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Women PeaceMakers Answer Audience Questions

Thursday, November 7, 2019TOPICS: Global ImpactResearchWomen PeacemakersHuman Rights and Security

The following questions were posed by audience members at the Women PeaceMakers Event on November 5, 2019. Due to the overwhelming number of thoughtful questions submitted, we were unable to answer all of them during the event. We've asked the Women PeaceMakers to share their thoughts on some of the questions we were unable to answer live. 

What do you think are the early signs of violent extremism in an individual, and how can we respond to it effectively?

Rina Kedem (RK): In our context, it’s about the images young people look at and what they listen to. And a lot of isolation and defiance or the social characteristics young people display. They use a lot of language of hatred, especially against certain groups. Structural violence is a key indicator as well. 

Mossarat Qadeem (MQ): It is often about their appearance — growing a beard, starting to wear local and traditional clothes, or criticizing everyone for whatever they are doing that is normal. They become sadist, their behavior changes and their attitude is very volatile. Structural inequalities lead to these problems. 

Ruth Buffalo (RB): It is a symptom of a larger issue — just look at the larger political landscape. And social economics contributes as well. If more people are dying, and healthcare is poor, there are systemic issues. 

Lilian Riziq (LR): In our context, it's mainly hate speech.

Mossarat Qadeem at the Women PeaceMakers Event on Nov. 5, 2019

How has your religious tradition contributed to your ability to be a leading peacemaker?

LR: We work with a 'women of faith' group in South Sudan. The Muslims and Christians created a prayer for International Day of Peace. Then they invited the president and high officials but also tried to reach out to the rebel groups. The Bishop and Imam helped to spread the message of peace. 

RK: We work with interfaith cooperation, specifically with environmental peacebuilding, they are based in the three base religions of Christianity, Islam, and Judaism. It can be a very powerful tool to reach people’s hearts.

MQ: Our whole program is influenced by the strength of the counter-narratives of the religious practice of both Islam and Christianity. We build our narrative on this interfaith harmony. 

RB: Our Indigenous values believe all people are connected and viewed as equal which guides this work.

Lilian Riziq giving her talk titled, "The Quest for Peace: The Plight of the South Sudanese Women"

What is your biggest need, and how can we help you as an audience if we stay in touch with you?

RB: For hearts and minds to be changed. For Native Americans to no longer be viewed as invisible in every space there is. You can stay in touch by following me on Twitter (@ruth4nd). You can also follow the Fargo Moorhead Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women Taskforce on Facebook and check the website for updates at Don’t be afraid to build relationships with your neighbors, for example, did you know there are 31 different tribes in San Diego County?  

MQ: For me, I would like to have you understand other religions and cultures to widen your horizons. This may help in building peace step by step. 

LR: My need is peace in South Sudan. In order for that to happen, America has to fulfill its promises. They are the ones who worked very hard to deliver South Sudan as a country, but right now we are neglected. Reach out to your congressperson and voice the concern of South Sudan to bring it back to the policy forefront. Also, check on our website to learn what we are doing and stay connected. Join the conversation on Facebook by following the South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network

RK: Spreading the world and sharing within your circles about what touched you at the event. Have these conversations. Financial support to any of the stories that touched your heart is always helpful. Stay in touch via Either be involved or get out of these intense situations.

What advice would you give to young women trying to make a difference in the world?

LR: If they really want to make a difference at a young age, you should start to volunteer in an organization that you believe in. That can be anything from education to homelessness. You will gain great knowledge and experience. 

RK: Be a part of a youth exchange or a peacebuilding class. Follow your heart, not just your mind. Find a mentor from the field that can be there to support you, teach you, and care for you when you need help or advice. 

RB: Never doubt yourself. Never give up. Stand strong in your belief. Know that you belong wherever you go. 

MQ: Be proud of your identity. Set a goal for yourself and be committed to achieving that goal.

North Dakota State Rep. Ruth Buffalo at the Women PeaceMakers Event

As a woman peacemaker, how crucial is it to be, at minimum, bilingual?

RB: It is very important, but it’s also important that visitors learn these languages. There are 500 languages still being used in tribal nations, and many of them are close to being extinct. 

RK: Language is key to your standing, and there are a lot of things that you can’t do when you can’t meet them where they are. 

LR: I use language as a tool of communication. Sometimes it is difficult to connect when there is a lack of a certain language — this is often used as a tool of intelligence. Fluency of English is key, and it has gotten me very far because it proves an intellectual ability. 

MQ: For a peacemaker, language is very important. We reach out to our communities only if we understand their language. Then we are able to understand their culture. It is the language that represents any ethnic group or nationality and you need to know how to reach out to them. Language is like food — if you know it, you can reach the hearts and minds of people. It is a very easy way of influencing people and earning their trust.

Rina Kedem (right) answering audience questions at the Women PeaceMakers Event

Do you ever find yourself feeling hopeless in that conflict seems to be never-ending and the scope of unrest is so incredibly large? What gives you hope to feel that you, as an individual, are truly impacting the world?

LR: I have never felt hopeless. If I did, I would lose the vision. What keeps me moving is the vision and the future that I imagine about how South Sudan is and how it could be. The conflict is never-ending, but I never lose the vision — it is always alive. 

RK: I definitely have moments of hopelessness, and many times it feels like a conflict that will never be solved. When that happens, I look at my children which immediately reminds me of why I do what I do. Knowing that we are changing the future for our children, and focusing on the success on smaller levels brings my hope back. 

RB: I think of my ancestors and the prayers they gave for me to be here today, and the youth gives me hope for the future. 

MQ: Every time I am pushed down or challenged, it gives me more strength and power to move up because I always have hope that no matter what I am doing, my struggle will be rewarded. I believe in my commitment and zeal. If I lose hope, then the people I am working for will also lose hope.

From your experience, what are some of the threats that are common to experience as a peacemaker on the ground when navigating cycles of violence?

MQ: When we are on the ground, as a peacemaker and as a woman, we are always faced with challenges. There are always threats from different sources. They come from your own people, from rigid mindsets around women peacebuilders, and the other is from those who are raising awareness in the community may all feel challenged from our own work. Threats of all types — psychological, physical, emotional, religious. And anyone associated with us can come under threat of violence. 

RK: Threats can come through social media or by being blacklisted in professional organizations or boycotted from bigger organizations. Some women peacemakers' lives are constantly threatened including a lot of threats around betrayal and harm to one's reputation. Because of certain threats, I don’t have any social media. There's also a threat of others misusing information for negative propaganda purposes which happens often. 

RB: Threats have been physical and political against me and my family. Character assassination and slander are also too common to stop us from moving forward.

LR: In the context of South Sudan, the situation is very patriarchal and when any woman comes out to challenge a man, it creates a threat. The context is highly militarized. You don’t joke with someone who has a weapon — we must always be careful of what we say and what we don’t say. They can take away our passports, and then we can’t leave the country.

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Jennifer Bradshaw
(619) 260-4189

Joan B. Kroc School of Peace Studies


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