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Nicosia: Peace advocates in a divided city

The women around our conference table, from 10 countries, have a vision of a different world, one without checkpoints on city streets and without U.N. soldiers.

The city of Nicosia, Cyprus, is split in two. There is a checkpoint with armed guards and U.N. soldiers on both sides. To cross from the Greek Cypriot to the Turkish Cypriot side, I had to present my passport twice in the space of about 10 feet, to officials representing two different governments.

author photo
Ellen J. Kennedy

Peace on our planet is elusive, and in this city of Nicosia, reminiscent of the division between East and West Berlin, I thought about what the word “peace” means.

I was in Nicosia for a four-day gathering of women from the MENA Region (Middle East/North Africa). Five years ago Sen. Sandy Pappas, president of the Minnesota Senate, gathered women academics, legislators, and civil society leaders together to talk across the lines of religion and nationality that cause such deep and painful divides in our cities and, indeed, throughout the world.

Five years later, we continue to talk – and to advocate and work for peace.

Rule of law, human rights, equality

Peace is not merely the absence of violence. Peace is the enduring rule of law that guarantees, preserves, and protects human rights for us all. Peace is not merely the ability today to cross from the Greek to the Turkish side of Nicosia, which was not possible for a long time. Peace is the promise that girls will be educated, not only boys; that women will have economic and legal security as their own persons; that women will be part of conflict resolution, so that their unique needs and vulnerabilities will be adequately addressed and protected; and that women will be represented equally at all levels of government and other decision-making.

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At our meeting last week in Nicosia, in that divided city, we heard from women in Morocco, where 50 percent of all women are illiterate but where new laws give them greater rights than ever before; from women in Israel who are organizing a march on Oct. 19 to “wage peace”; from a woman in Palestine who has taught conflict resolution to Israelis and Palestinians for years; from Jordanian women working with Syrian women refugees who have fled from unspeakable violence to forge new lives; from a woman in Egypt who is the youngest-ever member of the Parliament and who works on human rights.

Envisioning a different world

More women’s voices around the world are advocating for peace, for peace as so much more than the absence of violence, for peace as full and guaranteed equality for everyone, regardless of the artificial barriers that have been created of race, religion, ethnicity, national origin, and gender.

The steps are small and the pace is slow. But the women around our conference table in Nicosia, ages 26 to 70 and from 10 countries, have a vision of a different world, one without checkpoints on city streets and without U.N. soldiers, a world where we all have a rightful – and a peaceful – place.

Ellen J. Kennedy, Ph.D., is the executive director of World Without Genocide at Mitchell Hamline School of Law in St. Paul.


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