If You Want Peace Done Right, Ask a Woman

There seems to be no crisis, no simmering conflict, no active war or threat of violence that Trump isn’t set on making worse.

He’s loosened restrictions on killing civilians in U.S. military attacks. He’s threatened to destroy North Korea and scuttle the Iran nuclear deal. He plans on an “indefinite” U.S. military presence in places like Syria and countries across Africa, adding to endless military interventions across the world. His decision to move the U.S. embassy to Jerusalem has further entrenched the world’s longest-running military occupation. He’s vowed to keep the Guantanamo Bay prison open, leaving no end in sight to the rights violations there. And he pledged to expand the U.S. nuclear arsenal and boost already astronomical military spending.

His underlying claim is one we’ve heard from other U.S. presidents, encapsulated when he said at his recent State of the Union address that “we know that weakness is the surest path to conflict, and unmatched power is the surest means to our true and great defense.” This line of thinking is sometimes labeled realpolitik, but we should call it what it is: macho blathering.

Thankfully, as long as there have been those willing to embrace this defective and dangerous logic, there have been people to counter it with a real peace agenda. And that peace agenda has overwhelmingly been led by women.

editrrix / Creative Commons

When wars explode, communities caught in the crosshairs pay the price. And women, often responsible for caring for the family, become the first line of defense. They mobilize aid and make sure that the most vulnerable are sheltered.

Here’s a thought experiment: Imagine a world where policies were decided by women like these, the people most likely to be impacted by those policies.

What would a Syrian woman who has had to flee a war zone and become a refugee with her children think of Trump’s plan to effectively turn U.S. embassies into showrooms to sell U.S. weapons? How would an Iraqi woman who has sheltered survivors of airstrikes react to the U.S. decision to increase bombings and reduce restrictions on civilian casualties?

We don’t yet live in a world where these women would be consulted as the policy advisors they deserve to be. (If we did, those policies would be unthinkable.) But we don’t have to wonder what women like these would think, because they’re already letting us know—by organizing their communities and amplifying their voices to confront the policy actions that threaten them.

In Iraq, through years of U.S. military attacks, civil war and ISIS occupation, women have led efforts to keep people safe. Groups like the Organization of Women’s Freedom in Iraq have delivered humanitarian aid and set up a network of shelters, often reaching people in war zones that no other group can. And on this foundation of lifesaving work, they’ve built a policy platform. They’ve demanded policies that tackle the root causes of violent extremism, addressing poverty and sectarian divisions so that groups like ISIS never emerge again.

And there are the women’s rights activists in Colombia, who persevered through decades of civil war, creating safe spaces in war-torn communities and bringing trauma counseling to survivors of rape and violence. Now that a landmark peace deal has been reached, these activists are once again mobilizing their hard-won expertise. Groups like Proceso de Comunidades Negras have molded their wisdom on how to cement a lasting peace into concrete policy demands. They’re advancing those demands—to secure women’s rights, ensure racial justice and promote peace in Colombia—directly in policymaking spaces.

Think of women from Syria who have set up schools in refugee communities to educate the next generation and to give kids a place to play and feel safe. Or those inside the shattered country who have negotiated local ceasefires, brokered prisoner releases and set up humanitarian aid corridors—efforts that the men controlling “peace talks” have failed to scale or sustain. These women take the long view, considering not only how to ensure immediate survival but how to guarantee a safe and healthy future for women and families. Groups like the Syrian Women’s League have pushed to uplift women’s demands for policies that yield peace and social justice, starting with meeting people’s most urgent needs.

And despite the ratcheting tensions on the Korean peninsula, women are laying the groundwork for peace. They reached out, North and South, across the demilitarized zone to create person-to-person connections that disprove the popular notion that their divisions are insurmountable. When foreign ministers met in January in Vancouver to discuss security policy on North Korea, women activists organized to advance a peace agenda. It is rooted in dialogue to build a nuclear-free Korean peninsula and calling for a pledge to abandon the option of a “first strike.” They’ve countered Trump’s dogma of “maximum pressure” with a call for maximum engagement.

As people who care about peace, we’re ready to confront Trump’s apparently global and relentless march to war, guided by the leadership and wisdom of women peace activists like these across the globe. If you’re asking yourself what you can do to secure peace, start with this. Look for the real peacemakers—the grassroots women leaders who are shepherding their communities through danger and struggling mightily to steer us away from more bloodshed. Our best chance to tilt this world towards peace is to listen to and support them.


Yifat Susskind is the Executive Director of MADRE, an international women's human rights organization that partners with community-based women's groups worldwide facing war and disaster. Yifat’s writing and critical analysis on U.S. foreign policy and women's human rights has appeared in publications including The New York Times, The Washington Post, Foreign Policy in Focus, The Guardian and The Huffington Post. She has been featured as a commentator on CNN, National Public Radio and BBC Radio.