For the past two weeks, I’ve been reading the news reports about the escalating violence in Israel and Lebanon with dread and despair. I am struck by how unavoidable the violence seems to be, and yet how unconstructive it is, destroying lives, homes, businesses, and hope, while sowing further seeds of hate.
After seemingly endless reports of destruction and death, it was heartening to read about Israeli and Palestinian women who are urging an end to the violence. And I guess I shouldn’t have been surprised: women have historically been leaders in peace activism. Through organizations such as the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (of which Lillian Wald was a founder) and Women Strike for Peace (of which Bella Abzug was a founder), women have drawn on their authority as mothers and wives to demand peace in protection of their sons and husbands.
I’ve always been intrigued by the phenomenon of women’s peace activism. First of all, it’s an example of women using their traditional roles to justify non-traditional work and involvement in global issues – a little subversive trick I appreciate. But I have mixed feelings about the implicit assumption that women are more empathic than men – why, after all, should this be? Is it because of some deeply rooted maternal instinct? And anyway, shouldn’t fathers care as much about their sons’ lives as mothers do? Is it because women have historically been less involved in politics and therefore better able to think “outside the box” when it comes to conflict resolution? Is it because gender identity is so important to women that some are able to develop relationships and coalitions with women across borders?
As a woman, I do feel proud of the legacy of women peace seekers, but I also wonder what it says about our world that the mantle of peace activism is so often carried by women.