On May 24th, 2022, the event ‘Women, Peace and Disarmament: Perspectives and Actions from the Global South’ was successfully held by Youth Fusion. The Women, Peace and Security agenda is fairly new within the security field, and is still finding its place. However, its reverberating presence is taking up more and more space as the importance and recognition of women in the peace and disarmament field is growing. Even though things are getting better, there is still a long way to go, and that is why we decided to host this event.
Women in the Global South have been on the forefront of peacebuilding and disarmament processes, and are heroes within their communities. Therefore, we wanted to hear from women who come from countries that exist within Nuclear Weapon Free Zones in the Global South, because they have the experience, knowledge, and admirable determination to make this world a more peaceful and safer place for all. These women all, through their work, place a great importance on sustainability, inclusivity, human security, the women, peace, and security agenda, and, above all, making the world a better, fairer place, for all.
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Ela Gandhi, South Africa
Our first speaker, Ela Gandhi from South Africa, and the granddaughter of the late Mahatma Gandhi, stated that women are seldom involved in the creation of wars, but are always the victims of war. Women, therefore, happen to be interested in making peace and stopping war, and in halting nuclear proliferation. Ms Gandhi further elaborated that women have been doing this through environmental and faith based organizations for decades, and stated that, “history records many women leaders who became well known for their peacemaking role and their actions against war.”
Amongst the women Ms. Gandhi referred to was Kasturba Gandhi, Mahatma Gandhi’s wife. Kasturba Gandhi participated in nonviolent protests, alongside her husband, and mobilized millions of women in India against the British occupation of the country, as well as hundreds in South Africa, to demonstrate against racial oppression. Kasturba fearlessly served several sentences in prison, both in South Africa and India, for her activities against their colonial regimes. Kasturba’s role in Gandhi’s nonviolent protests for justice are seldom told, but she was a significant figure in bringing about peaceful change. Furthermore, Ms. Gandhi pointed out that many women in South Africa also called for an end to military conscription and worked tirelessly on these issues alongside their sons, brothers, and fathers, all of whom refused to be conscripted.
“History records many women leaders who became well known for their peacemaking role and their actions against war.”
Ms. Gandhi also mentioned that in these modern times, we have weapons that have the ability to destroy many more hectares of land, our precious ecosystems, and all of us humans in an instant. Therefore, she advocated that it is time for us to stand up and be conscious, to insist on disarmament, and asserted that this is the only way in which war can be avoided.
Ana María Cetto, Mexico
During Ms. Cetto’s portion of the event, she started off by mentioning a few key international days that are in connection to International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. In Ms. Cetto’s opinion, she stated that, “we mark international days and weeks to educate the public, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate their reinforcements of humanity”. Ms. Cetto also observed that it is interesting to note that these international days predate the establishment of the United Nations, and mentioned that the United Nations certainly has embraced them as powerful advocacy tools.
“We mark international days and weeks to educate the public, to mobilize political will and resources to address global problems, and to celebrate their reinforcements of humanity”.
Ana María Cetto
Ms. Cetto also showed photos that marked the end of the Cold War, and of the Nuclear Weapon Free Zones around the world, noting that most regions across the world are indeed nuclear weapon free. Despite this, Ms. Cetto also commented that after the Cold War, “we can also see that NATO started to expand towards the West of Europe, touching the borders of Russia, as the former USSR, which did not seem like the end of the Cold War, in fact.” Therefore, Ms. Cetto touched on a key theme within nuclear disarmament, critically questioning if the Cold War has even ended as we still rely on nuclear weapons to ‘keep peace’ in the form of nuclear deterrence. Concluding her highly informative presentation, Ms. Cetto stated that she firmly believes that through education, through political action, through diplomacy, and through science, we are able to achieve nuclear disarmament.
Le Sen, Cambodia
Le Sen, from Cambodia, gave a fantastic presentation of all the highly impactful, intersectional, and inclusive work she does at her organisation, Women Peace Makers (WMP). Ms. Sen mentioned that, in Cambodia, women are underrepresented and are being left out of top-down policymaking processes, which is why, according to Sen, “it would be so great to see how women could be among the key actors in taking a lead in various decision-making processes, such as peacebuilding”. She stated that some ethnic, religious and cultural minorities are, moreover, being left out, and explained in great detail all the ways in which they feel that they are marginalized in Cambodia.
Ms. Sen is currently working on programs that involve such marginalised peoples, namely in regard to how to include them into various decision making processes, and to ensure that their voices are heard and taken seriously. WPM have been trying multiple approaches, such as facilitative listening design research methodology, where they listen to stories directly from the impacted communities. In carrying out such work, they have seen that women are able to express themselves even though they are not able to engage in any policy or decision making yet, however, they are making sure that they can be part of the problem solving within their respective communities, such as to voice their challenges.
“It would be so great to see how women could be among the key actors in taking a lead in various decision-making processes, such as peacebuilding”.
From Ms. Sen’s perspective, it is important to work with minority groups across Cambodia so that, “we know how to communicate with other groups and how we can build peace within the group to actually engage them better”. Ms. Sen further commented that people who come from different backgrounds and ethnic groups should be able to understand each other. “Everyone should be enjoying sustainable peace”, according to Ms. Sen.
“Everyone should be enjoying sustainable peace.”
María Garzón Maceda, Argentina
Our next speaker, María Garzón Maceda from Argentina, claimed that, “there’s several layers of power dynamics that interact in the field of disarmament, which has been traditionally a US and Eurocentric focus field in literature.” Ms. Garzón Maceda further elaborated on this point, and stated that, “one of the important things the Global South concept allows us to do, is to unveil the structural power dynamics that underpin this small nation state system idea, in which every country has one vote at the General Assembly. This created several challenges for countries in the global South to participate and to be properly repented.” Ms. Garzón Maceda provided an example, wherein she explained that these challenges are reflected in the pattern of attendance to conferences and meetings, and also in submittance of their compliance reports to these assignment regimes. Ms. Garzón Maceda stated that from an arms control effectiveness viewpoint, “regimes simply cannot be successful without proper participation and compliance from all”. Moreover, she claimed that, overall, the Global South has managed to keep disarmament on the global agenda.
“One of the important things the Global South concept allows us to do, is to unveil the structural power dynamics that underpin this small nation state system idea, in which every country has one vote at the General Assembly.”
María Garzón Maceda
During the event, Ms. Garzón Maceda advocated that, “if we want to be able to deal with today’s problems, we need to be thoughtful and practice in new ways”. Ms. Garzón Maceda stated that, “we cannot be so close and exclusive”. Another point Ms. Garzón Maceda raised is the idea that multilateralism and inclusive governance is the best path to ensure the most safe and secure world for all of us. “It is important that we acknowledge diverse concerns that will involve all states meaningfully, in all steps of the process, and to bring alternative and diverse voices and solutions to the table”, Ms. Garzón Maceda concluded.
“If we want to be able to deal with today’s problems, we need to be thoughtful and practice in new ways. We cannot be closed and exclusive”.
María Garzón Maceda
Aigerim Seitenova, Kazakhstan
Aigerim Seitenova, from Kazakhstan, gave a layered and dynamic insight into the intersections of nuclear disarmament issues. One aspect Ms. Seitenova is highly passionate about is gender, wherein she informed the audience about the gendered impacts of ionizing radiation from nuclear testing, thus highlighting that women’s bodies are impacted more severely by this. Taking the political to the personal, Ms. Seitenova shared with the audience how her grandmother, her mother, herself, and the women of her family have been negatively, and disproportionately, affected by nuclear testing in their hometown, Semey, formerly known as Semipalatnisk. Ms. Seitenova explained how the rates of stillbirths, children with disabilities, and high rates of cancer are prevalent in Semey, due to the nuclear weapons testing carried out by the Russian government from 1949 until 1989. After the Soviet Union collapsed, Kazakhstan, as a new country, was left with a nuclear arsenal. Thereafter, Kazakhstan gave up over 1000 nuclear weapons, and is now within a Nuclear Free Zone. Ms. Seitenova stated that, “weapons, despite being associated with masculinity, are also linked very closely to colonial narratives”.
According to Ms. Seitenova, Women, Peace, and Security, within the disarmament agenda, provides ample opportunity to amplify the connections between various issues, instead of reiterating the colonial, imperialistic or patriarchal narratives, and opposes how war and male violence are glorified. Ms. Seitenova explained why it is very important that the Women, Peace, and Security agenda does not fall into this narrative, and argued that it should rather be used to dismantle such inequalities, thus going beyond the coloniality of power, which would empower different groups. Moreover, Ms. Seitenova pointed out that international law, in and of itself, is male dominated, and is also rather Eurocentric. Ms. Seitenova further emphasized that, “gender equality is a human right”, and elaborated on this point by stating that it will encourage development and better conditions for each and every person. Ms. Seitenova claimed that “the glass ceiling stops women from realizing their potential”, and that, “finally, it is time to crush the glass without violence.”
During the Q&A session, speakers answered questions such as “how to mobilize the youth?”. Ms. Gandhi mentioned that she was pleasantly surprised when youths came out and spoke strongly about peace issues and nonviolence in Durban, South Africa after violent protests broke out in the country in early 2021. Ms. Gandhi held the view that we should meet youths where they are, and carry on supporting them in the way they need, and reminded us all that listening is our most powerful tool.
During the Wordle exercise, participants wrote down 3 words to describe “What does Women, Peace and Security mean to you?”. We saw words such as equality, solidarity, feminist approach and positive peace.
The event, and its inspiring speakers, truly commemorated International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament in a highly honorable fashion. The goal was to open intersectional and intergenerational dialogue with the speakers and the audience, and highlight the key role of women in the Global South who have contributed, and are contributing, so much within the peace and disarmament field. The Youth Fusion team are so grateful to be surrounded by such dedicated, knowledgeable, and dynamic women, and achieved our goal in the ongoing process of including more women and actors from the Global South to have more of a say in nuclear disarmament issues.
Article by: Yunqiao Xu
Article Edited By: Michaela Higgins Sørensen