Welcome to our first Newsletter! By way of this regular post, we’d like to keep you up to date on what we at Partera are doing, upcoming events and opportunities, stories of our work in places like South Sudan and Uganda, Colombia, India and the Philippines, ways in which you can participate or lend your support. Sometimes we’ll be writing to you about a recent action, or giving you snapshots of work in places where people are challenging violent norms and generational animosities with interventions for peace, or stories of those people risking their lives for change. Sometimes we’ll be writing to offer tools for use in situations of conflict – whether the board room, the classroom, the assembly line, your place of work or worship, family or neighbourhood. Other times, we may be asking you to support a piece of work that will change lives for the better.
So much to say! Where to begin?
It’s hard to decide what to share with you in this first newsletter. We could tell you about our recent participation in a piece of street theatre in Ottawa protesting Canada’s participation in the trade fair known as CANSEC, one in which arms merchants and arms dealers, companies and governments, come to dicker over weapons of individual and mass destruction. Or we could share with you some stories about Uganda and our work with mostly South Sudanese refugees, many of them child soldiers, now trying to figure out life in the camps on the Ugandan border. With Mindanao recently, a story of our work there where Kuratong Balaleng carries out kidnapping for ransom for Abu Sayyaf. Or the prospects of participation in two critical movements of women in peacebuilding in India whose goals are large: advancing women’s role in nonviolent action globally.
Three Muslim Women Heroes
I’d like to introduce you to three women; we’ll call them Asma, Yamina and Fatima. Asma participated in a training in Sudan and became committed to becoming a peacemaker in her country, saying, “I want to be a peacemaker. It is difficult. We need to accept others and not care about skin colour and tribe. To be human, our humanity, that is the dream of everybody who believes in the human.”
Al-Jazeera’s Activate producers heard about her and created a half-hour documentary called How to Mobilise a Million. The film follows her, a Muslim woman, and her co-leader Rudwan, a Christian man, encountering hostile domestic security forces at home – and then leading a peace convoy to south Sudan where, in the new nation’s capital, they delivered food aid and held a press conference. There, they asked for the forgiveness of the Southerners and offered an apology on behalf of the North for their role in the deaths of 2.5 million people and millions more displaced in decades of civil war.
When Girifna took to the streets early 2012, Asma was amongst those arrested. Eventually she was released due to international pressure. Still living in Khartoum, she continues her work for peace and non-violent social and political change.
Yamina was one of over 200 people trained as trainers by Partera from 2005 to 2012 in Sudan and South Sudan. I remember well when she turned to my Swedish colleague following an exercise that invites participants to consider and challenge gender roles, Yasmin asked him, “In Sweden, would YOU do the dishes?” She was incredulous when he said yes. Named for a flower, this young woman blossomed through the course of the training. This is her testimony: “Through the non-violence training, I got the courage to sit down with my family and stand up for my rights. I told them that I, as a daughter, sister and a woman, have the same rights as the men in my family – and they actually listened to me! that gave me the confidence to become to trainer and to organise my own workshops in non-violence.”
During interrogations and beatings after Fatima’s arrest in 2012, state security agents kept asking her whom she knew, with which foreigners she was in contact but she refused to name anybody. She told her captors, “Even if you kill me, there are many more coming up behind me.” She recalled in her own words what I had said the first day of her training a few years earlier: ‘You are pregnant; there is a baby growing in all of you: it is the New Sudan. It is going to be born.” In the women’s prison in Omdurman, she taught the women prisoners about non-violence. They had never heard that before. They knew about violence against women and against children but not non-violence. Fatima said, “So I taught them how to respond non-violently to their captors, with dignity and strength. All those women in the prison, they all know you, Haboba (Arabic for ‘Granny’) and they want to meet you one day; they want to be peacemakers, too. I told them about the baby being born. You gave us the best gift every, Haboba: the gift of non-violence. Look at me! You will see how beautiful I am now that they have beaten me and starved me!” By Skype, she smiles.