Celebration of women peacemakers

 l-r: Jill Mann, Sahdia Khan, Anne Dodd (chair) Ingrid Sharp, Carol Burns

l-r: Jill Mann, Sahdia Khan, Anne Dodd (chair) Ingrid Sharp, Carol Burns

Women from all over the north of England took part in a Pax Christi - Fellowship of Reconciliation day conference in Leeds that aimed to encourage, inspire and enthuse women in their work for peace.

The anniversary of the death of the four Maryknoll Missioners in El Salvador in December 1980 was part of the inspiration for the day.

During the morning participants saw a Mosaic of ordinary women peacemakers from every continent covering issues from racism to nuclear disarmament and nonviolent activism on issues ranging from El Salvador to Palestine. A play, Stone Tales,devised by Alexandra Carey, was premiered, telling the stories of Jean Donovan, lay missioner murdered in El Salvador in 1980) Aung Sang Suu Kyi of Burma and Muriel Lester, a founder of the Fellowship of Reconciliation and a roving ambassador for the movement during World War I. It illustrated the ripples of  peace that each woman had created in her life and witness.

A panel of speakers offered insights into different models of peacemaking. Dr Inrgid Sharp of Leeds University spoike on the role of peacewomen in World War I Germany and their wider influence within Europe. Sahdia Khan, from the interfaith Aik Saath project in Slough, on their work in training young people in conflict resolution and anti-racism. Jill Mann of the Leeds based, Together4Peace spoke of local community opportunities for peacemaking - referring to grass-roots activists at the 'critical yeast' in society. Pax Christi's Carol Burns, a member from Leeds shared the challenged she had faced in redefining the solidarity role of peacemaking during her two years work in Sri Lanka. Solidarity work within a conflict situation demands more subtle approaches, slowly building trust and relationships in fractured societies where one is exposed to perspectives one may not be used to hearing.

The main thrust of the day was to affirm the great breadth and depth of peacework that women around the country undertake each day and to draw support and encouragement from one another to continue in this work. An session on 'intergenerational speed networking' helped to get this off the ground. The experiences of participants spanned seventy years and reflected interests and work in every continent of the world.

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