Sowing Peace via Women Across the South Pacific

By Lauren Jefferson | July 28th, 2015

Women's Peacebuilding Leadership Program (WPLP)

Training and empowering women are goals of the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program in the South Pacific. (Photo by Eliki N. Ravutia)

As is true around the world, women in the Pacific Islands are often leaders in organizations that can contribute to peace, yet they tend to work in unsupported and invisible roles.

The Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding aims to inspire, educate and create a needed safe space for women to dialogue, gain support and develop action steps.

Noting that short training sessions had a limited effect on women’s abilities as peacemakers, Koila Costello-Olsson, MA ’05, was an early proponent of a program focusing on women’s peacebuilding leadership. In June of 2011, she attended the consultation at EMU with 18 experienced global peacebuilders (including 2011 Nobel Peace laureate and fellow CJP graduate Leymah Gbowee) that developed the broad outlines of the Women’s Peacebuilding Leadership Program (WPLP). Jan Jenner, MA ’99, was its founding director.

WPLP’s first class began in 2012, with 13 participants from Africa and three from the South Pacific. Class 2 included 16 participants from the South Pacific region and five from East Africa. Class 3, which began coursework at SPI 2014, is composed of eight women from Kenya.[1]

A glance at a half-dozen of the WPLP graduates shows the way they are seeded throughout the South Pacific, from a prime minister’s office and a branch of juvenile justice to women’s rights groups and a theological college:

  • Elizabeth Krishna, a lay sister in the Catholic Church, has worked in the office of the prime minister of Fiji under the current and previous three office-holders. She serves on the board of the ecumenical group Interfaith Search Fiji, which brings together 19 religious groups, including Christians, Hindus and Muslims, in an effort to build “bridges of understanding.” In 2016, at age 54, Krishna hopes to retire and prepare herself for further peacebuilding work by completing a master’s degree at EMU’s Center for Justice and Peacebuilding.
  • Patricia Galama Gure, in the first cohort, is now deputy director for juvenile justice in Papua New Guinea, where she manages staff dealing with young people, aged 7 through 17, who come into conflict with the law. “I promote the use of a restorative justice approach,” she said in an email. “And I am heavily involved in collaboration or partnership initiatives within the communities.”
  • Menka Goundan entered WPLP as a communications and research officer at PCP and now works in a similar position for Fiji Women’s Rights Movement.
  • Ana-Latu Dickson works at the Pacific Theological College in Suva, Fiji Islands, coordinating its pastoral counseling program and providing mentorship to church ministers, lay workers and community practitioners who are students in the program. She also coordinates the EVAW program (Elimination of Violence against Women/girls), which provides training to church ministers, lay workers and community practitioners.
  • Tarusila Bradburg is co-coordinator of the Pacific Youth Council, an organization that works with national youth councils or congresses in 10 Pacific nations, based at the Secretariat for Pacific Community.
  • Georgia Clarinda Tako Molia is on the executive committee of Young Women in Parliament, which aims to see women stand for election, be elected fairly (amid the common practice of vote buying by powerful male candidates), and be among the first women to serve in the National Parliament of the Solomon Islands. She feels inspired to work with another WPLP colleague “to establish our very own peace institution for the Solomon Islands in the next three years. I have already started the dialogue with key people in the government and non-government sector to gather information/data to start the network and build from there.”[2]

These WPLP women agree that the first change they experienced in undergoing peacebuilding training was on a personal level.

“God has to be moving somewhere,” Bradburg said. “We see it and feel it as it transforms us. You have to journey within it and sometimes the changes cannot be spoken. We have to value that space, because this learning journey is so different and so much more than the projects we are involved in and the work we do.”

 

Footnotes

  1. Funded by Bread for the World, Conciliation Resources, and the European Union.
  2. There is precedence for a national-level peacebuilding institute emerging from a regional one – the Korea Peacebuilding Institute was founded in 2012 by some South Korean members of the Northeast Asia Peacebuilding Institute, which started four years earlier.

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