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Powerful Women PeaceMakers Share Their Powerful Stories

Collectively, the 2019 Women PeaceMakers program’s four-person cohort of North Dakota’s Ruth Buffalo, Israel’s Rina Kedem, Pakistan’s Mossarat Qadeem and South Sudan’s Lilian Riziq is a supergroup. Bring them together and they’ll have the wisdom, heart, passion, determination and heart to represent women around the world as true Changemakers to model for all others.

Individually on Tuesday night, before a full KIPJ Theatre audience and with many more watching in an overflow room with monitors to listen, each of these incredibly passionate, caring, resourceful and inspired women had a 10-minute opportunity to share stories. 

You can click on each video of their respective presentations below:

Ruth Buffalo’s grandparents whom she never met because she was born one year after their passing, inspire her. Family means everything to her. Tragedy in her family stems from a 1950 flood that forced her grandfather to change his name for socioeconomic reasons. Her youngest sibling died in a car accident on a narrow road that had killed many others before. “How can we work to widen the road for justice through peace?” Buffalo said early in her talk. Later, her words were, “How can we widen the road to build a stronger future?”

Buffalo, who is the first United States Woman PeaceMaker in 18 years of the program's history, is a political healer, a community organizer, a public health professional and educator. She is a citizen of the Mandan Hidatsa Arikara Nation. She is a descendant of the Chiricahua Apache. She is currently a Representative for District 27 in south Fargo, N.D. after being elected in 2018.

Rina Kedem seems like someone who has had multiple lives based on a wide variety of experiences. She’s done the mandatory military service in the Israeli Army, she spoke of “falling in love with lands and people,” good people in the communities she visits while doing environmental work. She spoke about bordering Middle East countries who are expected to share natural resources like water and yet the situation is tricky — “the environment can either be a catalyst for conflict or cooperation,” she said. But she repeatedly showed during her talk that she wants to "live for the holy land."

Kedem is an environmental peacebuilder and social entrepreneur who has developed and directed cooperation projects with Palestinians, Israelis and Jordanians for the past 16 years. Her work is guided by a wholesome perspective including social-economic and environmental well-being of communities and hands-on, long-term peacebuilding opportunities that impact policy.

Mossarat Qadeem was determined to do something. To date, 67,400 civilians and 7,400 security personnel lost their lives in terrorist attacks in Pakistan by members of the Taliban. “I, Mossarat Qadeem, who as a university professor teaches the theories of conflict transformation and peacebuilding, felt the need and responsibility to take those theories out of the classroom and into the practical field.” Why? “Because it was the youth of my homeland who were the target of extremist groups. It was my soil that was witnessing the bloodshed on a daily basis. So we started a movement from the platform of my organization, Let’s Live in Peace. We engaged students, youth, women to understand why someone would blow up one’s self or kill innocent people and bring havoc into the lives of the people.” For the rest of the story, view her video.

Qadeem is co-founder of PAIMAN Alumni Trust, a pioneer organization in Preventing and Countering Violent Extremism (PCVE) in Pakistan. She is an internationally known expert on PCVE, on deradicalization, and for women, peace and security issues. She has spoken in the United Nations’ General Assembly and the Security Council regarding PCVE.

When Lilian Riziq opened her talk, she asked the audience a question: “Have you ever wondered where on earth is the safest place to be a woman?” Based on statistics attained by the Georgetown University’s Institute for Women, Peace and Security and taking into account 167 countries and based on three areas — participation, security and justice, the answer to Riziq’s question is Norway. The rest of the top five are Switzerland, Finland, Denmark and Iceland. The bottom five? Yemen was deemed the worst, followed by Afghanistan, Syria, Pakistan and South Sudan. The United States? Not in the Top 10 or Top 15. The U.S. finished 19th.

Riziq is a social justice activist; a prominent leader in South Sudan’s women’s movement and the founder of South Sudan Women’s Empowerment Network. The SSWEN is an organization that advocates for women’s and human rights. She is also connected to several initiatives, including gender mainstreaming in the peacebuilding process in South Sudan, which only gained its independence in 2011.

PeaceMakers Q&A

Following Riziq's talk, Jennifer Bradshaw, the Kroc IPJ Program Officer for the Women PeaceMakers Program, brought the four women back to the stage and asked them a few questions. The four women have been in residence at USD since Oct. 6 and their six-week stay will conclude at the end of next week. Bradshaw asked them to each say a few words about their PeaceMaker sisters and the impact of being together and having the chance to learn from each other. 

— Compiled by Ryan T. Blystone

Videos courtesy of The Kroc School at USD

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