How to Build Peace During a Pandemic

As the coronavirus continues to change the way our society and communities interact, we are left wondering what will happen to the momentum that the peacebuilding movement has cultivated. Will activists and advocates get pushed to the fringe? Or will they rise to the challenge and continue to build peace during a pandemic?

International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament, May 24th, is an opportunity to showcase the innovation and resilience of peace activists.

The day celebrates the storied histories of those who have confronted creeping global militarism with courage and persistence. It reinforces the message that women are crucial to peacebuilding and disarmament as outlined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325 back in 2000 and strengthened by Securing our Common Future Disarmament: An Agenda for Disarmament in early 2020.

If there is anything we know about women who fall in the footsteps of Bertha von Suttner, Bella Abzug, and Coretta Scott King, it is that nothing can prevent them from pressing this work forward. 

Activists across the globe use new and old techniques to help them achieve their goals—and we are taking note.

Here are six strategies and tactics that will bolster your activities to build peace during a pandemic.

1. Shape the narrative, tackle concrete policies

Achieving peace can sometimes seem like a problem so big that you don’t think you can tackle it at all. Peace is not just a state of being but an active factor in how institutions play a key role in our lives. In times of conflict, critical services like child care, court systems, access to food, and transportation are strained.

In many areas around the globe, women in particular have to travel far distances to retrieve water, food, or shelter, which can put them in harm’s way. COVID-19 has stalled court proceedings, choked our unemployment systems, and strained our health systems.

Rather than touting nebulous directives like “give peace a chance,” consider detailing a particular service or resource that we lose in times of conflict and then advocate for a policy that makes a difference.

There is no better example of a young woman who advocates for a set of stricter small-arms laws than Emma Gonzalez, a high school senior who survived the Stoneman Douglas High School mass shooting.

2. Practice your pitch

In case you’re not quite tired of seeing your loved ones yet, start in the home. Engage your family and friends in conversations on supporting efforts for peace to help keep momentum. These discussions will help to shape the future of your activist work.

Maybe you share similar viewpoints with those in your household, maybe you don’t. Start by practicing having conversations with those who hold similar worldview—it helps to build confidence in your arguments. Then, familiarize yourself with the opposing viewpoints to get a sense of what people value and where it’s possible to find common ground.

3. Embrace cyberactivism

Lockdowns and stay-at-home ordinances may be forcing many indoors, but that doesn’t mean that you can’t turn your in-person protests and events into online demonstrations and learning opportunities. 

Fire Drill Fridays, a climate activist project of GreenPeace headed by Jane Fonda, has moved its activism from the streets of Washington, DC to the interwebs. The organization hosts regular call-a-thons to show support for policies and teach-ins with emerging and established leaders in the field.

There is no better time to keep up with the latest information and let our representatives know where we stand!

4. Get creative with new forms of nonviolent protests

Cyberactivism isn’t the only way that you can show your support for peace and disarmament while in the COVID19 era. Activists across the globe are spelling out their demands with their cars and from their balconies.

The members of CODEPINK Los Angeles, a women-led grassroots anti-war and anti-militarism organization, are decorating their cars and spelling out “PEACE” to celebrate International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. Then, they are using drone photography to snap a picture. Pretty neat! To top it off, they will be leading a caravan full of care packages to homeless populations in the city. 

Activists across South America are employing a kitchenware cacophony deemed cacerolazo, the Spanish word for casserole. From the safety of their homes, thousands of people demonstrate their grievances through the piercing noise of banging on pots and pans. It will definitely get their attention!

5. Lean on state and local government

The fervor for the Governor of New York, Andrew Cuomo, exemplifies the impact that state and local officials can have in their communities. The U.S. federal government’s guidance has left much to be desired, leaving states, tribal, and local governments to fend for themselves.

A recent Gallup poll shows an increase in trust in governors to lead in the economic recovery of their states. If state and local politicians in the U.S. can respond to a pandemic effectively, we can turn to them to lead on peace initiatives as well.

The same is true for communities across the globe. The Women Legislators’ Lobby, a program of Women’s Action for New Directions, coordinated with the World Future Council and the Parliamentarians for Nuclear Non-Proliferation and Disarmament on a global appeal to commemorate International Women’s Day for Peace and Disarmament. The worldwide cooperation of local and regional leadership can be instrumental in reducing violence and conflict. 

6. Make your voice heard

Phone usage is up—and so is demand for content. When you are ready to express your viewpoint, put your thoughts from pen to paper. Practice makes progress.

Start with a letter to the editor to your local newspaper. Then, move on to a site like this one! Girls Globe is a publishing platform committed to raising the voices of girls and women activists across the world, and they are open to new bloggers. 

It is possible that the first few times you submit your written work it will not get published. That is okay! Take any feedback you get, ask friends and family to edit the piece, and then self-publish on a site like Medium or LinkedIn.

Coronavirus has laid bare many inequities that exist globally. But, it has also accomplished something else—it has given us the slightest insight into what happens when our government is at a standstill. If we are struggling now, we can only imagine what this would feel like with an extended, years-long conflict. 

Don’t lose momentum in advocating for peace. New strategies can solve an old problem.

Share your insights! Do you have other ideas for how to build peace during the pandemic? Or do you have an experience of cyberactivism to share? Let us know in the comments section below.

Motherhood in Conflict: Grace’s Story

Stories of motherhood and the female experience during war are often excluded and unexplored. This neglect shows in the little attention such stories get in the public discourse and in policy agendas. But without these stories, we miss the voices that are so important for development.

Many of the mothers I met while I worked in Uganda became a mother at a time when the conflict between Museveni’s government and the Lord’s Resistance Army (LRA) was in full swing. They started their journey of motherhood when murder, abduction, mutilation and rape were common practices.

Motherhood in a IDP Camp

One of these women is Grace*. Now a 50-year old married woman and proud mother of 6 children, Grace was only in her twenties when she and her children, including a baby, fled to a camp for internally displaced persons. The intensifying activity of LRA rebels in her community made it impossible to stay home safely. Though the camp was run by the government, and was supposedly a place to seek refuge, she felt very unsafe:

‘There was no hope of life. I thought I was going to be killed at any time … You cannot lock the house, you come back [to the camp] and you find faeces in bags thrown in your house. There was a lack of food … and if you don’t follow time [related rules] the soldiers beat you.

When the war finally ended Grace and her family went back to their village. Sadly, though, life did not get much better for Grace.

‘Post-conflict’ Motherhood

Though the war has ended, it is inaccurate to speak about peace; the term ‘peace time’ wrongly implies a life free of violence and suffering. Even the term ‘post-conflict’ wrongly signifies a shift away from conflict and violence. To the contrary, many Ugandan women’s lives are characterized by ongoing experiences of violence.

Violence has to be understood in a very broad way and include the violence that results from social structures, such as poverty, patriarchy and ability. Grace is badly impacted by all of these.

The poverty in which she finds herself has determined many, if not all, of her life choices.

Because of it, she is withheld from seeking the specialist care she needs:

‘At times I get pain at my belly and at the side of my belly … When I dig for so long and even uprooting potatoes; I get the problem of the uterus. Up to now, [the] uterus always comes out. I was referred to look for a doctor who can help me but I had no money.’

The fact that Grace does not have enough money to go to the hospital is a result of several issues. Some of these are general, such as a drought. Specific for Grace however, is that she is limited in the amount of work she can do due to her displaced uterus and the resulting pain. Besides that, Grace is also the co-wife of an alcoholic husband:

‘I have a problem at home here, my husband is a drunkard. At this moment the marriage is not good, because I am the second wife to him … I am living with my children and he lives with the first wife. When I harvest crops which I could sell in order to support my family, he comes and sells it and uses the money on his first wife’

Grace’s story painfully shows the struggles that many women in Uganda face today. It highlights how suffering and psycho-social ill-being result not solely from experiences of war and poverty, but to a large degree from being a woman.

Grace Fights Back

Despite all that she faces, Grace is regarded as a role model and an example of a woman living a holy life. This is because Grace stands up against her husband’s violence.

Yesterday he wanted to fight me over the soy bean, but I am now stronger than him (laughing). I have a courageous life. If the man is fighting me, I just follow him with law, I call people.’

In times of marital conflict, Grace calls her brothers-in-law, and if that does not work, she steps to the clan chief.

Though her actions are far from all-encompassing solutions to her struggles, her courage is inspiring.

Due to her perseverance, Grace is understandably a role model in her community – she sparks hope for a different future for many Ugandan women.

*Grace is a pseudonym. The image accompanying this article does not depict the woman who told this story.

Bringing Humor & Diversity to Netflix with Gena-mour Barrett

For the fifth episode of We Belong Podcast, we go to the UK to meet Gena-mour Barrett, a journalist and Editorial Creative Manager at Netflix UK, where she curates the Netflix IX interview series. 

As a freelancer, Gena-mour has bylines at Elle, The Guardian, Refinery 29 and BBC Newsbeat. She was listed as one of 2019’s 30 Under 30 for Media and Marketing in Europe by Forbes and was a recipient of the 2018 Roxane Gay fellowship for a woman of colour writing fiction with Jack Jones Literary Arts.

In our conversation with Gena-mour, we dive into her personal story, her childhood in South London and her passion for writing.

We also discuss humour and satire in the media, representation and diversity in the entertainment industry and, of course, her views on Brexit!

Episode available on Apple PodcastSpotifyAnchorYoutube and at the bottom of this post.


We Belong is the podcast that gives a voice to the New Daughters of Europe. Yasmine Ouirhrane, appointed expert by the European Union and the African Union, hosts this series of conversations with young women who represent the diversity of Europe. She talks to women who are breaking stereotypes, navigating multiple identities, and challenging the conventional wisdom of what it means to belong.

As an advocate for social and gender justice in Europe, Yasmine Ouirhrane was awarded Young European of the Year 2019 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. She was also named EDD Young Leader by the European Commission and is an expert on Peace & Security at the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub. She is an award-winning fellow at Women Deliver and a member of the Gender Innovation Agora at UN Women.

The Podcast is produced by Les Cavalcades.

Follow us on Instagram, Twitter and Facebook.

Míriam Hatibi on Activism Against Islamophobia

For the third episode of We Belong Podcast, we take you to Spain to meet Míriam Hatibi. Míriam is an activist against racism and islamophobia and the author of ‘Look Me in the Eye’ and ‘Leila’.

Activist and author, Míriam Hatibi

She also contributes to the opinion sections of several publications, where she promotes a visible media presence for people of diverse origins, particularly women.

Following the August 2017 terrorist attacks in Barcelona and Cambrils, Míriam vehemently condemned terrorism at a demonstration in Plaça de Catalunya that brought together hundreds of Muslims. Since December 2014, she has been the spokesperson for the Ibn Battuta Foundation (FIB), an entity created to promote socio-cultural exchange.

In our conversation, Miriam recalls her reaction to the terrorist attacks and tells us about her work to deconstruct islamophobia and stereotypes surrounding muslim people. She also talks of her ambition to create new spaces for immigrant daughters to shine in society.

Episode available on Apple PodcastSpotifyAnchorYoutube and at the bottom of this post.


We Belong is the podcast that gives a voice to the New Daughters of Europe.  Yasmine Ouirhrane, appointed expert by the European Union and the African Union, will host this series of conversations with young women representing the diversity of Europe. She will travel and meet women who are breaking stereotypes, navigating multiple identities, and challenging the conventional wisdom of what it means to belong. 

As an advocate for social and gender justice in Europe, Yasmine Ouirhrane was awarded Young European of the Year 2019 by the Schwarzkopf Foundation. She was also named EDD Young Leader by the European Commission and is an expert on Peace & Security at the AU-EU Youth Cooperation Hub, mandated by the EU and the AU. She is an award-winning fellow at Women Deliver and a member of the Gender Innovation Agora at UN Women.

The Podcast is produced by Les Cavalcades.

Follow We Belong on InstagramTwitter and Facebook.

Is the Climate Movement too White?

Extreme climate disasters affect people around the world, from wildfires in Australia to floods in the Philippines and East Africa. Most people attribute this to climate change – as long as they’re not climate deniers. And at the forefront of the fight against climate change are young women.

The Face of a Movement

Greta Thunberg is the most recognizable face in the climate movement. She started the School Strike for Climate and was named Time’s Person of the Year for 2019.

Thunberg also happens to be a white girl from Sweden, whose mother is an opera singer and father an actor. In no way am I discrediting the important work she has been doing. I am sure it is not easy being a teenager, with Asperger’s, standing up to the patriarchal establishment. However, I cannot help but notice the way white environmental activists seem to get more media coverage than those who are not white.

Take the example of Vanessa Nakate of Uganda, who was cropped out of this photo by the Associated Press.



This is someone who represents a community, a country, a whole continent. Yet someone else decided that her presence is irrelevant.

Then there is 8-year-old Licypriya Kangujam, who wants the media to stop calling her ‘Greta of India’. It’s another case of the media discrediting and disregarding voices from continents other than Europe.


Greta Thunberg has recognised her white privilege and called on the media to tell the stories of activists from around the world. Through Twitter, it seems that she supports her fellow activists who are not white.


Each of these girls has had to overcome obstacles. Trump told Greta to chill and go watch a movie. Licypriya is only 8 years old and had to drop out of school. Vanessa Nakate is now known as the ‘cropped out activist’, something she didn’t want and couldn’t have anticipated.

Is Intersectionality Possible?

I believe it is important to highlight the work of black and brown girls in the climate change movement. They have to endure multiple forms of discrimination in society. But intersectionality is not as simple as suddenly featuring more minorities in the media so that the aesthetics do not look so bad. It’s about listening to activists’ concerns and giving diverse voices the opportunity to lead as well. This counts for all movements. Intersectionality is essential if we want a cause to be effective.

I assume that most people would agree that climate change is not solely a white or middle-class issue. The challenge is how to include everyone so that the movement can be effective in creating change. But as long as we live in a racist, sexist and classist society, I think we will need a different, more inclusive approach to tackling the global threat of climate change.

Why We Need Trauma-Sensitive Media & Journalism

I have read many news reports on war-time gender-based violence. As a therapist, I have often questioned the effects of journalists’ approaches on the women they work with. Sometimes, the story seems more important than the woman, her wounds and her healing.

For me, this raises questions – who does journalism benefit? Is it the woman who speaks up, the public, the news channels? And who has the responsibility to keep women who speak out safe?

It seems that media coverage of highly sensitive topics, such as war-time sexual violence, is not always about educating the public and empowering the speaker. Instead, it is about shock and entertainment.

The Al-Iraqiya news channel has received criticism for exactly this reason. They broadcasted an interview between a Yazidi woman and the ISIS fighter who had bought, captured and violently raped her multiple times a day.

In August 2014, ISIS set off to destroy Yazidi culture and religion. They did so through systematic killings, sexual slavery, torture and other atrocities in the Sinjar region in Northern Iraq. Thousands of girls and women have been captured and sold, leaving them in sexual enslavement of ISIS fighters. Girls would often be sold, or gifted, from one fighter to the other, undergoing extreme abuse and degradation at each of the fighters’ hands.

A great number of Yazidis are still missing. Others have found their way out and are living in refugee camps or trying to rebuild their life in a new country.

Ashwaq Haji Hamid, now 19, is one of the girls who managed to escape. She recently came face to face with her previous abuser during a TV interview set up by the Iraqi National Intelligence Service.

Ashwaq confronted him:

“You destroyed my life. You robbed me of all my dreams. I was once held by Isis, by you, but now you will feel the meaning of torment, torture, and loneliness. If you have any feelings, you would not have raped me when I was 14, the age of your son, the age of your daughter.”

After speaking these powerful words, while shaking and starting to cry, Ashwaq fainted at her former capturers’ feet. The video has been shared around the world, and has received mixed reactions. Critics stress the voyeuristic element, saying the interview was never about Ashwaq’s healing but about public entertainment.

Kurdish-German psychologist, Dr. Jan Ilhan Kizilhan, spoke out against the interview. He stated that the news channel:

“…cared about ratings of the show more than her … I know the survivor as my patient and it was medically an absolute contradiction to her severe trauma (to do the TV interview), as we saw with her fainting.”

The world needs to hear stories like Ashwaq’s. The Yazidi community have the right to be heard. Finding one’s voice can be a powerful and inspirational experience, with the potential to be healing and empowering.

Sensational journalism stands in stark contrast to how stories on gender-based violence should be told – in an empowering, trauma-informed and trauma-sensitive way.

We cannot prioritise entertainment over healing. The media cannot decide if and when it is in women’s interests to speak. Media outlets and journalists need to have a greater understanding of how their involvement can open deep wounds and re-traumatize those speaking out.

For this to happen, however, the conditions of stepping up and speaking out have to be set by the speakers themselves. This is what happened when winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, Nadia Murad wrote about her experience with ISIS in her powerful book, ‘The Last Girl’.

The Last Girl offers an understanding of how life has changed for Yazidis since 2014. Most of all, the book inspires and insists on a call to action to achieve justice for the Yazidi community.

Media outlets working in a trauma-sensitive way must become the norm. Nadia Murad’s book is the perfect example of how telling a story and informing the public can go hand in hand with a process of empowerment and healing.