“[Children] must learn more about equality and opportunity and social justice; human dignity and rights; love of one’s neighbour and compassion for the most vulnerable.” – Assembly President Vuk Jeremi?
On Friday, September 6th, a group of high level UN officials as well as civil society organizations convened at the New York headquarters for a day-long forum on the “culture of peace,” its implementation and related actions. Governmental representatives, religious leaders and civil society gathered to discuss the urgent need for a world that rejects violence in all of its various forms and instead upholds the value of peace. Many panelists spoke about the importance of dialogue in this movement for peace, creating cross-cultural and interfaith perspectives on how to abolish violence and work for peace.
One overarching theme of the forum proved to be an emphasis on education, which was highlighted as a key tool for advancing a culture of peace. Assembly President Vuk Jeremi? of Serbia quoted Mahatma Gandhi, “if we are to carry on a real war against war, we shall have to begin with the children,” noting that education is a necessary action for mobilizing action for peace. He emphasized that both in the classroom and beyond children and young people must learn strategies for promoting peace, such as tolerance and open-mindedness. It is through education of girls and boys that we can put an end to violence.
Panelists such as Lakshmi Puri of UN Women and Grace Akallo of United Africans for Women and Children Rights, emphasized the critical importance of gender equality in efforts for global peace building and the linkage between gender justice, social justice and efforts for peace. Puri asserted “peace begins in the minds of women.” It was clear from her comments that we must raise awareness around the gender disparities and structural inequalities that prohibit women and girls from leadership positions and participation in efforts for peace.
Having been abducted by the Lord’s Resistance Army as a child, Akallo shed light on some of the misconceptions around child soldiers. Although they are commonly depicted as boys with guns, the negative effects on girls are multifaceted and include not only fighting, but forced marriage and motherhood. These are the stories that must be told and heard by the world working for peace.
As Deputy Secretary-General of the UN Jan Eliasson said in the opening session of this meeting, the focus should be on the humanity of every individual including men, women and children. It is clear that girls play a critical role in this movement for peace. Although violence affects girls across the world in very different ways, they all have the right to feel safe and empowered. The movement toward a culture of peace is of critical importance and girls possess both a unique perspective and strong voice for joining this effort.
Blog Post By: Molly Butler, Loretto Community Intern