Monday, November 25, 2013

Widows of Conflict; Women for Peace

In a remote area of northern Kenya, women widowed and impoverished by conflict between warring communities are an example of healing, reconciliation, and modeling of peace. This is changing the hearts and minds of both communities in ways that twenty years of peace initiatives by churches, agencies and politicians have not. No one thought that women victimized by violence between the Rendille and Borana communities would become powerful agents for peace.  

Rose, a widow of conflict before she became a woman for peace.
In response to the conflict between the Borana in Badasa and the Rendille in Songa, Sauti Moja implemented a pilot project that most leaders considered foolish. The new livestock bank would be made up of ten widows from each village, and in order to qualify for a livestock loan, each had to have had her husband killed and her livestock stolen by someone from the opposite village/tribe.  Further, they had to be willing to enter into a process of reconciliation and peace-making. This required courageous women who not only feared the ‘enemy’ but were willing to stand up against the distrust and revengeful attitudes of the neighbours and family that they often depended on for assistance. They also had a longing for the good old days of peace and friendship with those who had become the enemy. And, some saw that the conflict was evil; Daku, a Borana widow, said that peace could come “if we put God first, come together with enemies, forget the past, and forgive one another”.

A peace garden is one way that Sube communicates the
message of peace to her child and community.
In July 2012, the peace process was launched; women joined in setting up the livestock bank, participated in distribution of livestock, and were trained in livestock husbandry. Every month, these Muslim and Christian widows met with our Peace Coordinator to discuss their common pain and challenges, as well as learn about peace-making and reconciliation. Barriers were broken further, as they attended monthly training in child health and nutrition, family planning, and reproductive health. Trust was built, as they recognized that they were not really different, and as they openly talked about their feelings and attitudes. They realized the need to change their own language, especially with their children, from that of fear and hatred to that of peace and compassion.

Unexpectedly, our Women for Peace began to take the initiative. They formed peace gardens where women from both tribes worked together each Saturday. The women started going to each others’ villages to sell produce and each others’ homes to visit the sick, celebrate new life, or have tea. Widows began chastising neighbor women whose sons’ had stolen livestock and threatening to report this to the police, if the livestock were not returned. Rendille widows cajoled men from their tribe to help fight fire in the Borana grazing land; the next day, the Borana had a goat roast in honour and appreciation for unexpected help from the ‘enemy’. The women developed peace songs and dramas to present at local schools and in public meetings. They lobbied the Governor to help them revive their farms that had been disused for many years, and to provide security for them working the fields.  Soon, this good news began to spread, leading to Catholic Peace and Justice inviting a few widows to give their testimonies in another region with severe conflict and to the capital to tell their story of peace and reconciliation, nationally.  Neighbouring communities came asking these women to tell them how to have peace.

 Rendille and Borana women passed-on
their first female goat as a symbol of peace between them.
While this was impressive, many remained skeptical for, next to her children, the most prized possession of a pastoralist woman is her livestock. They are her prime source of food, income and wealth, and are key to social status and community acceptance. Our fear was that when it was time for Rendille women to give female goats to the Borana, and vice versa, the process would break down. How could a pastoralist give livestock to those who stole hers? Our fear was unfounded; on October 28th, all the widows gathered in the midst of the conflicted area where they sang songs of peace, and each one passed female goats to new widows from the other tribe. The most-critical stage of our peace process was successful, and with that there are now forty Widows for Peace.

At the meeting, the sheik praised the impact of these women. Because of their influence, men can walk between the villages at night. An old man told us that now he takes only a stick when herding his goats; there is no need to carry a weapon. When a Borana man was recently beaten and his three donkeys stolen, the Rendille elders punished the warriors, forcing them to return the donkeys and give the Borana man three cows; in the past, the warriors would have been praised. The Widows of Conflict are truly Women for Peace; transformed women now have transformed communities. 

For a video presentation of this peace initative please click on the following link:  Widows of Conflict; Women for Peace:

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