« Children affected by conflict and disaster:
Prevention, protection, healing and empowerment »

16ème conférence annuelle pour la paix au Proche-Orient

16th Middle East Conference

On June 27, 2012, Women’s Federation for World Peace, International served as a platform for two side events during the 20th Session of the Human Rights Council (HRC) at the United Nations Headquarters in Geneva, Switzerland. In the context of the 16th annual Women’s Conference on Peace in the Middle East (MEW) which is traditionally held over 3 days, the first day was consecrated to support the work of the HRC under two themes that were chosen for their relevance to the current work of the Council.  

There were near to 200 participants, the majority women and many under 30. They representedover 45 countries, including many based in the Middle East and North Africa, invited to join other experts of UN bodies (UNICEF, UNRWA Palestine, OHCHR (Human Rights), OHCR (Refugees), Red Cross, International Organization for Migration (IOM), International Labor Organization (ILO), United Nations Development Program (UNDP), United Nations Resident Coordinator (UNRC) Lebanon and UNESCO)and government missions based in Geneva to pool their best ideas and practices under the conference theme, “Children affected by conflict and disaster: Prevention, protection, healing and empowerment”.

“Protecting children during conflict and tragedy: the roles of family, community, government and the United Nations”

The side event was opened by Deputy Director of the UN Office for WFWP,Ms. Carolyn Handschin, who gave a brief overview of the history of the MEW conferences- as co-organizer of the conference.  She introduced the session chair, Ms. Saana M.M. Qormosh of the UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA).

Speakers included Mr. Patrick McCormick, UNICEF Spokesperson in Emergency situations since1994. Having worked with child soldiers in several countries, Mr. McCormick describes the tragedy of this vulnerable group, how it occurs and ways to prevent it.  Sadly, he explained that some young boys join these gangs to escape difficult family situations which became a discussion point during the 2nd day of the conference.  Dr. Josi Salem-Pickartz, Co-director, Al Himaya Foundation for Trauma Recovery, Growth and Resilience, Jordan and representative for Make Mothers Matter (MMM) also pointed to the role of family and in particular mothers in protecting, healing and changing destructive patterns.

Dr. Ghada Al-Jadba, UN Relief Works Agency (UNRWA) Gaza, Palestine reported about the situation in Gaza, how it came to be. “We couldn’t save our past or present”, speaking of the children, she said, “let us save our future”. Many UNRWA programs promotes non-violence; domestic violence awareness, trauma recovery through the arts and various women-supporting programs. Ms. Najjar Reem of UNICEF Jordan remarked in her presentation that the Gaza is but one example from the region. There are many.  She noted several programs that give support successfully to raising children in such a difficult environment.

Mrs. Amal Ibrahim, English Literature teacher, Coordinator, Beirut Evangelical School, who dealt with the daily trauma of children in a society rife with sectarian violence, explained the realistic counter measures that she was able to implement in her classroom in order to diffuse the aggressions and insecurities there.

A lively and lengthy interactive discussion ensued that included several questions about reintegration and healing for children who have lived as child soldiers. The UNICEF Spokesperson described in some tragic detail the circumstances of theirinvolvement, adding that many cannot escape their past. But there are successes and one NGO representative maintained that one child soldier in Nigeria made it and went on to inspire others with his personal story of disarmament, demobilization and reintegration.

Other thoughtful input came from participants related to a sharing of best practices related to mothers/ women taking leadership roles to protect their children,and the prioritization of education and community- building over militarization.  Changing culture and attitude towards others is critical. Money will not necessarily make that difference. An activist from Egypt summarized, concerning the current situation in the Middle East, “Our strength are our voices, in unison!”

“Empowering young women for peacebuilding and conflict prevention”, the 2nd side event of the HRC organized by WFWP attracted over 170 people.

Carolyn Handschin chaired that Session, remarking that this theme is a central pillar of the many programs of WFWP globally. Confidence building in leadership capacities at an early age for girls, learned already at home, encourages a life of responsible citizenship and a good next generation of family.  

The first presenter was WFWPI President, Professor Lan Young Moon who described the work of WFWPI and women in general as bridge-builders. The creation of the Global Women’s Peace Network is a platform to facilitate the increase of women leaders in the world, a place to create solidarity and strategy. “Now is the right time for women to influence in the world.” The best UN Programs will not bring our desired peace unless the capacity to care beyond barriers, as a mother can do, can be generated.

Mrs. Kawther Al Jouan, prominent women’s rights advocate from Kuwait encouraged all to learn from the younger generation, as she has discovered in her relationship with her son. “The burden of peacebuilding is on all of us”. Sometimes we must, “close our mouths and open our minds.”

The room was over full when the President of the Human Rights Council, HE Laura Dupuy Lasserre, arrived.  Promising to join the meeting she described as “very important” as soon as she had opened the afternoon session of the Human Rights Council, which was meeting in the same building, she addressed the participants. “During the last decades, Arab women leaders have played a crucial role in demanding a genuine change to implement international human rights standards on the ground.“ Women and especially young women have played a very leading role in recent events there and need to be guaranteed continued opportunities in deciding the future of their countries. Seeming very eager to have an opportunity to speak to this group of women who had come from the MENA region to explain how the mechanisms of the Human Rights Council have been created to protect and support women’s rights and their empowerment, she stayed longer than planned in order take questions.

The fourth speaker was Dr. Katrien Beeckmann, Head of the Principles and Values Department of the International Federation of Red Cross and Red Crescent Societies. She has been developing programs for the empowerment of youth over years, specifying that education is one of the three pillars of the Federation. Values-based skills can and should be taught from family first. As a mother of a small daughter, she is amazed at the power of the relationship within families- to influence lives. There are very important practical skills like active listening, nonviolent problem solving, inclusion of fathers in household activities, but love is the most fundamental element.

Ms. Sandy Michael Ayas presented a very thoughtful PowerPoint on “Empowering young women for peacebuilding and conflict prevention:

Syrian crisis” using much first hand information about the situation there currently. As she explained her targets were, “Strengthening collaboration with other peace-building actors, strengthening a base for sustainability of women empowerment and women rights, strengthening collaboration with other peacebuilding actors and strengthening a abase for sustainability of women empowerment and women’s rights.

The World Organization of Women (WOW) UN representative and intern, Mylene Jessia Lees provided insights into the problems that young women face in the Middle East and around the world as they aspire to influence the world around them. She expressed her appreciation to give her voice to the conference as a young woman discovering empowerment through her work at the United Nations.

Finally, Dr Nurit Hirschfeld-Skupinsky, professor at a university in Israel and WFWP president there, spoke very eloquently, circling back to the common thread throughout the messages of the day, the role of “love”, sometimes referred to as “nurturing” or “healing”is finally the critical element that has not easily been passed on through the UN’s mechanisms and channels. When so, it has often been through the personal assertionsof individual’s engaged there- but not institutionalized. Yet it is that factor of empathy, self sacrifice and living a life of responsible citizenship learned in the context of mother/father ‘s love and the natural family support system that assures “empowerment” or even “human rights” its place in the culture of peace.

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