Dionne Gravesande draws attention to the role women play as peacemakers during periods of conflict, and says the Church should recognise women for the work they do in this important area.
I’m a little fed up reading how women today do not know how to enjoy thriving, intimate relationships. In what could be an area of great strength is, instead, an area of weakness. Of course, I acknowledge some Christian women often feel isolated, misunderstood, belittled, and rejected, and I do not want to deny some friendships and family relationships are frequently marked by ongoing conflicts and a flight mentality. But there is another story to tell. So, while the plight of women in war and conflict often gets close media attention, what is often overlooked is the vital role played by women in negotiating peace and rebuilding communities.
The reality, often glossed over, is that in post-conflict situations women are in the forefront when it comes to negotiating and building peace. As former UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan pointed out, “Women, who know the price of conflict so well, are also better equipped than men to prevent or resolve it.” For example, since August 1999, Mothers Against Violence (MAV) have supported the inner city communities of Greater Manchester. It was birthed at a time when gun violence was at its worst, after three young Black males were murdered in the space of eight days. The mothers of that community took a stand, and came out fighting – not with guns, but with words of hope. It is with this same hope that MAV now serves the community.
For generations, women have served as peace educators. They have proved instrumental in “building bridges rather than walls”, and there are many stories that remain to be told about women from all walks of life, who are making a quantum leap from lives in the private sphere to leading the way in reshaping their societies. At the peak of the 2007 crisis in Liberia, women of the ManoRiver region (Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone) came together to form the Mano River Women’s Peace Network (MARWOPNET).
So powerful was MARWOPNET’s voice, that it was invited to the sponsored peace talks on Liberia, and was later asked to be one of the signatories to the peace agreement.
Women, as torchbearers of peace, are making a difference in hotspots of every region of the world. Palestinian and Israeli women have joined forces, and work together as advocates for peace in the Holy Land. Women’s Peace Caravans venture into the most treacherous conflict-ridden interiors of Colombia to protest against the civil war and to negotiate with the guerrillas. Throwing themselves into peace processes with enormous courage and determination, women of faith – through their often unseen and unsung work – are bringing peace to many troubled countries.
In fact, women enjoy a special role in biblical peacemaking, due to their strong relational and verbal skills. The Scriptures are rich with examples of godly and wise women brokering peace. Consider a brief snapshot from the life of Abigail (1 Samuel 25). She married a man, who jeopardised the safety of their entire household.
However, Abigail’s intelligence and fear of the Lord empowered her to exercise good judgment in the most harrowing of circumstances. We learn Abigail did what was right before God, despite the personal cost, and her appeal to King David demonstrates wise, interest-based negotiation at its finest. She knew when to overlook and when to confront; how to make a respectful appeal, and when to remain silent. Though obviously intelligent and gifted, she did not promote her own agenda, but considered the welfare of others. For me, this is spiritual maturity at its best.
As you consider your own life – or the life of your wife, daughter, mother or friend – you may wonder how the Christian women of today can relate to women such as Abigail. After all, most women will not be called upon to negotiate with a king bent on destroying her family. However, just like this biblical heroine, all women of God are called to be peacemakers (Matthew 5:9).
It is important for me to say that peace does not mean absence of war. Peace is building relationships that will bring about diversity and economic growth among people, since no family or community can develop and grow if peace is not established. Peace is associated with patience, utterances, understanding, sympathy, apologies, love, togetherness, unity, good behaviour, reconciliation, trust, tolerance, forgiveness, advice, happiness, dialogue, respect, negotiation, justice and truth. The fact that many women are natural peacemakers needs to be better acknowledged by the Church. Too often, the woman’s role is played out as passive and behind the scenes. The reality is that, where there is relationship, there will be conflict, but the goal is to live out the call to be peacemakers.
Since Christianity is at its core relational, the deep and abundant relationships developed by women clearly reflect the Kingdom of God. Simply stated, apart from God Himself, there will only be two things in eternity: God’s Word and God’s people, living in relationship with Him. This reality should serve as a wake-up call to every Christian – we must strive diligently and faithfully to have God-honouring relationships in this life. So let us, for the love of Christ, keep on keeping the peace.
Dionne Gravesande is Head of Church Advocacy at Christian Aid