Peace Begins at Home by Gina Messina-Dysert


I began my career in the field of social services as a woman’s advocate for rape and domestic violence survivors.  The motto for an organization I was employed with early on was “peace begins at home,” a significant point that must be acknowledged. While much attention around women’s involvement in peacebuilding efforts have been focused at the macro level, there has been little consideration of women’s efforts towards peace at the micro level.  Certainly, women’s involvement in formal peacebuilding processes at the larger public level is crucial.  This being said, we must not undermine the leadership roles that women play in their homes, their families, and their religious and immediate communities, and how those roles can have an incredible impact on greater society.

I would like to start off by defining “peace.”  It is a word that we all use quite frequently and often with different meanings.  Some would claim that peace equates the cessation of conflict.  However, within our world conflict is inevitable; daily life is riddled with internal, interpersonal, intergroup, and international conflict. Thus, when defining peace, we must understand it as being able to deal creatively with inevitable conflict.  According to Jean Zaru, “It is the process of working to resolve conflicts in such a way that both sides win, with increased harmony as the outcome of the conflict and its resolution.  Peace is based on respect, cooperation, and well being.  Peace is the presence of social justice” (Occupied with Non-Violence, p. 81-2).

Zaru’s comments here are important in that she acknowledges a clear relationship between peace and justice.  In the words of Pope Paul VI, “if you want peace, work for justice.”  Because peace is not only the absence of war, but also the absence of poverty and disease, the access to clean water, the freedom from slavery; peace is the affirmation of the full humanity of every person. Peace is salaam, peace is shalom, peace is the well being of all.  Thus, there are many elements that come together in the word peace.  It is not simply government initiatives, it is not a patchwork solution to the conflicts of the world, nor is it submission or silent acceptance, rather we must understand peace as justice.

So what is the process of peace and what roles do women play in achieving this?  Like Jean Zaru, I would argue that the path to peace is paved with reconciliation, sharing, and community.  Within their leadership roles in the home, where home is defined not only as the physical location, but also family, religious community, and immediate community, women are perfectly positioned to pave the way to peace.

While women’s work is often invisible, particularly in the eye of the media, women are the fabric of our society and hold families and communities together. Women serve as peace educators beginning in the home and at the family level. Mothers shape the morals and values of their children and instill a sense of responsibility for creating positive human relationships in both family and community.  In addition, women begin the path to peace through modeling behavior by creatively challenging the social injustice they are faced with on a daily basis.

Whether or not women are granted leadership positions in their religious traditions, women are leaders in their religious communities.  As a pastor recently noted, if it were not for the women in the church, the pews would be empty.  It is women who shape their children’s religious identities, it is women who encourage faith belonging within their families, and it is women who work to bring community together and encourage reconciliation through their religious traditions.  With religion playing a crucial role in peacebuilding, women are front and center within their faith communities and are active agents in mobilizing the process.

Although women’s work has been demeaned, it is through women’s work that communities come together in the spirit of peace.  Women develop strong networks, they facilitate the building of connections and information sharing.  Women’s work and active engagement in their homes – again, meaning family, immediate community, and religious community – result in the development of meaningful relationships of trust and hope which strengthen and maximize opportunities for peace and reconciliation at both the micro and macro levels.

This impact of women’s work at micro levels has been acknowledged by various organizations working towards peace and social justice.  I think that the Women for Water Partnership is an excellent illustration of women’s peace efforts implemented at the grass roots level.  This organization focused on sustainability efforts, recognizes women as the glue of the society and the crucial impact they make working towards justice and peace.   Partnering with women to fulfill basic water and sanitation needs, Women for Water connects interventions at the micro and macro levels while supporting women’s social and economic development.  Women are encouraged to learn the process of sustainability through grass roots efforts and at the same time, are integrating social, traditional, and technical elements from a larger networking process.  Women are acknowledged as active agents in their immediate communities and are empowered to do the work, care for their community, and educate the next generation; thus Women for Water Partnership recognizes women’s roles in the peace and justice process and empowers them to engage in such roles.

While government officials and politicians are focused on discussions on how to achieve peace, women, and mothers in particular, are implementing action on the ground.   Acting as peace educators in family and community and working at grassroots level in every home, neighborhood, and village, women are changing our culture of violence, providing new and creative ways to engage in conflict resolution, and are encouraging social justice.

Although there are various social, political, and religious obstacles that attempt to keep women silent, it is the work of women that begin the peacebuilding process.  While efforts at the larger public level are crucial, efforts at home must be recognized for having equal importance.  It is through motherhood and women’s micro level leadership roles within religion and community that that the path to justice and peace is paved.  Reconciliation, sharing, and community are encouraged through women’s work and it It is through women that the idea of “peace begins at home” is realized.

*See Jean Zaru. Occupied with Non-Violence(Minneapolis: Fortress Press, 2008).

This paper was presented at the ”Peace Building and Motherhood:  Art, Culture, and Faith -Promoting Peace in Rural Families” NGO parallel panel on the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations on March 2, 2012. 

Gina Messina-Dysert, Ph.D.: Feminist theologian, ethicist, and activist, Gina received her Ph.D. in religion at Claremont Graduate University focused in the areas of women’s studies in religion and theology, ethics, and culture.  She is the Visiting Assistant Professor of Theological Ethics at Loyola Marymount University and Co-founder and Co-director of Feminism and Religion. Gina has authored multiple articles, the forthcoming book Rape Culture and Spiritual Violence, and is a contributor to the Rock and Theology project sponsored by the Liturgical Press. Her research interests are theologically and ethically driven, involve a feminist and interdisciplinary approach, and are influenced by her activist roots and experience working with survivors of rape and domestic violence.  Gina can be followed on Twitter @FemTheologian and her website can be accessed at http://ginamessinadysert.com.



Categories: Activism, Feminism, Social Justice, Women and Community

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9 replies

  1. Gina,
    Did you work for Peace in the Home the successor to Battered Women Fighting Back, both founded by Stacy Kabat, a former student of mine? I remember Stacy saying that both girls and boys are victims of violence in the home, and that one of the keys was to get both to identify as victims and survivors–and for the boys not to identify with the victimizer and go on to victimize. She felt if the boys could identify with their sisters and themselves, they could then pledge themselves never to inflict violence, and this woulld begin to break the cycle of violence.

    I have never heard anyone mention this idea since, but hopefully it is being followed up.

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  2. Carol,
    Have you read bell hooks’ Will To Change? It is a book that focuses on these issues and discusses the role of boys/men have in constructing masculinity, their relationship to women at a young age, etc.

    I feel that education of boys is a major place to start and in Girls Studies (a new field in Women’s Studies), it is impossible to discuss girls without discussing boys as well. It seems like it is an appropriate place to start by discussing them together and then apart as well.

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  3. I liked this piece a lot, I think it had a good point but I can’t help but think why is is just the woman’s job to create peace? Not that I am saying we shouldn’t, but I think creating peace in every sense of the word is for the betterment of humanity. Men must also involve themselves in making the world a better place. Mutual respect, trust, and love are essential for us to live as one.The notions of hyper-masculinity and femininity must be abolished because these create the supposed roles that we must play. We can’t also essentialize that all women are peace-makers, docile, etc. and men are super dominant leaders, aggressive, etc. because we see how these roles can easily be interchanged. I think peace should begin in the home as you have mentioned because it should be the duty for both mother and father to take charge of developing their children’s minds to be mindful and respectful to everyone within their home and the larger world. Developing a sense of friendship with the world can help us interact more peacefully with one another. As Barbara Hilkert Andolsen has mentioned, “Friendship is a relationship marked by mutual respect and regard. It is a reciprocal relationship in which all the parties are confirmed as having worth and hence all the parties are benefited.” As such, I feel that the development of mutual friendship, love, respect, trust, etc. are important components in creating a peaceful world.

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  4. Great article, and great comments.

    I liked the quote from Pope Paul.

    When I am in a group with people praying (doing ritual, etc) for peace I will usually work not for peace but for justice and mercy. Because there is no real peace without justice, but pure justice, without mercy, is also oppressive.

    Gina, the last sentence of your article begins by mentioning reconciliation. I think this is crucial. It worked well in South Africa, but as was shown there part of the process is acknowledging what one has done.

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  5. Gina I appreciate your article. I would point out, most women who put up with living in a violent home are often without any independent financial means, and or have been emotional berated to the point of complete brokenness, and fear of lack to ability to find assistance. It is always easier to teach much needed social and moral ethics to one’s child, when you don’t have to worry about basic survival, food and shelter. IF one can get state and federal help to escape it has its equally negative components.
    This country’s family assistance programs, often eliminate the possibility of one rising above a complete financial depended state, thus leaving many a single mothers in a perpetual financial and emotional negative space. Programs such and Area Housing, Med/Med, EBT/Food Stamps, Electrical and phone assistance, school lunch are set-up to stop all support or offer below survival support once an individual income increases by small margins. Rather then a slow and steady removal that could insure a stronger independent personal financial foundation. That is to say, taking on a minimum wage job can hurt your financial support, This kind of poverty can slow the Educational and Social growth, to both the children and the rearing parent.
    John thanks for you comments also, I look forward to meeting both of you this coming Wensday in Professor Cartier class.
    Peace and Laughter
    Gina M

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  6. This is very interesting. I wonder if the author has statistics on how many women are actually stay at home moms with the time for real peace making education? Doesn’t seem like many these days, and the country shows it.

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  7. I enjoyed this article very much, and I find it to be true that women are seen as the peace makers of the world. I believe the saying, “behind every great man is a great woman”relates to this article, because men are the ones who start a war, but a woman will be behind him to nudge him for the madness to stop.

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  8. This is a good article because I do believe women have brought upon this idea that peace begins at home. My mother has always instilled that idea to us, that finding other ways to resolve a conflict than just arguing about it was always a better route to take. I also like Pope Paul VI quote, because peace does mean having justice. To finally have justice we have to have peace among the world, and to have peace it means not having oppression of another human being.

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  9. I enjoyed this article thoroughly and couldn’t help but think of a few references as far as woman being a silent but powerful person. In the film “My Big Fat Greek Wedding” the mother character says something along the lines of ‘the man being the head, but the woman being the neck’ and how it is the neck that directs the head. At the same time, there is the issue of private issues being as important as public issues. Said private issues involve the home, the family, and so on. These issues are imperative to the make up of the world in which we live, from culture to culture. Women are peace keepers as well, probably harkening in historical roots as to why this is the case – but in the 21st century, I agree with an above comment as to why it is solely on the woman that is the peace keeper. Perhaps with less invisibility, she can serve as a shining example as to how peace is brought about and maintained. In addition, I couldn’t help but recall the issue of solidarity as mentioned by Ada Maria Isai-Diaz, and how this needs to be THE ethical behavior that anyone who chooses to call themselves Christian should abide by — but not only Christians, but anyone who strives for peace. She defines solidarity as “understanding the interconnections among issues and the cohesiveness that needs to exist among the communities of struggle”. If adopted, this commonsense ideal would be one way to strive for – and perhaps achieve – peace.

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