Peace Weaving: A Task for Our Time by Carolyn Lee Boyd

MaestraPeace (“Woman Teacher of Peace”) mural on San Francisco Women’s Building

Throughout centuries and across continents, women peace weavers have intertwined the threads of diplomacy and connection to make of their societies a harmonious whole amid war, violence, and seemingly endless conflict. James Rupert of the US Institute for Peace notes that, in our time, “Over a decade in countries facing warfare, women have organized more nonviolent campaigns for peace agreements than any other group.” Yet, women are outrageously under-represented in formal, higher-resourced, male-dominated institutions, with only 4% of negotiating positions in the United Nations and governmental organizations held by women. According to the Kroc School of Peace Studies, women-led peacemaking efforts are grievously underfunded and put women peace makers at risk of gender-based violence and online harassment.

Yet, if we look to the past, peace making has traditionally been an honored sphere of influence in which women have used the power of the esteem in which they were held, their ability to envision peaceful ways of being, and their skills as communicators, consensus builders, and relationship makers to bring concord from conflict and positively transform their societies. 

In Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas, Barbara Alice Mann explores the significant roles of women in the Iroquois League in many spheres, including peace making.A gantowisa is “a mature woman acting in her official capacity” (16), though men could also be ceremonially appointed as gantowisas. According to Mann, “because peace was their special concern, in the gendered society of the League, the women controlled the peace by regulating the wars, appointing the warriors, declaring war, and negotiating the peace that followed” (180). They could also choose not to declare war and could only declare war after making three attempts at peace. The honored, powerful gantowisas also acted as judges and mediators, appointed “warriors,” forwarded issues to the men’s Grand Council, determined who would be new citizens and who would hold titles, including the Chiefs, or lose their title, among many other economic, social, and spiritual responsibilities. 

Mann also notes in Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath, that the “Indigenous gift economy” was the “primary peace mechanism of Turtle Island cultures. Hostile sentiments were soothed away by making the Other into the Self through the sharing of goods, with war never an acceptable response to a gift” (195).

Across the ocean and in a completely different cultural context, medieval European noble women and women religious wove peace in other ways. Some women married a ruler from an enemy nation, creating bonds through the blood ties of their children, teaching her husband her country’s language and customs, bestowing largesse, and passing symbolic cups of wine and gifts to warriors. These women were not political pawns, but were, according to Mary Condren, “distinguished women in Old European times… Such women had great negotiating skills and authority.” Queen Emma of Normandy, for example, was a valued counselor, and cultural educator to first England’s Ælthelred the Unready, then, after his death, to the Danish King Cnut who conquered England, helping to unite the two nations. 

Women religious, another powerful group of medieval women, were also peace weavers. According to Lillian Thomas Shank “Anchoresses and recluses settled local quarrels, not from positions of power, but by the authority of their lives of prayer and poverty and by the advice they gave to those who had recourse to them”. Mary Condren notes that “St Brigit caused mists to appear between opposing sides in order to prevent bloodshed. With her nuns she accompanied protesting warriors to the battlefield, rendering them unable to fight.”

In another completely different society, Science reported that recent excavations of the Xiongnu empire in the Eurasian Steppes dating from between 200 BCE and 100 CE show that “princesses helped build the vast, multiethnic alliances central to their centuries-long success” by relocating to far-flung areas of the empire.  Trusted with the very continued existence of the empire, these royal women were honored with graves including goods that were not only the most opulent among the graves excavated but were associated with great power.

Power to the Peaceful, Women’s March in Missoula, Montana, 2018

Closer to our own time, in 1915, the US Women’s Peace Party, linking peace to women’s suffrage, began with a march of 1500 women in New York City, eventually becoming the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom now representing 40 countries. At the height of the Cold War, 50,000 American women marched in 60 cities in the Women’s Strike for Peace with Bella Abzug, Coretta Scott King, and Dagmar Wilson leading the way. Today women’s reconciliation groups in countries like Angola help their nations heal, women’s organizations lead movements for peace in Middle East, and mothers have formed advocacy groups against street violence in major American cities, among many, many initiatives worldwide.

Members of a women’s reconciliation group in Angola

These are just a few examples of the proud legacy of brilliant, brave, and effective peace weavers who can inspire and guide us as we, a global community, work to overcome the violence and divisiveness of our time. Fortunately, the need for the recognition and resources for women peace makers is gaining traction with organizations like US Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace, and Security, which is, according to the US Institute for Peace, “a non-partisan network of over 60 civil society organizations with expertise on the impacts of conflict on women and their participation in peacebuilding” that supports efforts to enhance the participation in, protection of, and resources of women in formal peacebuilding efforts. 

As I think of the work that many of us here at FAR do, I see that it is also peace weaving though we may not always think of it that way. Creating rituals that bring people together to heal, excavating the nonviolent origins of violent myths and stories, renewing religious traditions to value women’s lives and perspectives, raising awareness of ancient and present Societies of Peace, finding new ways to meet basic needs through a gift economy — all these contribute to peace. May we find encouragement and hope in our peace weaving history as we seek to engender the peace we need to survive and thrive in the 21st century. 


Andrade, Anthea Rebecca, The Anglo-Saxon Peace Weaving Warrior, Thesis, Georgia State University, 2006., pp. 32-38

Boston Voyager, Meet Monalisa Smith of Mothers for Justice and Equality in Roxbury, September 5, 2017,

The British Library, Emma of Normandy,

The British Library, Encomium Emmae reginae,

Condren, Mary, St Brigit: no better woman for the times we live in, Irish Times, January 31, 2011,

Curry, Andrew, Elite women from Xiongnu society solidified alliances among far-flung tribes, Science, April 14, 2023,

James, Rupert, To Build Peace, Boost the Women Who Lead the Movements: In crises worldwide, women are leading citizens’ campaigns that can resolve conflict,. United States Institute for Peace, September 10, 2019, 

Kroc School of Peace Studies, San Diego University, Investing in Equity: Creating Equitable Funding for Women Peacebuilders, February, 2022, in Equity Creating Equitable Funding Partnerships for Women Peacebuilders.pdf

Mann, Barbara Alice, Iroquoian Women: The Gantowisas, New York NY: Peter Lang Publishing, 2000

Mann, Barbara Alice, Spirits of Blood, Spirits of Breath: The Twinned Cosmos of Indigenous America, New York, NY: Oxford University Press, 2016.

Robinson, Kathy Crandell, Looking Back: The Power of Women Strike for Peace, Arms Control Today, NOVEMBER 2021, Vol. 51, No. 9 (NOVEMBER 2021), pp. 33-36 Published by: Arms Control Association

Schott, Linda, The Women’s Peace Party and the Moral Basis for  Women’s Pacifism, Frontiers: A Journal of Women Studies, 1985, Vol. 8, No. 2, Women and Peace (1985), pp. 18-24

US Institute for Peace, Advancing Women, Peace and Security, U.S. Civil Society Working Group on Women, Peace & Security (U.S. CSWG),  

Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom, Who We Are, 

Photo Credits:

MaestraPeace: Photo by Carol Highsmith, 2012, Public Domain. The Jon B. Lovelace Collection of California Photographs in Carol M. Highsmith’s America Project, Library of Congress, Prints and Photographs Division. Mural painted in 1994 by Juana Alicia, Miranda Bergman, Edythe Boone, Susan Kelk Cervantes, Meera Desai, Yvonne Littleton and Irene Perez, and others

Power to the Peaceful: By Montanasuffragettes – Own work, CC BY-SA 4.0,

Women’s Reconciliation Group: By USAID Africa Bureau – Members of a womens reconciliation group (Angola)Uploaded by Elitre, Public Domain,

Author: Carolyn Lee Boyd

Carolyn Lee Boyd’s essays, short stories, memoirs, reviews, and poetry have been published in a variety of print magazines, internet sites, and book anthologies. Her writing explores goddess-centered spirituality in everyday life and how we can all better live in local and global community. In fact, she is currently writing a book on what ancient and contemporary cultures have to tell us about living in community in the 21st century. She would love for you to visit her at her website,, where you can find her writings and music and some of her free e-books to download.

12 thoughts on “Peace Weaving: A Task for Our Time by Carolyn Lee Boyd”

  1. Just finished a long response which disappeared – and notice that the old signing in process is back – it is important to remember how ancient our women’s lineage is and how intimately associated with peacemaking – sadly – as much as we do it isn’t enough to shift the tides – I think we have to live through patriarchy’s breakdown first. If humans survive then women’s values will HAVE to re-surface because living as we are now under patriarchy is obviously NOT sustainable… right now it’s in the process of killing us all.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Yes, it’s so disheartening to realize how hard women have worked over hundreds of millennia, and still are, to create a peaceful world, and yet, here we are. What strikes me when I learn about how honored and powerful these women were is that peace must also have been valued. I wish I knew how to make peace and women peace makers valued again.

      Liked by 1 person

      1. Carolyn if women were given equal sovereignty peace would become reality, but it seems as if no matter what we do the system of power won’t allow for change – as you say – sooo disheartening.

        Liked by 1 person

  2. Thank you, Carolyn. I love the image of peace weavers. I used to teach a course on “Women, Peace, and War,” in which I taught about several women peace weavers, but had not heard of several of the ones you mentioned. Thank you for expanding my awareness. I appreciate what you said at the beginning, that women are disproportionately the ones working for peace, but rarely included in peace negotiations. Women have been seeking greater representation in peace talks for decades and it’s so important to continue to raise awareness about this.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. I’d love to learn more about your course and the women peace weavers you discussed in it! Yes, it is so important to include women in negotiations if they are to succeed. One piece of information I wasn’t able to fit into the post is the the Kroc School of Peace Studies of San Diego University states that, in our own time, “Peace agreements are 20 percent more likely to last at least two years and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years when women are involved in their negotiation. Furthermore, women’s engagement in community-based protection can prevent the escalation of violence between different groups.”


  3. Thank you, Carolyn. Such an important issue to society and its wellbeing, along with climate change. I think it’s really the crucial issue of our time, and perhaps every time. So sad that women are underrepresented in official peace keeping capacity, if they were we might get somewhere. The importance of peace has been denigrated just as women themselves have been. I like the way you trace this history in Native American cultures as well as the European monarchies.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you for mentioning climate change, Sally. Armed conflict is so destructive to efforts to slow and reverse climate change, not only because of the environmental damage of weapons and the devastation of the Earth in areas where battles happen, but because conflict takes focus off the need for a global and immediate response to the climate catastrophe. Peace is now not only something that we need for our own well being, but for the planet’s survival.

      Liked by 1 person

  4. Thank you, Carolyn, I really love those ideas of peace weaving and peacebuilding, as they evoke wonderful images in my creative imagination. There are rituals and meditations we can create to help us bring back that recognition and reclaim our part in turning the tide of violence.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Iona, for your response. I love the idea of using rituals and meditations to turn the tide of violence. I can see such rituals and meditations as a way to change how people think of the possibility for a peaceful world and to help envision it as well as inspire action.


  5. Thank you so much for the information on the Gantowizas, whose wisdom determined war and peace among the Iroquois. No wonder they experienced millenia of peaceful coexistence, with women in such positions of power. The model for the government of the USA! (Um- minus the women.)
    Here in North Carolina, I’ve been directing a Women’s Peace Choir since 2008, called Sahara, a blending of Sara and Hagar, the matrilineages of Judaism, Christianity and Islam. I find that when women come together with purpose and mutual respect, a climate of peace naturally ensues.
    Your article is a moving reminder.

    Liked by 1 person

    1. Thank you, Annelinde, for your comment. What a wonderful and creative idea to have a peace choir named after Sara and Hagar! It has so many layers of creating peace, both for the choir members and all those who hear you. Thank you for sharing it!


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