Shared Struggles, Shared Strength: Women Around the World Must Unite for Peace Amid Global Conflict Commentary
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Shared Struggles, Shared Strength: Women Around the World Must Unite for Peace Amid Global Conflict
  1. “It has been such a nightmare. You just feel powerless; you can’t comprehend any way to survive it … I long for the return of my calm and tranquil country — a country where children can live in peace.”
  2. “Air strikes have been indiscriminately killing people — all kinds of people: children, babies, doctors, journalists; everyone is a target.”
  3. “The women and children who were tortured, raped, mutilated, killed or taken hostage have been ignored by [international organizations]. … The hatred of [our people] is terrifying.”
  4. “I feel a sense of solidarity with every woman around the world whose rights, personal safety, and sense of belonging to her homeland have been lost to wars waged by men.”

Without context, you would be forgiven for assuming that all of these quotes came from one person.

In fact, they were spoken by four different women, from four different parts of the world, the lives of each of whom has been turned upside down by warfare and violence in recent years — the result of conflicts they did not ask for and that they feel powerless to resist.

Hailing from Ukraine, Palestine, Israel, and Afghanistan, these women are divided by geography and circumstances of war, but all grapple with the same struggle to stay afloat as their worlds have been engulfed by aggression. All long for peace and basic human decency amid the gutting of their homelands.

The first quote came from Oksana, a humanitarian volunteer from Mariupol. Since Russian forces invaded her country in February 2022, Oksana has struggled to reconcile idyllic memories of the city where she spent her life with the realities of bodies on the streets and houses engulfed in flames. Since the start of the war, Oksana endeavored to do her part for her country by volunteering to help displaced families. But even these efforts to foster good haven’t helped her makes sense of the fact that the world she knew has been shattered.

The second came from Anam, a human rights lawyer from Ramleh, Palestine. Since Hamas fighters staged an attack on Israeli civilians on Oct. 7, Israel’s military has waged a crushing offensive on the Gaza Strip. Civilian casualties figures have been estimated in the tens of thousands — compelling accusations of genocide against Israel before the International Court of Justice. “Seeing human bodies in pieces, the destruction of homes, religious buildings, hospitals, ambulances — it’s devastating for the human brain to withstand,” Amam said. “The victims have included Palestinian Muslims and Christians alike, pregnant women — everyone is a target,” she said.

The third came from Wendy, a retired lawyer with Israeli and US citizenship. “Through most of my life I felt safe in the United States, yet also knew that in the worst case, I could return to Israel as the ancestral homeland of our people. Today I no longer feel safe as a Jew in the United States, and pray that Israel will survive to preserve the future of the Jewish people,” she told me in a recent interview.

The fourth is my own. As an Afghan woman, I have been forced to sit back and watch as my rights and those of the women and girls of my country have been systematically stripped away by a group of men who think their unyieldingly strict understanding of Islamic law is the only correct one.

Of course we don’t all share the same political views. For example, Wendy believes Israel’s response to the Oct. 7 attacks has been justifiable, describing the attacks as the “most horrific and depraved event of my lifetime,” while Amam sees Israel’s response as indiscriminate and thus in violation of international law.

But after speaking with women from Ukraine, Israel, and Palestine, I believe our shared despair holds incredible power. I have faith that we can resist the forces of violence and chaos that have overtaken our countries if we can set aside our differences and work together.

We all share the desire for peace. For purposes of international law, peace is understood to mean the absence of aggression, armed conflict, or the use of force or threat thereof in violation of the United Nations Charter, paired with the presence of or commitment to conditions that are favorable to fundamental human rights.

Ban Ki-moon, former secretary general of the United Nations, has supplemented that conception of peace with the imperatives of dignity and well-being for all, saying in 2014:

Peace means access to education, health, and essential services — especially for girls and women; giving every young woman and man the chance to live as they choose; and developing sustainably and protecting the planet’s biodiversity.

As we are seeing around the globe today, women are often disproportionately affected both by violent conflict and the deprivation of rights. In this regard, a 1998 quote by then-US First Lady Hilary Clinton feels particularly apt:

Women have always been the primary victims of war. Women lose their husbands, their fathers, their sons in combat. Women often have to flee from the only homes they have ever known. Women are often the refugees from conflict and sometimes, more frequently in today’s warfare, victims. Women are often left with the responsibility, alone, of raising the children. Women are again the victims in crime and domestic violence as well.

This is certainly true in Afghanistan. Since the Taliban regained power in 2021, it has imposed strict rules that have disproportionately affected women and girls. Education is prohibited for women and girls at all levels, denying us the right to pursue or further our knowledge. Women and girls have effectively lost access to justice and healthcare. Women and girls cannot leave their houses if unaccompanied by a man. Despite many having lost wage-earning loved ones to ongoing conflict, women and girls have lost the right to help support their families financially. The oppressive restrictions on women have led to a surge in gender-based violence, depression, and an alarming increase in suicide among women.

And Afghanistan is not alone in exemplifying the tendency of conflict to disadvantage women and girls. Russian soldiers have faced broad accusations of raping and assaulting Ukrainian women through the course of the war, while domestic violence rates have surged in Ukraine. Meanwhile, advocates for both sides of the Gaza conflict have warned of increased sexual violence against Israeli and Palestinian women alike.

You would think we would be past this. The United Nations rose from the ashes of conflict. In 1945, in the aftermath of World War II, representatives of dozens of countries gathered in San Francisco to create an organization that would promote international cooperation and maintain peace and security. Nearly a century has passed. Technology has advanced unrecognizably. You would think we would have everything we need to facilitate peace.

And yet so much lies in shambles.

The United Nations is far too often rendered powerless by geopolitical posturing. It is time to remember why it was created in the first place.

I am one person, but I have learned through open dialogue such as the conversations I had with the women I interviewed for this article, I know that I am connected to women across conflict zones through shared struggles and circumstances. All aspects of my own identity shed insight into the trials of women worldwide.

As an Afghan woman, I am deeply ashamed that in this age of technology, women and girls in my country are denied access to their basic rights they should be able to take for granted, such as education, work, and sustenance.

As a Muslim woman who was raised alongside close Jewish friends and neighbors, I mourn the lives of women lost on both sides of the Gaza conflict.

As a woman from a country that has also been invaded by Russia, I feel devastated for the women and girls who have been subjected to sexual and gender-based violence in Ukraine.

As a woman, full stop, I feel a sense of solidarity with every woman around the world whose rights, personal safety, and sense of belonging to her homeland have been lost to wars waged by men.

If I can see past my own beliefs and biases to the point of being able to draw these connections, why can’t the United Nations set geopolitical squabbles aside to promote peace and protect the people whose lives have been ravaged by conflicts and chaos that they did not choose?

The time has come for the United Nations to make good on Security Council Resolution 1325, adopted in 2000, which urged member states to increase the representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention and resolution of conflict.

After my conversations with Oksana, Anam, and Wendy, I’m more confident than ever that given the power to unite, women across conflict zones can inspire positive change. After all, if we don’t do it, who will?

The author, an Afghan legal scholar, has requested to remain anonymous due to acute security risks.

Opinions expressed in JURIST Commentary are the sole responsibility of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of JURIST's editors, staff, donors or the University of Pittsburgh.