Transforming our World through Advancing Peace:
a Culture of Peace and Human Dignity
November, 3-5, 2023
Venue: Radisson Blu, Larnaca, Cyprus
“One hundred and ten women from thirty-eight nations, representing governments, international organizations, and civil society, convened in the historic Mediterranean city of Larnaca, Cyprus, to bolster their solidarity and issue a call to action under the theme "Transforming our World through Advancing Peace: A Culture of Peace and Human Dignity."
Moderator: Ms. Marcia de Abreu, WFWP Europe Secretary General, greeted the distinguished guests and expressed a heartfelt gratitude to WFWP Cyprus for hosting the impactful European Women’s Leadership Conference in 2023. “We are thankful for the participation of women from the Middle East and commend Dr. Zoe Bennet for her dedicated efforts in laying the foundation for this exceptional event”, she said. She called for a minute of silence for the many conflicts happening in the world right now and the tremendous suffering that people are going through because of this. She then went on to say “We are honored by the presence of Her Excellency Mrs. Philippa Karsera, the First Lady of Cyprus; Honorable Stephie Drakos, the Former Minister of Justice & Public Order, together with her husband; and Ms. Marilyn Theodoulou from the Office of the Commissioner of Gender Equality, Cyprus”.
Ms. Mitty Tohma, WFWP International Vice President for Europe, highlighted the need for a call for peace amid a rising number of conflicts linked to violence and war. Ms. Tohma expressed her hope that this gathering of women in an atmosphere of friendliness and cooperation will have an impact on a broader level. She called on the participants to use the opportunity to build new friendships and alliances, as there is a wealth of experience among all the participants!
Ms. Moriko Hori, President of WFWP International & WFWP Japan, had just returned from Rwanda, where WFWP Japan founded and is sustaining an educational center for genocide orphans and street children. Over 25 years, more than 3000 children have passed through the school and received vocational training. Ms. Hori described examples of extreme poverty, such as a 16-year-old girl who is a mother of three children whose father ran away. This brought tears to everyone's eyes and emphasized the importance of coming together to bring about change in the world.
Dr. Zoe Bennett, WFWP International Vice President for MENA region, expressed her appreciation for conferences like this. She herself has organized 25 Middle East Women's Peace Conferences, tackling many different issues. Peace cannot come without the participation of women; “it will not be achieved unless women take their natural role at all levels of decision-making”, she said. Dr. Bennet went on to say that “We are all devastated by the wars and violent conflicts, where children and women suffer the most”. In reference to current conflicts, she expressed her hope for positive news soon and affirmed that both conflicting sides will be back on the only way forward – that is, to create a peace agreement. “We all wish for a time to come when these agreements are reached and implemented before the weapons are used. Unfortunately today, weapons seem to be the only way out”, she concluded.
H.E. Mrs Philippa Karsera, First Lady of the Republic of Cyprus, welcomed the conference participants to her country, Cyprus! In her speech, she recalled a visit to Uganda many years ago as part of an international delegation and remembered how the children were smiling and shining, even though they had nothing and their mothers struggled to have some food every day. She explained that women and children still remain vulnerable and unprotected, especially in situations of war and mentioned sexual violence and labor trafficking. “This is especially disappointing as the UN Charter of Human Rights was formed almost 80 years ago!” She described the suffering of her country because of the Turkish invasion and ongoing occupation. H.E. Ms. Karsera emphasised the importance of women's participation in leadership and announced happily that there are 41 % women MPs in the new government of Cyprus.
Ms. Stephi Drakos, Minister of Justice & Public Order received a special award from the International WFWP president recognising her exceptional services to the Cypriot society during her term of service. She promoted solidarity and an inclusive society with gender equality. Having experienced war in her own country back in 1974 and having lost a family member, she strongly insisted, that no matter how difficult the road to reconciliation may seem, it is the only way possible. “No Greek or Turk should have to experience such a terrible war situation again!” She is grateful for having met and learnt about the remarkable work of WFWP.
During the delicious dinner the participants, representing around 50 different European organisations and chapters, were able to largely network, one of the purposes of such an international conference!
4th November Day one:
The day started early in the morning with meditation " Healing the Inner Child", led by Ms. Isabella Costa, a Health Therapist. It was an informative and helpful session.
Session I. The Invaluable Contribution of Women to Peace Education
a.Identity and Human Dignity
Moderator: Ms. Elisabetta Nistri, WFWP President, Italy
The presentation of Ingrid Lindeman, Author of the Dignity Program, was given by Magda Haugen, President of WFWP Germany, as Ms. Lindeman was unable to attend
The lecture highlighted the importance of being aware of our dignity as human beings (men and women), the importance of identity, of knowing ourselves, which is also connected to knowing our roots as a cornerstone to realize our dignity. This will also help us to respect the dignity in others. Another key sentence by Ms. Lindeman: “We will change the world more by living in dignity than dying heroically!”
Ms. Lubica Magnusson, President of WFWP Slovakia, expanded on the topic of sexual education at schools: “There is a controversial curriculum on sexual education strongly imposed on schools and kindergartens nowadays. Parents and teachers are very concerned about this as it is totally inappropriate for children and youth because it damages their emotional development, according to some psychologists.” Ms. Magnusson and WFWP Slovakia are organising awareness programs for teachers and parents calling them to action to prevent the spread of this curriculum.
b. Peace Leadership and Peace Culture
Moderator: Dr. Maria Riehl, Director of WFWP UN Vienna, Austria
Ms. Carolyn Handshin, Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women-CSW – Geneva, introduced a new kind of leadership: ‚Familiarchy‘. She explained that in contrast to ‘Patriarchy’ and ‘Matriarchy’, each excluding the other from decision-making, ‘Familiarchy’seems a more holistic approach, which includes the characteristics of husband and wife, male and female, resulting in a more balanced type of leadership. The terms `healthy’ and `toxic’ `masculinity’ and ´femininity’ were also discussed.
Ms. Laetitia van Haren, Cultural Anthropologist and Former Director of “Defense for Children”, has been working in sub-Saharan Africa and Southeast Asia, expressed her appreciation to learn more about WFWP. “It is women who are taking responsibility for
peace, not only in their homes, but in a wider circle, a need that we heavily feel, especially here in the Middle East!” she insisted. Ms. Haren also strongly expressed her opinion that we are all lacking a strong sense of a culture of peace, trying to find peaceful ways to solve conflicts.
Session II. The Power of Women’s Networks in Building a Culture of Peace. Taking Action for Peace: The Way Forward
Moderator: Ms. Britta Houston, President of WFWP, Sweden.
H.E. Anneli Jäätteenmäki, Former Prime Minister of Finland, began the session with sharing her experience in the 1990s when she helped Bosnia-Herzegovina become a member of the Council of Europe. She and another member from Hungary visited Bosnia-Herzegovina many times to study the situation just after the war. They made it possible for members of various ethnic and religious groups, such as Serbs, Bosnians, Christians, and Muslims, to sit together and discuss everyday issues. “During the long process of complying with the human rights criteria for Council of Europe membership, those groups could finally be assured that none of them was going to lose but gain and benefit from this process”, she shared.
She finished on saying: "Women are the hidden engine for reconciliation and peace. We must realize that and know our own value."
Ms. Sophia Giorgala, President of Women without Borders, Cyprus, started by saying: "Women often face social, economic, and political barriers globally; they are more vulnerable to the effects of climate change. By building networks, women can raise their voices for the good of their respective societies and the planet". She also proposed the creation of a network around the Mediterranean basin and noted that ensuring women’s participation in decision-making is crucial.
Ms. Lubjana Malaj, Executive Director of the Centre for Education and Social Advancement (CESA), Albania, explained that CESA was inspired by the words of Mother Teresa: "Do not wait for leaders; do it alone, person to person!" and "If you want to bring happiness to the whole world, go home and love your family." CESA contributes to society through its programs such as Early Childhood Development (ECD) & Parenting, Youth Empowerment, Media & Information Literacy, Advocacy for Human Rights, and Social Services in Criminal Justice.
Ms. Aleksandra Skonieczna, President of WFWP Poland, a psychologist, shed light on the topic ‘’The Power of Women’s Network in Building a Culture of Peace” from a psychological perspective. She pointed out two kinds of traumas: one’s own painful experiences and those inherited from the ancestors. ‘The latter take many generations to heal”.
She quoted Dr. Hugo Slim, a Senior Research Fellow at the Las Casas Institute for Social Justice: “The cultures and institutions that prepare for and deliver organized armed violence on behalf of the State or non-State armed groups are predominantly constructed by men, led by men and filled with men”. According to psychological research women tend to be more cooperative, empathetic and ethical compared with men. For this reason, Ms. Skonieczna emphasized bringing female characteristics into the decision making at all levels by the empowerment of women.
Session III. The Importance of Women's Voices in Creating a Culture of Peace: The Middle East Perspective seen from Within and from the Outside
Moderator: Dr. Zoe Anne Nicolopoulos Bennett, President WFWP Middle East and North Africa and President, WFWP Cyprus
Ms. Neziha Labidi, Former Minister of Women, Family, Children and Seniors, Tunisia, expressed a deep concern about the situation in the world today and that no one is safe from conflicts. Twenty-three years after resolution 1325, women and girls continue to bear the heavy burden of conflict and remain under-represented in decisions concerning their needs and rights. Her efforts led to the passing of a law in 2017, which raised the age of sexual maturity to 16, up from 13, in cases of political violence. Additionally, she highlighted that "military operations impact women and girls differently, given their often primary responsibilities for children, the sick, and the elderly, which in turn affects their ability to escape danger”.
Ms. Fatemah Rached Alaqroqah, President of Pioneers for Peace 1325, Kuwait, an initiative organized by a volunteer group in 2015 to support women’s effort for peace through the awareness of the importance of the UN Security Council Resolution 1325. Locally, the group started lectures about inner peace, later on cooperating with the Arab Women’s Council in Lebanon and with other NGOs in order to publish a national plan for peace. Pioneers for Peace 1325 organized different conferences dealing with peace and with the role of women in different fields.
Ms. Carmen Magallon, President of Fundacion Seminario de Investigación para la Paz, Spain, highlighted the importance of being aware of a tradition in the history of women peacemakers who have left us a legacy. She emphasized the need to continue to bring this tradition to light and to universalize these women's edifying legacy, projecting it to men. She stated that we need to make visible the voices for peace, as they open a horizon of hope. "Women's voices for peace are embedded in a tradition deeply rooted in history," she said.
Ms. Maryam Alan Kairouz, Student of Psychology at the Lebanese American University, Lebanon. In her presentation Ms. Kairouz focused on the practice of desperate parents marrying off their daughters due to poverty. The despairing parents aim to reduce their economic burden or earn some income by selling their daughters or do so in the belief that it will secure their daughters' futures or protect them.
She shared two short video clips showing the reality of child marriage. One was highliting the story of the girl Hayat, one example out of around 15 million women and children who undergo human trafficking each year. According to a study done in 2012 by ILO there is an estimate number of 600,000 victims in the Middle East today.
“Education plays an important role to end forced marriage. By educating and providing women and children with the necessary mindset and skills needed to help them stand on their own two feet, they can take charge of their own life and their own destiny”, she concluded.
5th November Day 2 of the conference started early with a beautiful meditation: ‘Mindfulness for Peace’, led by Dr. Joy Martina, Psychic Psychologist
Session IV: Creating a Sustainable Future: Women’s Role in Environmental Peacebuilding
Moderator: Ms. Sara Marchán, WFWP Young Women Representative, Spain
Ms. Kefilwe Lebepe, WFWPI Young Professionals Coordinator, a South African living in
Bonn, Germany was the first speaker. She joined WFWP in her home country in 2008 and is currently the coordinator for WFWP Young Professionals International. As an active member in Europe and Africa she is working on projects with African youth. She’s currently working as an analyst for a socio-economic development organization and has a passion for developmental work. Ms. Lebepe emphasized that problems cannot be handled in isolation. She commended Isatou Ceesay from Gambia, an award-winning environmentalist and nicknamed the ‘queen of recycling’, who is developing a project that consists of turning peanut shells garbage into charcoal to help reduce the waste and also to save trees. Another of her projects has to do with the repurposing of plastic waste.
Ms. Anais Carolina Vega Montalbán, a Peruvian born living in Madrid, Spain, is a Biology graduate from the University of Alcala, Spain. She specialized in clinical trials, cancer development and autoimmune diseases. Ms. Vega Montalbán started her presentation by defining what biodiversity is. She then went on to say that “biodiversity provides us with a variety of services, which sometimes go unnoticed, but are fundamental to our well-being”. “Besides educating ourselves on the importance of biodiversity and discovering what we stand to lose if we damage it, acting responsibly in nature or denouncing activities that threaten biodiversity are other ways to protect it”, she stated.
Ms. Gloria Marinsanti Rwakihembo, Secretary General of Mondo Internazionale APS, an international association of young students and professionals operating in cultural diplomacy. She is an Assistant Lecturer in Economics and Business Management at Roma University and also an Intercultural Management Lecturer at Montpellier Business School. She shared about their activities. The three main ones are: research on sustainability, writing public policies, writing on economics with a particular attention on new technologies such as satellite technologies, blockchain, etc. All of them cooperate with the Italian Ministry of Foreign Affairs. “We also do activities of mentoring, doing some multiple case studies in small communities where the starting points are women that need to be trained in order to be independent and to bring benefits to their family”, she explained.
Ms. Sharon Kabubi, born in Stockholm, Sweden, currently based in London. Uganda is her parents’ home country. She is the co-chair of the Young Women’s Speech Contest, UK, where she first joined as a participant herself. The YWSC is their flagship education program for young women aged 18 to 29 by offering them the opportunity to participate in a public speaking contest. This project has expanded to other countries including Spain, Albania and Uganda itself. This latter experience has led her to have many reflections on how we can talk about sustainability without talking about our own personal relationships to sustainability and peace. “Perhaps it is in our best interest to investigate how we identify with peace”. “… from there we shall be inspired from within, to lead and inspire others with our hearts.” Ms. Kabubi also developed about the importance of opportunities for development and how she wanted to provide young women in Uganda with the equal opportunity to voice their values and beliefs and thoughts through the YWSC.
Session V: Awards and Closing Sessionn
Moderator: Ms. Brigitte Wada, WFWP Vice President Europe
1. The Global Women`s Peace Network: Several ladies received the ‘Global Women Peace Ambassador’ Award acknowledging the outstanding work they are doing in their organizations.
Ms. Ninetta Kazantzis, Secretary General of the Mediterranean Children’s Movement, talks about women being advocates for women, for peace and for children, as children are the future! “But not only advocating but striving for justice, rights and peace!” She stated that Mediterranean governments unfortunately are not well developed concerning children’s rights. Ms. Kazantzis emphasized children’s right to live in prosperity and that it urges to create safe spaces for them.
Ms. Nargis Hassanzai, Founder of Farkhunda Foundation, strongly emphasised the importance of education for women and girls. She tells her own life story, when her father, out of tradition, would have sold her, and in fact attempted to do so 3 times in her life, if it were not prevented by her mother, who is an educated woman and did not allow this to happen. Through her foundation she invests in education for women and girls in her home country.
Ms. Thecia Mbunwe and her colleague from ‘Southern Cameroon European Women’s Association’ explained to the audience about the terrible and bloody conflict going on in Southern Cameroon right now, largely unknown to the wider public! They expressed their utmost desperation. They are grateful to WFWP as they feel they can learn about working for peace and finding peaceful solutions.
2. Words by Rapporteur: Ms. Kyung-in Van De Ven, WFWP UN Representative, Vienna, gave a short overview of the conference as a whole and presented the written Resolution, unanimously approved by the participants at the conference. Ms. Van de Ven praised the diligent and dedicated effort made by Ms. Carolyn Handschin, Chair of the Committee on the Status of Women-CSW Geneva, together with a team of women at the conference, who developed a meaningful, realistic and constructive text.
“Inspired by the remarkable legacy of women peace makers, 75 years of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights, the Sustainable Development Goals, the Security Council Resolutions on Women Peace and Security and the Culture of Peace Program and recalling the desire of all humanity to live in peace and shared prosperity, we call upon our leaders, and ourselves to settle for no less”. “Drawing upon decades of WFWP - Europe Women’s Leadership conferences, WFWPI Women’s Conferences on Peace in the Middle East, and advocacy at major United Nations offices, which have all reconfirmed the crucial nature of women’s role in peace and human development, we renew our determination, as we build momentum through solidarity with like-minded women’s organizations, networks and associations” the document highlights.
3. Reflection: Ms. Amanda Toumanguelov, from Ireland, expressed that having chats after the sessions in the conference with a variety of different people really moved her. “I think what we learned and experienced here will inspire our youth and I’m wondering where is the love and the human dignity we’re having here, back in Ireland at the moment, with so many issues, especially in the education system”, she shared.
“We need to raise the awareness of human dignity and love for each other, and spread this vision, supporting one another and the environment a bit more than what we are doing now”, she stated.
4. Closing remarks: Ms. Mitty Tohma sincerely thanked everybody for their constructive and active participation in this conference. She reminded everyone of the importance of supporting each other and sharing their experiences with others when they return home. She acknowledged the organizing team—Marcia De Abreu, Brigitte Wada, Vigdis Parkins, Zoe Bennett, and Kefilwe Lebepe—recognizing the team who had worked incredibly hard and diligently to prepare for this conference.
Report compiled by Ms. Renate Amesbauer, WFWP Austria President, and her team.