Dr Scilla Elworthy has been one of the foremost proponents of international peace-building since the 1980s, and her work has won awards and acclaim across the globe. Here, she shares with the Sisters her thoughts on how we can move to a peaceful world and harness the power of feminine wisdom.
Peace can seem unnerving to some who are so used to being immersed in today’s ultra-noisy environment, whose every waking minute is filled with some real or virtual interaction vying for their attention. In this context, some may equate peace with boredom. Yet, these are usually the people who have never experienced the clamour of the war, the sheer terror of the noise – a human skull exploding, the scream of a parent whose child is ripped from them, the cries of a grandfather trapped underneath a bombed building. They may not have witnessed the indescribable horror of children who have watched their parents being tortured or sat with a woman who has been raped multiple times. Peace means stopping all this.
Over the past decades, I have spent time with those who design, develop and deploy nuclear weapons and those who plan and strategise for armed conflict, as well as those who actively strive for peace. In my work, I have discovered that all of these people – the research and activist community that I work in, and the military as well – now know so much about how to prevent armed conflict that we do not need war anymore. I have also learned that it is far more costly to continue with war than it is to prevent it.
During the course of writing my recent book The Business Plan for Peace, my team and I began to explore the staggering savings that peace could make. The latest information from the Global Peace Index and the Institute for Economics and Peace in Australia states that the economic impact of armed violence on the global economy is 13 trillion US dollars. In our first study of the cost in our business plan for peace, we worked out that to prevent war effectively and efficiently at local, national and international levels would cost merely 2 billion US dollars. It is extraordinary that we continue with war, but war is extremely profitable for arms producers and traders, as well as those who find that war is in their best interests – who reap the ‘rewards’ of it through trafficking drugs, people and money. But it is more than that, by doing this work the main thing I have learned is that power over others is key to the problem. Power is attractive to human beings convinced by the seductive idea that ultimate power brings ultimate security. That route leads to armageddon.
Einstein warned us that we cannot solve a problem using the consciousness that created it. So, humanity now has the chance to evolve our consciousness, and develop a different understanding of power, namely power with others. That means re-balancing feminine intelligence with masculine. It means upgrading the value we ascribe to qualities such as compassion, inclusivity, caring for the planet, and wisdom. It means insisting that women sit at all decision-making tables, at all levels, equally with men. It means sharing power, and valuing the brilliance, courage and capacity of (extra)ordinary people to prevent suffering. It means trusting people to resolve problems, by understanding that local people know best what needs to be done in their own areas.
It means supporting our unarmed heroes who stop and prevent war throughout the globe without the backing of military might and weaponry. Those such as Gulalai Ismael. She lives in northwest Pakistan, one of the most dangerous places in the world to be a woman. Aged 15 she started an organisation called Aware Girls to enable females to go to school; Malala Yousefzai was shot in the head for doing just this. Gulalai, undeterred, has now trained 20 teams of young men and women in Pakistan and Afghanistan to prevent other young people joining extremist groups. Using the tools of listening and dialogue, they have reached and dissuaded more than 500 teenagers ‘at risk’ of becoming extremist. It is stories such as hers that give me hope and sustain me in my work. Daily, I am amazed and humbled by those facing terror, who nevertheless walk towards what they fear.
Here are two examples of what ordinary people can do to make peace possible. Parents can offer to introduce periods of quiet at their children’s school and learn nonviolent communication, so that we can create a new generation who understand and embrace the fundamental basis of peace. Secondly, people who live in countries of conflict can insist that their governments build an infrastructure for peace, copying the model of peace councils at national, regional and even village levels following those that Mandela introduced in South Africa.
Re-examining our entire approach to war is especially important now when the major threats that humanity faces – climate change, migration, terrorism, the rich/poor gap and cyber attack – do not respond to weapons. Perhaps this is an evolutionary moment, a challenge, for us as human beings to upgrade our level of consciousness and our way of preventing war.
Scilla Elworthy PhD has been nominated three times for the Nobel Peace Prize for her work with the Oxford Research Group which she founded in 1982 to develop effective dialogue between nuclear weapons policymakers worldwide and their critics. She was awarded the Niwano Peace Prize in 2003, and was adviser to Archbishop Desmond Tutu and Sir Richard Branson in setting up The Elders – a unique independent group of global leaders working together for peace and human rights. Her TED talk on nonviolence has been viewed by over 1,400,000 people.