Sowing the Seeds of the Culture of Peace

By Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury

Following are extensive excerpts from the keynote address by Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury, former Under-Secretary-General and High Representative of the United Nations at the Gala Culminating Event of the year-round Celebration of the 50th anniversary of the International House (IH) of the University of Sydney on 2 December 2017.*

SYDNEY – It is a distinct honor to be invited as the keynote speaker of the gala culminating event of the year-long celebration of the 50th anniversary of the International House of the prestigious University of Sydney. I am particularly delighted as this International House – and for that matter all I-Houses in other universities – is a place where students can learn to relate to other people from other parts of the world, respectfully debate differences in values and cultures, learn more about world issues, and really begin to become true global citizens. It is wonderful for me to stand in front of all these flags decorating the podium – looks like the mini-United Nations – there, of course, are 193 flags of countries.

It is inspiring to note its assertion that “As we have come to live in International House with people from many lands, we pledge ourselves to support the aim that understanding and peace may prevail.” It is also fascinating to know that your residents hail from every continent and 22% of countries of the world are represented in the House living and learning together. I am very impressed by Sydney University’s International House program of activities which includes its global leadership program, social and cultural events, peer learning and support, its roundtable discussion as well as its scholarships and grants program which covers the remarkable Davis Projects for Peace initiative.

Let me emphasize that anniversaries are meaningful when they trigger renewed enthusiasm amongst all. I am happy to that your vision for the future is to expand the House to offer more places which will provide students with the opportunity to participate in and obtain a truly unique IH experience. To achieve this, your aim is to develop a large state-of-the-art facility for 500+ residents on campus. You have my sincere best wishes for that.

My own life has been shaped over the last half century by various realities, particularly my challenges, struggles and difficulties.

Throughout, my family has been my greatest strength. Defying all obstacles as a young Pakistani diplomat, I was inspired to join the liberation war for Bangladesh and engaged as a freedom-fighter to mobilize global support for our sovereign existence as a nation. I am deeply humbled by the opportunity to represent and lead my country at the United Nations and thereafter become the first Under-Secretary-General from Bangladesh at the UN headquarters.

My life’s experience has taught me to value peace and equality as the essential components of our existence. They unleash the positive forces of good that are so needed for human progress. My initiatives at the United Nations General Assembly in 1999 on the Culture of Peace, in the Security Council in 2000 on equality of women’s participation and in leading the UN system’s prioritization of the needs of the world’s most vulnerable countries as their champion for six years – all show that when head and heart join together to do something big and worthwhile for humanity no obstacle is insurmountable.

My work has taken me to the farthest corners of the world. From Sierra Leone to Sri Lanka, from Mongolia to Mauritius, from Bhutan to the Bahamas to Burkina Faso, from Paraguay to the Philippines, from Kosovo to Kazakhstan, from Bhutan to the Bahamas to Burkina Faso, I have seen time and again the centrality of the culture of peace and women’s equality in our lives. This realization has now become more pertinent in the midst of the ever-increasing militarism and militarization that is destroying both our planet and our people.

Peace is integral to human existence — in everything we do, in everything we say and in every thought we have, there is a place for peace. We should not isolate peace as something separate. We should know how to relate to one another without being unpleasant, without being violent, without being disrespectful, without neglect, without prejudice. Once we are able to do that, we are able to take the next step forward in building the culture of peace. We need to focus on empowering the individual so that each one of us becomes individually an agent of peace and nonviolence.

It is important to realize that the absence of peace takes away the opportunities that we need to better ourselves, to prepare ourselves, to empower ourselves to face the challenges of our lives, individually and collectively.

The essence of the culture of peace is its message of self-transformation and its message of inclusiveness, of global solidarity, of the oneness of humanity. These elements—individual and global, individual to global—constitute the culture of peace. Everybody can talk about and create the culture of peace because it lives in our communities and in each of us. We do not have to become peace studies experts or street protesters to make a difference. We just have to leave our own mark on this world as peaceful individuals.

The United Nations was born in 1945 out of World War II. The UN Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace was born in 1999 in the aftermath of the Cold War. I was distinctly honored to chair the nine-month-long negotiations that produced the “United Nations Declaration and Programme of Action on Culture of Peace,” For last two decades, my focus has been on advancing the culture of peace and I have continued to devote considerable time, energy and effort to do that. The Declaration and Programme of Action is a unanimously adopted document explaining, outlining, and defining everything that the international community has agreed on as the focus of the culture of peace.

I want to underscore one particular aspect in this context. In the culture of peace movement, we are focusing more attention on children as that contributes in a major way to the sustainable and long-lasting impact on our societies. A child’s tendency toward either violent aggressiveness or nonviolence begins to take shape as early as age four or five. That is why the culture of peace movement is focusing increasingly on children. UNICEF has taken the lead by integrating many elements of the culture of peace into its work, including with the Early Childhood Peace Consortium (ECPC) formed in 2013.

We have seen a rise in engagement on the culture of peace.

Since the first one was convened by General Assembly President in 2012, the subsequent Presidents of the General Assembly have convened annually the UN High Level Forum on The Culture of Peace. The sixth annual Forum September 2017 focused on the theme “Sowing the Seeds of the Culture of Peace: Early Childhood Development is the Beginning” and that attracted high profile attention from the UN community.

ln September 2015, the United Nations agreed to adopt the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development with 17 global goals. Goal 4 focusing on education aims to “Ensure inclusive and quality education for all and promote lifelong learning.” More encouraging is the fact that target 7 of this particular Goal on education mentions that all learners should acquire knowledge to promote, among others, the “culture of peace and non-violence” and “global citizenship”.

Civil society has done the most to advance the cause. Individuals, as the core of civil society, have also done a lot, especially as educators at all levels. I have great pleasure teaching “The Culture of Peace” as a learning cluster course at Soka University of America in California regularly since 2009. The culture of peace as an expression is being referenced in more and more political and civil society statements.

Also encouraging is to find that there are a number of educational institutions that have taken the initiative to put “global citizenship” at the core of their activities. The World Summit of Educators, which convened in 2016 at the Soka University of America (SUA), is one such initiative worthy of attention of the institutions of learning.

The same university has taken the lead in 2014 by launching an annual event, called “Dialogue on the Culture of Peace and Non- Violence,” held every year on the UN-proclaimed International Day of Non-Violence on 2 October which is also the birthday of the apostle of non-violence Mahatma Gandhi.

Let us remember that the work for peace is a continuous process. Each one of us can make a difference in that process. Peace cannot be imposed from outside; it must be realized from within.

Seeds of peace exist in all of us. They must be nurtured, cared for, and promoted by us all to flourish and flower.

One soul-stirring inspiration that I have experienced from my work for the culture of peace is that we should never forget that when women – half of world’s seven plus billion people – are marginalized, there is no chance for our world to get sustainable peace in the real sense. It is my strong belief that unless women are engaged in advancing the culture of peace at equal levels at all times with men, sustainable peace would continue to elude us.

Women bring a new breadth, quality and balance of vision to a common effort of moving away from the cult of war towards the culture of peace. Women’s equality makes our planet safe and secure.

Two most significant developments since the 1995 fourth world conferences on women under the United Nations umbrella in Beijing have been the adoption of the UN Security Council’s history-making resolution 1325 on “Women and Peace and Security” and agreement on the inclusion of an autonomous, self-standing goal for women’s equality and empowerment in the Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs) – that is in Goal 5 on women.

UNSCR 1325 is very close to my intellectual existence and my very small contribution to a better world for each one of us. To trace back, 17 years ago, on the International Women’s Day in 2000, as the President of the Security Council, following extensive stonewalling, I was able to issue an agreed statement that formally brought to global attention the role and contribution women have been making towards the prevention of conflict and building of peace which had remained unrecognized, underutilized and undervalued by the Security Council since its existence.

The Council recognized in that statement that peace is inextricably linked with equality between women and men, and affirmed the value of full and equal participation of women at all decision-making levels. That is when the seed for Resolution 1325 was sown.

The formal resolution followed on 31 October of the same year following this conceptual and political breakthrough.

Adoption of 1325 opened a much-awaited door of opportunity for women who have shown time and again that they bring a qualitative improvement in structuring peace and in post-conflict architecture. When women participate in peace negotiations and in the crafting of a peace agreement, they have the broader and long-term interest of society in mind.

We recall that in choosing the three women laureates for the 2011 Nobel Peace Prize, the citation referred to 1325 saying that “It underlined the need for women to become participants on an equal footing with men in peace processes and in peace work in general.”

The Nobel Committee further asserted that “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society.” 1325 is the only UN resolution so specifically noted in any citation of the Nobel Prize.

Much, nevertheless, remains to be done.

The driving force behind 1325 is “participation”. The main question is not to make war safe for women but to structure the peace in a way that there is no recurrence of war and conflict. That is why women need to be at the peace tables, women need to be involved in the decision-making to ensure real and faithful implementation of 1325.

Gender perspectives must be fully integrated into the terms of reference of peace operations by the United Nations. A no-tolerance, no-impunity approach is a must in cases of sexual exploitation and abuse by UN and regional peacekeepers. UN is welcomed in countries ae the protectors – they cannot afford to become the perpetrators!

I also believe that the historic and operational value of the resolution as the first international policy mechanism that explicitly recognized the gendered nature of war and peace processes has been undercut by the disappointing record of its implementation, particularly for lack of national level commitments. We are astounded by the complicity of the Security Council in international practices that make women insecure, basically as a result of its support of the existing militarized inter-state security arrangements. I am referring to the concept of security based on the traditional, outmoded strategic power structure rather than on human security which highlights the security of the people.

I believe strongly that we would not have to be worrying about countering extremism if women have equality in decision-making enabling them to take measures which would prevent such extremism.

I recall Eleanor Roosevelt’s words saying “Too often the great decisions are originated and given shape in bodies made up wholly of men, or so completely dominated by them that whatever of special value women have to offer is shunted aside without expression.”

It is a reality that politics, more so security, is a man’s world. Empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. When politically empowered, women bring important and different skills and perspectives to the policy making table in comparison to their male counterparts. .

Here I pay tribute to the role that Australian women’s leadership played in the creation of the UN and in its formal recognition, from the outset, of women’s rights. As an Australian delegate to the 1945 San Francisco conference Jessie Street participated directly in negotiating the UN Charter which is the first international agreement to affirm the principle of equality between women and men. The advocacy of Street and ‘the small band of women from other delegations’ resulted in explicit references to equality between men and women in the Charter’s Preamble and various other articles, as well as the inclusion of Article 8 asserting the unrestricted eligibility of both men and women to work for the UN itself. This is Jessie Street contribution to the articulation of the one of the basic principles of the United Nations.

Patriarchy and misogyny are humanity’s dual scourges pulling back the humanity away from our aspiration for a better world to live in freedom, equality and justice. We need not waste time digging into statistical labyrinth to show that women are unequal. Gender inequality is an established, proven and undisputed reality – it is all pervasive. It is a real threat to human progress!

Unless we confront these vicious and obstinate negative forces with all our energy, determination and persistence, our planet will never be a desired abode for one and all. I will emphasize in that connection that none of the 17 SDGs will make headway in any real sense, until we make progress in realizing the objective of women’s equality and empowerment. Gender equality is a fundamental matter of human rights, democracy and social justice and is also a precondition for sustainable growth, welfare, peace and security.

Increasing gender equality has positive effects on food security, extremism, health, education and numerous other key global concerns.

We are experiencing around the globe an organized, determined rollback of the gains made as well as new attacks on women equality and empowerment – yes, in all parts of the world and in all countries without exception. As underscored by the architect of feminist foreign policy, Foreign Minster Margot Wallström of Sweden, “No society is immune from backlashes, especially not in relation to gender. There is a continuous need for vigilance and for continuously pushing for women’s and girls’ full enjoyment of human rights”.

We have also noticed that euphoria of women following the fall of their regressive regimes in the Middle East – the so-called Arab Spring – was short-lived. Targeted and brutal pushback is happening there. Activist women find themselves lost with no pockets of support from society which fail to recognize how in countless ways, women hold the key to a stable, peaceful, and prosperous Middle East. Unfortunately the emerging male-dominated leaderships there seem to forget that “democracy without equality in all aspects of the law and full participation of 50% of the population is another form of authoritarianism.”

That global reality is dramatically evidenced in the fact that the UN itself despite being the biggest champion of women’s equality has failed to elect a woman secretary-general last year to reverse the historical injustice of having the post occupied by men for its entire seven-decades of its existence. Globally only one in five Parliamentarians is a woman, and there are nearly 40 countries in which women account for less than ten percent of Parliamentarians. This marginalization of women from the political sphere is unfortunate and unacceptable. As I always strongly emphasize, empowering women’s political leadership will have ripple effects on every level of society and the global condition. I underscore often that when women join politics, they want to DO something, when men join politics, they want to BE something.

Reiterating this assertion, UN Secretary-General António Guterres in his message on the International Women’s Day said very succinctly that “The truth is that north and south, east and west – and I’m not speaking about any society, culture or country in particular – everywhere, we still have a male-dominated culture.”

I join humbly my voice to Foreign Minister Wallstrom’s assertion on the eve of this year’s International Women’s Day that “Feminism is a component of a modern view on global politics, not an idealistic departure from it. It is about smart policy which includes whole populations, uses all potential and leaves no one behind. Change is possible, necessary and long overdue.”

I am proud to be a feminist. All of us need to be. That is how we make our planet a better place to live for all. We should always remember that without peace, development is impossible, and without development, peace is not achievable, but without women, neither peace nor development is conceivable.

Before I conclude, I would to like to address the students of the International House directly. I would ask you the students to look into yourselves. In a world where material pursuits seem the be-all and end-all of human endeavor, find a real space for spirituality in your life. In your eagerness to get something quickly, never ever sell your soul. I am confident that you will make every effort to rid yourselves and your fellow men and women of the evils of intolerance and prejudice, ignorance and selfishness that compel us to repeat the cycle of discrimination, prejudice and violence.

Your positive goals for yourself should not be pursued at the expense of other people. Recognize and value the positive in others. Recognize your mistakes and take responsibility for those. Do not find a scapegoat for your own failures.

Confidence is essential, but it should not be misplaced. Do not be dogmatic to stagnate. Be flexible to move ahead.

I am always inspired by the human spirit and its resilience and capacity to overcome any adversity. You are all aware that the hardest problems on the planet will not have singular solutions, nor will they be resolved with singular attempts. Those must be worked on – diligently, collaboratively, with perseverance and patience.

I love to quote Albert Einstein’s words very often in which he alerts the humanity – and this applies to all of us: “The world is a dangerous place to live, not because of the people who are evil, but because of the people who don’t do anything about it.”

Let me end by repeating Mahatma’s eternal words: “The day the power of love overrules the love of power, the world will know peace.”

Photo: Ambassador Anwarul Chowdhury. Credit: International House, Sydney.

*In attendance at the event were: the Chancellor of the University of Sydney; Dr. Belinda Hutchinson, Acting High Commissioner of Bangladesh to Australia Ms. Farida Yasmeen; Chairman of IH Council Dr. Steve Mark; SUIHAA President Dr. Ros Madden; IHMA’s Outgoing Chair Mr. Stephen Sanders; and International House Director Ms. Jessica Carroll. (3 January 2018)

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