Europe and the Middle East—The fourth session of the July 2021 International Leadership Conference explored the potential of women leaders as peacebuilders.
From July 27 to 29, 2021, eight sessions of the ILC were held online under the title “Toward the Peaceful Reunification of the Korean Peninsula: Best Practices in Track II Diplomacy.”
The fourth session, held on July 28, was titled “The Emerging Power of Women’s Diplomacy toward Sustainable Peace.” UPF and its International Association of First Ladies for Peace (IAFLP) organized the session with the support of Women’s Federation for World Peace (WFWP), an organization that is affiliated with UPF.
A total of 198 participants attended the “live” broadcast, with an additional 614 viewers on Facebook.
Prominent women in leadership around the world, included current and former first ladies and parliamentarians, offered their expertise on the topic of women in diplomacy and their unique perspective on the role of women in peacebuilding. They also spoke about their successes and challenges they faced in serving their nation.
Carolyn Handschin, the IAFLP coordinator for Europe and the Middle East, opened the session. “While today’s discussion on successful models of women’s diplomacy and mediation is aimed at the cause of reconciliation, peace and prosperity on the Korean Peninsula, it is relevant everywhere,” Mrs. Handschin said.
Dr. Sun Jin Moon, the senior vice president of WFWP International, said the Koreans are victims of a geopolitical conflict embedded in a much larger global context. She emphasized the role of citizens—rather than just leaders—in Korean reunification, working not only through economics but also culture and the arts. Because relations between Seoul and Pyongyang have been hostage to geopolitical dynamics and external actors’ influence, Dr. Moon said, the involvement of non-governmental actors in enhancing reconciliation between the two Korean communities is very important.
As the daughter of UPF and WFWP co-founders Rev. Dr. Sun Myung Moon and Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, she described her parents’ extensive efforts for Korean reunification. As a child, her mother was forced to flee North Korea during the Korean War but returned to the DPRK as an adult to speak with President Kim Il Sung about the need for reunification. Sun Jin Moon said her parents have developed businesses and a tourist industry in the North. Now her mother is making plans for a world summit, including North Korea in the conversation, about achieving peace not just on the Korean Peninsula but worldwide.
H.E. Anneli Jäätteenmäki, the former prime minister of Finland (2003) and a member of the European Parliament (2004 to 2019), moderated the session.
H.E. Nayla Moawad, the former first lady of Lebanon (1989) and her nation’s minister of social affairs (1992-2004) spoke about the current crisis in her country. The struggle for control leads to corruption and resultant poverty, she said. Even wealthy families are now struggling to afford food due to extortionate inflation. This is because of a lack of balance in leadership, she said. Because women are more empathetic, when they are in leadership positions, there is less corruption, she said.
The Lebanese people saw this when she served as first lady and were surprised by her desire to serve all of Lebanon. This touched people’s hearts, and she was very well received following the assassination of her husband. She then founded the René Moawad Foundation, which is successfully providing aid across Lebanon. If there were more women in power, she said, it would be easier to solve Lebanon’s crisis and lead the country to success. This can be applied to other countries in conflict too.
H.E. Neziha Labidi, a former minister for women, family, children and senior citizens (2016-2020) in Tunisia, began by quoting the Dutch philosopher Baruch Spinoza: “Peace is not merely the absence of war, it is the presence of justice.”
Statistically speaking, women-led countries are more peaceful, H.E. Labidi said. Tunisia has a history of women in leadership, she said, as well as laws that protect women from domestic and sexual violence, pioneering this in the Middle East. However, a change in culture takes a lot longer than a change in policy, she said, and the fight for equality is far from over.
Agreeing with the previous speaker, H.E. Nayla Moawad, she said the hearts of women are the key to a more compassionate, inclusive future. The key is to not get discouraged, she said; even if you are outnumbered, willpower is more important than numbers.
Kholoud Wattar Kassem, the founder and president of the NGO Lebanese Women Towards Decision Making, said that empowering women in peacebuilding is her mission in life. Growing up in a conservative family and environment, she fought to go to university and work, even to drive her own car. She was empowered by the thought of pioneering the way for women that follow her.
Her attempt to join parliament was met with cynicism by family members, she said. Even her husband struggled to accept this reversal in dynamic. But after years of persistence and patience, her husband is now her main supporter.
Although it is not the norm in Lebanon to have women as public decision-makers, 113 female candidates ran in the 2018 general elections, a record-breaking number. This is a promising development: women not waiting for peace but going out to actively seek it.
Mrs. Marcia De Abreu, the chair of WFWP-Spain and the secretary general of WFWP-Europe, moderated the question-and-answer session. H.E. Nayla Moawad could not join the Q&A due to Internet complications, related to the current difficulties in Lebanon with electricity.
Asked how to activate more women—especially in South Korea, which stands in the last ranks of women in decision-making positions in society—H.E. Labidi stated that it is essential to create specific floors for women’s political engagement and to promote women in decision-making positions, either in governmental bodies or in civil society. In particular, she suggested that local and small-scale projects be implemented in towns to engage local youth and raise their awareness of environmental issues, as today’s young generations will deal with an increased competition for resources in the coming decades.
A second question was addressed to both H.E. Labidi and Mrs. Wattar Kassem regarding prospects for the reconciliation of the two Koreas, in the face of a low number of women diplomats, especially in North Korea. H.E. Labidi suggested that women from civil society in the two countries should join forces and cooperate in projects of common interest in the sphere of women’s rights and in the name of a common cultural past. Mrs. Wattar Kassem said that women should “make their own mindset” and lobby together to transform the society.
Overall, the webinar brought to light insightful stories and lessons learned from women leaders from three continents that sent a message of peace, hope and reconciliation between the two Koreas. As H.E. Labidi said, the cultural shift that is required will not happen quickly or easily. But, she said, the key to sustainable positive change is not aggression or force—as some women have been led to believe—but rather the quality of empathy and long-term investment of women at their best.
This same quality, fostered at home, must be brought to the table. Therefore, trying to masculinize women in leadership does not solve the problem. Instead, she said, a loving (feminine) approach can transform the way countries lead.