemakers around the world


Everyone embraces the idea of ​​peace. Turning it into reality is more difficult.

This was true 20 years ago, when the University of San Diego launched an annual program to highlight and perpetuate the work of women peacemakers around the world.

That’s true today, as a virtual event showcasing Tuesday’s showcasing the current group of activists.

One of the women, Zarqa Yaftali, was unable to log in to talk about peace as she is busy chasing it. She advocates for women’s rights in Afghanistan, where the Taliban – a regime with a horrific record on gender equality – has regained control.

His absence “is an example of the importance of the work of these peacemakers to create real-time change,” said Briana Mawby, administrator at the university’s Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies, who facilitated the one hour session. “We are grateful for his voice at this critical time in Afghanistan. “

Launched in 2002, the Women PeaceMakers Fellowship brings together a handful of people from around the world with a history of conflict resolution on the ground – ceasefires, free elections, disarmament, better schools – for 12 months of collaboration.

They share stories, talk about strategy and research solutions, all with the goal of creating a comprehensive roster of qualified stakeholders to give peace a chance in their home country. More than 70 women from 35 countries have participated since the inception of the program.

“Women can make a difference,” said Youssra Biarre, a Moroccan mediator who is part of this year’s group. “Women are make the change.

It has been for a long time, which is why the program started in the first place. Its early administrators, including some experienced volunteers and negotiators who had been in hot spots around the world, found that women were often the ones who turned up to rebuild communities in the aftermath of the war.

They also knew that pragmatic grassroots activism did not always translate into a seat at the table in major peace talks. A United Nations study found that in 21 formal negotiations held between 1992 and 2008, only 2.4% of pact signatories were women.

So they designed the fellowship to highlight and build on the effective work done by women. They write policy papers, develop programs, create partnerships.

Before the pandemic, attendees – typically four women chosen from hundreds of applicants – came to USD each spring for a two-month residency. They gave lectures. They sat down for long, taped interviews, an archive of activism. Then they took home what they had learned.

This year’s group, which began meeting virtually in October, has six members, a mix of older and younger activists. Some come from countries with a long history of conflict (Afghanistan) and others come from places which to the public anyway appear peaceful (Botswana). But they all have problems, the fellows said in their presentations on Tuesday.

Nermine Mounir, educator and storyteller in Egypt, said one of the obstacles she faces is making people realize that peace can come. They even think that to suggest that it shows weakness or naivety – that it is a sign of surrender.

“People yearn for peace,” she said, “but they are not equipped with the tools” to pursue it.

This year’s scholarship recipients:

– Heela Yoon, Afghanistan: Founder and CEO of Afghan Youth Ambassadors for Peace, a grassroots organization. She is pursuing a master’s degree in international finance and is working as a research consultant for Amnesty International.

– May-Oo Mutraw, Burma: Karen born and raised in Burma, trained in the United States as a lawyer, she has been active in women’s rights, emerging democracies and nation-building in multi-ethnic states ruled by military regimes.

– Ramatoulie Isatou Jallow, Botswana: A lawyer admitted to practice at the High Court of the Republic of Botswana, she founded an initiative called “Peace by Peace” which offers education, organized dialogues and advocacy.

– Zarqa Yaftali, Afghanistan: Graduated from Kabul University, she won awards for her work focusing on girls’ access to education, violence against women and women’s access to property and heritage.

– Youssra Biare, Morocco: UN-certified mediator, she has been involved in programs that empower women and girls and keep young men away from extremist groups.

– Nermine Mounir, Egypt: Co-founder and director of Misriyati LLC, she leads workshops on diversity, conflict transformation, non-violent communication and religious freedom.

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