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Calling Forth the Vision and Voices of Women Building Peace

Peace X Peace Passing the Torch

For years I heard the call – the call to return to Washington DC to re-engage at a global level with leaders I admire. It took me a while to act on that call, as it often does. The night President Obama was elected, I knew the time was right – it was my time to step up and take action. I convinced my husband and son, and after a visit to DC, lots of planning and preparation, we packed up our home and moved from the San Francisco Bay Area across country.

There is a palpable aliveness here, a rich cultural diversity and a worldly sense of being in Europe. People are well educated, often doing extraordinary work with stellar careers. As an outdoors enthusiast, there is the physical beauty of the canals, parks, and outdoor spaces I hadn’t remembered from my years here in the early ‘80s. You can also find DC’s darker side, the power politics, greed, egos, and competition. Instead our family focuses on the plethora of opportunities and possibilities I’ve never experienced anywhere else.

We quickly became immersed in life in DC. We attended embassy receptions, world-class concerts and talks by policy makers, joined a large Unitarian church, and made new friends. I was fortunate to meet the founder of Peace X Peace, an international women’s peacebuilding and leadership organization, and we connected deeply.

How can women build peace?”

Patricial Melton Smith – Photo: Peace X PeacePatricia Smith Melton founded Peace X Peace (PXP) out of the rubble of 9/11, creating a safe, accessible, and profound space for women worldwide to meet across the divides of violent conflict to heal themselves and their communities. Patricia began in 2002 with the core question: How can women build peace? The answer that emerged was to raise and multiply women’s voices – so often silenced or not heard or not valued – and use technology to connect women globally as a vital force for building peace.

Patricia invited me onto the board and shortly thereafter asked me to become CEO. As a life-long advocate for women’s advancement as well as a peacebuilder who has worked in areas of conflict, it was a perfect fit. I was fortunate to become CEO at a time when the organization was on the cusp of change. I expanded the mission and proceeded to launch new programs. We were a pioneer in using technology to connect women for peace and, over 11 years, grew a network of more than 30,000 women in 125 countries. We created a platform to share first-hand personal stories of courage, wisdom, and building peace. Our weekly Blog Digest went to the entire network.

These stories share the enormous impact of war on women and tell how women collaborate at the grassroots to build community… frontline accounts from Egypt, Libya, Syria, Afghanistan, Kuwait, Kashmir, India, and elsewhere; stories of rape and sexual violence; Arab and Jewish bridge-building programs, tales going from despair to hope, from leadership to social change, and so much more. The stories offer insight, role models, and catalysts for change. PXP educated over 150,000 women and broadened our readers’ understanding of cultural, religious, ethnic, and political issues around the world. This bridge building was the core of our work.

A Peace X Peace program – Photo: Peace X PeacePXP launched a mentoring program enabling hundreds of younger women to gain skills and get a leg up in their careers through one-on-one mentoring with seasoned professionals. The goal is to ensure that the next generation of women is able to carry the torch for peace and women’s empowerment. The program expanded ten-fold to 40 countries, working with talented young people in Kathmandu, Lagos, Philadelphia, and elsewhere. Research shows that mentoring can be an important factor to building a successful career. Many mentors and mentees stay in touch, creating lasting cross-cultural friendships.

Misunderstanding and stereotyping about Islam led us to connect women in Arab, Muslim, and Western communities to build bridges of understanding. Connection Point was created to reduce stereotypes and build mutual understanding among Arab, Muslim, and Western women in our network. We posted weekly articles from Arab and Muslim women worldwide, provided an array of multimedia resources, facilitated web-based dialogues, and sponsored face-to-face dialogues for the most engaged participants.

Feedback has been phenomenal. Women begin with preconceived ideas, ending with a much greater appreciation and interest in other cultures and religions. Hundreds participated.

PXP’s voices of Israeli and Palestinian women initiative encouraged and showcased women’s courageous grassroots work to build Middle East peace. Patricia interviewed 30 Israeli and 30 Palestinian women working together on the frontlines of peacebuilding and documented their work in the book Sixty Years, Sixty Voices: Israeli and Palestinian Women. The book includes interviews, stunning photos, and capsule biographies in English, Hebrew, and Arabic. Diverse women, from settlers and soldiers to authors and activists, describe how they defy stereotypes as they heal their cultures and live daily lives of courage.

Despite tireless efforts over many years, taking large risks, grassroots peacebuilders often are not recognized or rewarded. PXP felt it important to recognize them and initiated the Women, Power, and Peace Awards. These awards honor six extraordinary individuals and organizations on the frontlines of peace and women’s achievements. They focus attention on heroic women, largely unknown outside their communities, and inspire even well-known honorees to expand their efforts. One Kenyan honoree told us “This award has made a difference for the women in Kenya.” The hardest part was narrowing it down to six honorees.

Another key component of our work, especially being based in Washington DC, is an advocacy and peace leadership training program. The training equips women leaders with a range of critical resources and skills to facilitate change. The advocacy program focuses on advancing policies and legislation that support women. Peace X Peace played an active role in the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security, and in passing the Violence Against Women Act, the reintroduction of the International Violence Against Women Act, the Afghan Women and Girls Security Act, the U.S. Strategy to Prevent Gender Based Violence, and other key pieces of legislation.

Mission Fulfilled” – Passing the Torch

Despite all the activity, funding has been tight, as it has for so many nonprofits. A large anticipated donation did not come through. Some extended soul searching suggested that the question which engendered PXP – How do women build peace? – has been asked and is being answered all over the world. Together the board and staff decided it was time to say “Mission Fulfilled.”

We feel that PXP has met its stated mission by increasing awareness of the power of women’s voices and bringing women’s wisdom to the forefront of the strategy and goals of many affiliated organizations. PXP believes its goals can be best furthered by passing the torch now to these organizations and the women who help lead them, asking that they continue the work that PXP started. Every organization has a life cycle, and it’s time for this network of women to blossom forward in a thousand ways.

I am sad, to be sure. But I know the work we’ve shared will continue to impact lives. I am grateful for the extraordinary achievements and their impact since our founding in 2002. As former board member Louise Diamond says, “My prescription for change is to ‘extract the essence and release the form.’ The essence of Peace X Peace is the voice and vision it has given to women all over the world to take action for peace in their homes, their communities, and our world. The networks it has fostered, the hope it has engendered, and the skills it has strengthened are gifts that keep on giving. For this I am grateful.”

I am grateful as well to our founder Patricia Smith Melton, who reminds me of my favorite Margaret Mead quote: “Never doubt that a small group of thoughtful, committed citizens can change the world. Indeed, it is the only thing that ever has.” In our own way we helped change the world, and for that, I am deeply grateful.

Let me conclude with the words of Melanie Greenberg, president and CEO of Alliance for Peacebuilding: “Peace X Peace has had a galvanizing effect on the field of women and peacebuilding. Peace X Peace has been absolutely unique in its ability to reach out to women along the whole social spectrum, uniting grassroots activists with the most powerful governmental leaders around the world. Through technology and through an inclusive vision of what peace truly means on the ground, Peace X Peace has given voice to women who might otherwise never have had a path into the prevention and healing of conflict at home, and around the world.

The founders and staff of Peace X Peace have been remarkably generous in their outlook, unstintingly sharing their findings and networks with the peacebuilding field writ large. I hope the founders and staff realize the profound effect Peace X Peace has had on the conversation around women and peacebuilding, both in Washington, and in every corner of the world. I know that we will be seeing the fruits of their labor for many years to come.”