Peace and Gender
by Yaliwe Clarke
I became active in women's rights groups in Lusaka, Zambia, at an early age, influenced by my parents. One of my first practical experiences was conducting workshops for a women's organization that would assist rural women to examine their own experiences of discrimination. It was empowering to witness women overcoming exclusion and achieving empowerment and transformation, and these activities inspired me to think deeply about the meaning of "peace."
At the age of 24, I got my first full-time job at a civic education NGO in Lusaka coordinating a school-based civic education youth project. Here, I again integrated women's rights subjects into youth activities.
Soon after this I was selected to help establish a network of Southern African NGOs working on peace. It was here that I began to integrate Buddhist principles of peace with my teaching methods. I have been a practicing Buddhist since the age of 14, attracted by the Buddhist principle of the sanctity of life and the belief that all human beings have an innate potential to become happy.
On completion of a master's in Peace and Conflict Transformation in Norway, I made a determination to get a job that related to my studies, my Buddhist philosophy and my passion for creating peace in my life and the lives of African women. I soon found a job as a senior project officer at the Centre for Conflict Resolution (CCR) in Cape Town, South Africa. I was overwhelmed with joy. CCR is a well-known organization that led peace initiatives in South Africa prior to the end of apartheid in 1994 and later became a leading continental conflict resolution organization. My work entailed designing and running conflict resolution workshops for diplomats, NGO activists and community leaders from many African countries. I also coauthored the Peacebuilding Training Manual for African Women in Decision-Making that was used to train women's rights organizations and government gender units in Southern and West Africa. In August 2006, I began to co-teach a course on gender and development at the African Gender Institute (AGI) at the University of Cape Town.
Reading various feminist writers, I made a personal commitment to use my experience of working with African women to begin to theorize alternative notions of peace that stem from African women's experiences. I also began to draw more consciously on Buddhist principles and practices to prepare for and run conflict resolution workshops.
Currently, I am coordinating a research project at the AGI that seeks to develop new analytic voices around the meaning of "gendered security" for women in diverse settings by working with 15 women peace activists from Eastern and Southern Africa.
In running workshops for these women, I have drawn on a central Buddhist principle that emphasizes the transformation of one's own heart as the beginning of the transformation of external factors. We focus on the participants' own stories, experiences and ideas through reflective writing exercises, incorporating breathing, stretching and meditation exercises to create a sense of ease and openness. With this approach, I believe that we have begun to truly recognize and honor African women's lived realities of "peace" and "security." Through this research project, I am now pursuing my PhD in Gender Studies.
SGI President Daisaku Ikeda states: "Peace cannot be a mere stillness, a quiet interlude between wars. It must be a vital and energetic arena of life-activity, won through our volatile, proactive efforts . . . Peace must be a living drama." Inspired by the human ability to overcome adversities and suffering, I am carrying out the "living drama" of challenging gender inequality. I believe that pursuing gender equality and peace is inextricably linked with my Buddhist practice. I believe this is my mission, and it forms part of my own narrative of what I now call "gendered peace."
[Courtesy, January 2011 SGI Quarterly]