Peace, yes please! An information project.
In 2008 the Swedish section of WILPF (IKFF, Internationella Kvinnoforbundet for Fred och Frihet) began a long-term project to help high school students gain a deeper understanding of armed conflicts around the globe. We are working with 600 students in three high schools in the Stockholm area.
Together we look into the underlying causes of conflict, initiatives to prevent or resolve these conflicts, peace agreements and the issue of sustainable peace. Recent examples of armed conflicts in the world help to illustrate and clarify the complex picture we aim to provide. We use film clips, slide shows, guest speakers and visits to organizations working in the field of peace and development. These have included the United Nations Association and an accompaniment program working in Hebron.
One of the exercises we use to stimulate discussion is the 'hot seat'. Students sit in chairs in a large circle. A discussion leader reads aloud statements on peace and conflict. [Conflicts in other parts of the world don't concern me, My opinions matter, My work for peace will have an impact, I feel safe ... and so on.] If students agree with the statement they swap chairs. This will usually get the discussion started.
In a role-playing exercise, each student gets a note describing a character (for instance, a Palestinian girl in Gaza, or a UN soldier in Afghanistan) and then moves forward or back in response to statements on sense of security.
Our program grew out of a previous project in which we learned that young people seemed to lack general knowledge about armed conflict and security issues. A key reason for this is the media's failure to present armed conflicts in an analytical way that young people can relate to and understand. Instead, the conflicts are typically presented as irrational and isolated events, erupting suddenly out of nowhere.
But we who work with the peace issue on a daily basis know that the outbreak of conflict is often preceded by a lengthy sequence of events and complex underlying causes. This is important to IKFF, in our focus on prevention of armed conflicts. We believe that space must be given for in-depth study of causation.
Moreover, public reporting from communities on the brink of war, armed conflicts, and post-conflict situations often lack adequate gender perspective. Usually, it is the men's story that is told. Women, when mentioned, are not uncommonly presented as passive victims rather than as subjects and actors. IKFF has always acted to highlight the unique and important experiences women have of armed conflicts, and how these can and should be used to create conditions for sustainable peace.
When an armed conflict draws to a close, when the peace agreements are negotiated and structures created for the post-conflict society to function, the media often ceases reporting. This is unfortunate. When a country signs a peace treaty this does not of course automatically mean that all people live in peace and security. It is necessary to rebuild communities and trust among the people.
The consequences of representing conflicts as inexplicable outbreaks without a prelude or an end can be devastating. The lack of deeper conflict analysis spreads ignorance on how to respond appropriately to a conflict. Even worse, it could also spread an unwillingness to act to prevent a conflict--given the impression that it occurs suddenly with no special reason. We present the importance of developing a functional civil society for stability.
The need to adopt a gender perspective when discussing peace, security and conflict in high schools, is extremely important. We have so far, among the students we visited, found that the gender issue does not seem to have high priority in education. Though most questions on why we are focusing on women come from boys, they have also come from teachers. There is a thin line to walk, not to end up in a situation where the discussion focuses on women as victims only and not as active actors. It is obvious that working for peace must go hand in hand with the implementation of gender awareness. But we have a long way to go, since there seems to be a backlash concerning gender issues today.
Students do understand what increased militarization might lead to, and express appreciation over the work IKFF does through this information project. But this does not mean that the question is fully implemented. There is still a clash between those who consider peace missions to be a solely military task, and those who consider peace building as a long-term job to be done by the civil society.
In the long run I am hopeful, and I think that Peace, yes please! is contributing to a wider understanding and perspective on peace and security.
Pia Johansson is the information officer for IKFF.