While governments work hand in glove with major multinational corporations to build a global economy driven by profit, women at the grassroots are moving around the world to link women's organizations in a collaborative movement for world peace.
Much of this work is the outgrowth of the UN's Fourth Conference on Women, held in Beijing in 1995. A new organization on the global scene is Peacexpeace (PXP) founded in 2002. Based in Washington DC, this relatively new implant in the global women's network is fast sending out shoots that are springing up in 40 countries. The countries are informally networked with one another to build relationships that cross national and racial barriers to create the foundation necessary for peace: mutual understanding and respect.
While men build edifices and wage war over territory, women continue the ceaseless work of feeding their families and working together to maintain their communities in war as in peace. This unseen work of women, says Patricia Smith Melton, founder and executive director of PXP, is the fertile ground for the development of collaborative, constructive policies urgently needed to transform global culture.
Melton brings to the task 30 years of experience as a poet, playwright and filmmaker, as well as co-founder with her husband, of the International Education Foundation. This Foundation brought together university students in India, China, Chile, Germany, and the US in the earliest large-scale international "experiment" in cross-cultural bonding for young people through the Internet. Now PXP is utilizing the Internet to create a global network of women's circles.
Why the emphasis on circles? The circle is the most ancient and indigenous form of social organization, and has long been sacred to women, whose style of communication around the kitchen table is, even today, closer to the original egalitarian model employed by tribal societies. In today's hierarchical social structure, where dominance and privilege are the modus operandi, the circle offers a viable alternative of interaction based on equality and connection - from the heart.
Thus this grassroots political work is also a spiritual practice where women reach out to one another across their differences from the depths of their souls, speaking about personal experience in a sharing which unites them to undertake projects on behalf of the community.
And these are critical times. It was after 9/11 that Patricia Melton, like so many American women, decided she had to do something more. She awoke one morning with what she has called "a clear understanding" that a circle of leading women must be called, and that she was the one to call it.
A week later, she had seven notable women committed to attending a weekend meeting at Melton's home. They included Chilean-born novelist Isabel Allende; Dr Azizah Y al-Hibri, Muslim-American law professor; Fatima Gailani, an Afghan Sunni Muslim and member of Afghanistan's Loya Jirga; Barbara Marx Hubbard, author and futurist, Founder and Director of The Foundation of Conscious Evolution; Alma Jadallah, Palestinian Muslim-American and peace facilitator; and Susan Collin Marks, a facilitator of South Africa's Peace Accord. Melton had not met any of these women before.
At the conclusion of their two-day circle "to figure out how to make peace", the women agreed to make a major documentary to be aired all over the US on PBS television stations, to document their discussions in a book, and to set up a website for making connections.
In 2002, Melton set off with a film crew to document women's work in the conflict-torn countries of Afghanistan, Rwanda, Bosnia and Venezuela. The result, 'Women On The Frontlines', has since been aired more than 500 times in the US and 20 other countries. The film shows how women keep on working "in plain sight" to serve their communities, heal the wounds of war, and strengthen each other, regardless of the difficulty of the circumstance.
But that was only the beginning. After travelling to these countries and speaking with the women, Melton decided to launch a global network of women's circles and groups at the PXP web site. The concept is to link women's circles overseas with women's circles in the US for whatever purpose they choose but primarily so that they can get to know each other and understand each other's values and concerns.
The work of women is "revolutionary", according to Melton - or perhaps evolutionary is more apt - for women are choosing not to use violent means to respond to oppression. Rather, they are seeking communication and the warm embrace of loving connection.
Melton sums up what she perceives to be happening among women: "Something profound is taking place in places small and large: in groups meeting in kitchens and living rooms, school cafeterias, offices, church and synagogue basements, Muslim centers, and in clusters working the furrows and in the streets, gathering at the well, walking to market, and feeding the children. Thousands of women are creating the foundational origins of peace."
What needs to happen is to join together all the separate tender shoots of this movement. "When they are connected, a powerful critical mass will be formed that can bring a conscious shift to our societies and our leaders," says Melton.
PXP now has about 250 registered circles in close to 40 countries with "a wide gamut of interests and issues", says Melton. "We have four primary types of groups outside the US: groups that are primarily about stopping the violence against women; groups dedicated to micro-financing programs; youth groups and women's political empowerment."
Regarding the latter, Melton notes that in India, Iraq, Afghanistan, and other countries, the quotas for representation of women in government has raised new issues. Do we have enough educated women to fill those slots? Are we best served by having a woman in office, even when she supports a fundamentalist agenda? Certainly one may well ask how women, many of us poor and disenfranchised, can possibly change the actions of powerful governments?
In Ramalah (Palestine) a month ago, where Melton was speaking with 150 women at a conference, one woman asked, "You tell me how my talking with a bunch of women in Ohio is going to bring down the wall?"
The answer, Melton explains, is no. "But if everyone in this room is connected to sister circles where there are women who understand your story, and if you also make connection with Jewish women and they are connected with Jewish women in the US - well, there's an African proverb which says, 'Enough spider webs woven together can stop an elephant.'"
It's all about building critical mass, changing the world one person - or one circle - at a time.
And what about men? Men are involved in this movement, says Melton, but "primarily the focus is on women for the same reason that the Palestinian Authority has a Ministry of Women and not a Ministry of Men: "The men don't need a ministry but we do!"
PXP has a staff of eight and a budget of $1 million a year. It provides guidance, translators and administrative help to all the circles in its network.
ï¿½ Stephanie Hiller
May 15, 2005
(To find out more, and to find a sister circle to work with, visit the PXP website at http://www.peacexpeace.org)
By arrangement with Womens Feature Service