How to recognize women’s leadership

Over the years at CPNN we have seen the global movement for a culture of peace developing in thousands of articles about initiatives throughout the world.  Looking over these initiatives, we can see that women are usually in the lead, and in any case, they are involved as essential players.  This month’s bulletin illustrates this clearly.  Initiatives of the United Nations for peace, initiatives of the civil society such as Nonviolent Peaceforce, various prizes for peace, in all of these we see the predominant role of women.

As we remarked in an earlier blog, “the linkage between women’s equality, development and peace is essential to replace the historical inequality between men and women that has always characterized the culture of war and violence.

This is not to say that women will save us by themselves.  Instead, what is needed is collaboration between women and men on the basis of equality.  It is necessary that not only women, but also men struggle for the equality of women, and that everyone becomes conscious of its importance.  As a first step, it is necessary that men are involved in the struggle to eliminate violence against women.

When I was working at UNESCO and responsible for developing the initial drafts of the United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on a Culture of Peace, many of my colleagues, both men and women, urged me not to include equality of women as a distinct domain of the culture of peace but to include it in a broader category of equality in general, including race, sexual orientation, etc.  Fortunately, I resisted their pressure and we were able to include women’s equality, put simply, as one of the domains of action for a culture of peace.

Of course, it is important to struggle for equality of all people with regard to race, sexual orientation, etc., but we need to recognize the special significance of gender.  From the beginning of humanity, as far as it can be determined, women were excluded from warfare, and hence they were excluded from the power of violence which has continued to characterize human culture up until the present time, and especially the nation-state.  To arrive at a culture of peace, both the subordination of women and the political dominance of violence will have to be reversed, and the two struggles are intrinsically related.

In this regard, we need to take another look at our conception of leadership.  Is it by chance that when we speak of leadership for a culture of peace and we mention Mahatma Gandhi, Martin Luther King and Nelson Mandela, we are mentioning only men?  Where are the women leaders?

In reading this month’s article in CPNN about Ela Bhatt, I recall how I met her a number of year’s ago in Hamilton, Ontario, after giving a talk at Hamilton’s annual Gandhi festival.  I had spoken about Gandhi’s message as being important for a culture of peace.  Afterwards, this little lady, very modest, approached me to say that she had appreciated the message.  I didn’t recognize her, so I asked her who she was.  Ela Bhatt, she replied.  I didn’t recognize the name, but asked if she was involved with the culture of peace.  She told me that she was visiting family in Hamilton, but back in India she did trade union work with women.  I asked more and discovered that she has done amazingly courageous and effective work in organizing thousands (millions?) of women in India into a trade union for their basic human rights.

Ela’s demeanor was so modest, that one had to ask and listen patiently in order to know of her exemplary leadership.

From this we can draw an important lesson about recognizing leadership.  Great leaders are not necessarily in the news.  They are not necessarily involved with the politics of nations.  They may be modest.  And they may be women!

Fortunately, there are those who recognize this.  Go to the website, Theelders.org and and there, at the same time as you can read about the work of Nelson Mandela, Desmond Tutu, Kofi Annan and Jimmy Carter, you can also read about the work of Ela Bhatt, Graça Machel, Gro Harlem Brundtland, Mary Robinson and Hina Jilani.

It was by reading Theelders.org that I found the article about Ela Bhatt.

Comments are closed.