Creating a Culture of Peace
A Workshop Kit Produced by Canadian Voice
of Women for Peace
In all movements for social change, certain people and groups take on key roles of .education and advocacy. These individuals, groups or institutions define the proposal for change, help to generate the movement, and design and execute specific pro' jects. Their role can be described as being promoters, and to be a promoter is to act as example, educator, facilitator and agent for change.
A peace promoter is a person or group who works to transform the culture of war and violence to a culture of peace. A peace promoter needs to internalize the attitudes, values, knowledge and abilities of peace, and a preparation process is often necessary. To promote a culture of peace, a person or group must have a deep understanding of how change is possible in a particular cultural and historical setting, and the profile of a peace promoter varies greatly according to the context. In Latin America, for example, peace promoters are often steeped in the liberation theology message of the church; African peace promoters have relied on traditional peacebuilding skills of the elders.
Education, in the broadest sense of the word, is the primary task of the peace promoter. But it is more than that. The peace promoter also acts to facilitate change and bring about a transformation of the underlying assumptions. To do this, the peace promoter needs a critical understanding of why change is needed and how this can be possible.
It may seem paradoxical, but the most effective promoters of peace are often those who were most implicated in the culture of violence. On further reflection, one can understand why. To begin with, those who become involved in a political struggle usually do so out of strong convictions. Their commitment is not as much to violence as to the goals of social change, which often implies redressing issues of structural violence. Once ex-combatants in violent struggles see that violence is not effective in realizing their goals of greater justice, their commitment and involvement to change can be transformed into different ways of doing things. They also have a unique understanding of the forces driving people to take to violence, and thus a greater ability to prevent this from happening. This goes some way to explaining how a group of ex-soldieries from both sides of a vicious civil war in Nicaragua have become a potent force for peace all over the world. The Centre for International Studies (Centro de Estudios Internationales) was established in Nicaragua to deal with the immediate problem of the post-war situation in its own country, but it is now spreading its programmes for education and action to countries all over the word involved in-internecine wars. UNESCO has provided financial support for these networks.
With the right consciousness and commitment, and if necessary the right training and education, any individual or group can become a peace promoter, a principle well recognized by UNESCO. The importance of training and deploying peace promoters was established in the first national culture of peace program me - El Salvador begun in 1994 and the training of women peace promoters is named as a priority in the Women and a Culture of Peace Programme.
People can play a transformative role wherever they are positioned. International development workers can be peace promoters, a principle recognized in the expanding concept of peacebuilding and supported by the Canadian government's peacebuilding initiative. McMaster University's War and Health programme, as well as the Hedip programme of the World Health Organization have looked at ways that health workers can promote peace. Work is being done in many countries transforming police forces to police services. This is not just a name change. The point is that with retraining and a change of philosophy, police can become peace promoters.
To be a peace promoter, it is essential to have a critical analysis. If we conceptualize the role as assisting a transformation from a culture of violence to a culture of peace, it is important to understand that unless people actively work to change the culture, their roles can act to reinforce the status quo. In international development, awareness of the need for a "do no harm" approach is growing. There is an understanding that even with the best of intentions, development or humanitarian projects can actually have negative impacts and exacerbate tensions. A peace promoter needs more than just a desire to help.
Without using the terminology explicitly, South Africa's Truth and Reconciliation (TRC) has also advanced the concept of a peace promoter. While much of the Commission's investigation focused on the perpetrators of gross violations of human rights, it also examined the role that civil society played in maintaining the apartheid system. The TRC looked at five sectors of civil society: health care, the judiciary, the faith communities, the media and business. It concluded that even though all of them may have acted within the laws of the country, their actions of commission and omission made them complicit in maintaining a "culture of human rights abuses". In other words, they were called to task for NOT acting as peace promoters. This concept moves beyond the Nuremberg tribunal, that people can be culpable for simply carrying out orders to commit atrocities. To be fully human, to be a responsible person, the TRC suggests, is not just to refrain from doing evil, but to actively and consciously work for change.
All of us play contradictory roles. All of us are implicated in the dominant culture, the culture of war and violence. But most of us also play roles in advancing a culture of peace, whether it is on an individual level, in the community, or through our paid work. We are encouraging people to become more aware of what it means to be a peace promoter. just as much of women's unpaid work is unacknowledged as work, so is much of the work of developing a culture of peace.
Recognize that you are already a peace promoter and name the work you are doing as peace promotion work. Be conscious of what you can do to promote change, and question what you do to maintain the culture of war and violence. An important part of your peace promoter role is to talk to others and encourage them to become active and empowered as well.
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