Women peace-makers call for a holistic and sustainable peace


An article from the World Council of Churches

Meaningful participation by women in a conflict resolution and peace-building promotes a more sustainable peace, a panel discussion with women peace-makers concluded, after the screening of a documentary on the 2015 “Women Cross the DMZ” initiative.

The European premiere of the documentary “Crossings” took place on 21 March at the Ecumenical Centre in Geneva, as part of the World Council of Churches’ support for the Korea Peace Appeal campaign and accompaniment of the advocacy efforts of Korean churches for sustainable peace in the region.

Panelists and their supporters after the screening of the documentary “Crossings” at the Ecumenical centre in Geneva on 21 March 2023. Photo: Ivars Kupcis/WCC

The film, directed by Emmy-award-winning filmmaker Deann Borshay Liem, explores enduring questions about war’s legacy on the Korean Peninsula and the significant and inspiring role women can play in resolving the world’s most intractable conflicts.

The documentary “Crossings” particularly recognizes and celebrates women’s involvement in working for peace on the Korean Peninsula. It follows 30 women peacemakers from different parts of the world on their historic journey crossing the demilitarized zone (DMZ) from North to South Korea, calling for an end to the Korean War and for peace on the Korean Peninsula.

One of the panelists and peacemakers portrayed in the documentary, Mimi Han, vice president of World YWCA, noted that “another crossing is within ourselves in South Korea – unfortunately, even in the faith community. It is sad to confess that there is a huge DMZ, or 38th parallel within ourselves.” The film demonstrates the importance of overcoming our own boundaries and barriers, highlighting the inspiring example of women from diverse backgrounds coming together and working towards a common goal, said Han.

“When I was a child, I usually heard from my parents: be a peacemaker, and practice peace in your daily life,” said Young-Mi Cho, another panelist from Korea, executive director of the Korean Women’s Movement for Peace. “Women can cross the boundaries within ourselves and make difference, achieving it in different ways. We want to end the war and make the world better, working all together.”

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Do women have a special role to play in the peace movement?

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Peter Prove, director of the WCC Commission of the Churches on International Affairs, noted that the film helps us to understand that the continued division of the Korean Peninsula is an artifact of the Cold War, “which was largely a conflict between white men.

“This historical reality requires us to engage in a more inclusive approach to the resolution of this matter. In addition to giving agency to women peace-makers around the world, it also means giving agency back to the Korean people, North and South,” said Prove. “Ultimately the construction of peace on the Korean Peninsula must be the joint project of Koreans – not obstructed by white men elsewhere.”

Women being involved in transforming situations of conflict is something we see a lot in the Biblical narrative, said Rev. Nicole Ashwood, WCC programme executive for Just Community of Women and Men. “What I was struck by in the film – even if there were times when women faltered and questioned how to proceed in the face of obstruction and opposition—these women understood the need to present a united front and that their strength and power came from their unity. There is a call for church to be involved in advocacy, and to join the women in Korea in their quest for peace,” stated Ashwood.

Despite the group of women in the film being very diverse, their experiences with war and peace processes are strikingly similar, noted Ewa Eriksson Fortier, one of the Women Cross the DMZ delegates and a longtime leader of humanitarian work in North Korea.

“We have the UN Security Council’s resolution to include women in peace and conflict resolution processes – the legal framework is there; many countries have made national plans of its implementation, but the implementation itself is very much resisted or put down in priorities of many countries,” said Eriksson Fortier, adding that today the situation in the world is even more serious with the war in Ukraine, and peace movements in the world will have a lot of resistance to overcome, ”but we must never give up.”

“When women call for peace, we are not just talking about peace in a sense of a national security, as absence of war, conflict and weapons,” added Mimi Han during the discussion. “We talk about common security, human security, seeing peace in a more holistic way, including socio-economic, health, environment, and climate security. Therefore we believe that meaningful participation of women, sharing power, brings peace which is more sustainable.”

The current political situation is a moment to develop the broader peace movement in Korea, as well as the Korean woman’s peace movement, noted Young-Mi Cho. “We want to reach out with our peace movement not only in Korea, but also in conflict situations in other countries as well. As the film concluded – let’s get started! We have to do it, and we have to do it together,” said the Korean peace-maker, encouraging women around the world to join the work for peace.

The panel discussion was moderated by Rev. Dr Peter Cruchley, director of the WCC Commission on World Mission and Evangelism. Co-sponsors of the documentary screening: Women Cross the DMZ (WCDMZ), Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF), Nobel Women’s Initiative (NWI) and Korean Women’s Movement for Peace (KWMP).

As 2023 marks the 70th anniversary of the Armistice Agreement whereby the Korean War was suspended, but not ended, the World Council of Churches is urging churches worldwide to join the Korea Peace Appeal, a campaign that promotes replacing the Armistice Agreement with a permanent peace treaty for the Korean Peninsula.