A World Without Armies

San Jose Travel Blog

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In an effort to better understand women’s movements for peace,  I interned this semester with Un Mundo Sin Ejercito, the Costa Rican sector of Berkeley, California’s A World Without Armies (AWWA).  I initially planned to join their team to plan and participate in the “1er Congreso de Mujeres para la Abolicion de los Ejercitos en Centro America para el 2020.”  And I did, but my responsibilities and commitments extended further than just that.  Upon joining with AWWA, I was thrown into a whole mess of local peace organizations and universities, all in need of a little extra help.  I met a woman named Celina, from Fundaccion CEPPA, who was mildly involved in planning the congress.  She immediately handed me a large project of creating education materials for high schools across Central America.
    Her assignment was weighty;  I was asked to create a booklet to be distributed throughout Central America to educate youths about arms, armed conflict, and its effects.  Of course, these materials all needed to be written in Spanish, a language that I’m still in the stages of learning.  Without any previous relationship with her or with CEPPA I was uneasy about the project, and as my relationship with Celina became more and more uncomfortable, progress with the handbook became slow and sticky.
    Meanwhile, I was attending AWWA meetings regularly, and having fun in the planning of the congress.  The ladies I was working with each had such a strong personality.  Ruth, the brains of the operation, is responsible and organized.  Sandra, the heart, is creative and positive.  Isabel, the muscle, is fearless and a driving force.   MariaElena, the skin, kept things real and put them in perspective.  Brenda, the legs, was always busy somewhere doing something critical.  I became very close with the women I was working with, and our characteristics harmonized into one creative force.
    I was able to understand basically everything that happened in the meetings, and when I got lost, Ruth was always willing to go over it again until I understood the words.  Occasionally she would look across the table at me and just say, “I’m talking really fast, aren’t I…  sorry,”  but no matter my response, her cadence never seemed to slow.  She liked to do things in a timely manner.  I had a lot of time to think about things to add to the conversation, because putting together sentences in Spanish always takes quite a bit longer for me.  But I found I was more than able to contribute and add ideas, some of which were pretty brilliant, and I’m still kind of proud of.  Over all, the meetings at the AWWA office, or Sandra’s house, were interesting and fun.
    I enjoyed hearing the other women speak, and share their ideas.  I learned how the other women felt about the significance of women’s alliances.  Sandra once told me that the reason women need to come together without men, is that we have a history of oppression, and in the presence of men our internalized oppression come out.  If women are alone in groups, they are able to connect with each other based upon their common female experience.  This concept was also present in my prior research.  After participating in the congress, I feel that the importance of women working together alone has been reassured for me.  
    During the congress we talked about strategies to eliminate armies in Central America.  Every person shared their opinion, their ideas.  Francesca Randazzo, of Honduras, said, “In order to disarm [Central America], we must first disarm the mind because violence begins there, in the mind,” and everyone was in agreement.  In my research I found that aggression is a masculine trait, not a trait of men necessarily, but connected to masculinity.  Aggression on a political level is so inherent because our society is patriarchal; masculine leadership has become unbalanced with feminine styles.  For Francesca, and many of the women at the congress, looking to the past is a strategy.  “If we want disarmament we must look to the past; armies didn’t always exist,” she said.  In fact, Honduras didn’t have an armed military until 1956.
    A lot of the ideas presented had to do with self responsibility.  “It is not only necessary for us to “disarm” our minds,” says Sidney Arias, of Costa Rica, “We all have to help.  We have to maintain security on our own.”  We need to create a culture of peace if we are to eliminate the military.  This involves respect for life and the dignity of others, practicing non violence, defending the freedom of expression, promoting the nonexistence of arms in the home, and promoting nonviolence, that is cracking down on violent video games, television, and toys that only generate more violence.  Toward the end of the congress, we broke into small groups and wrote up what was supposed to be a formula to convert to demilitarization.  
    In my small group was discussed that our group could not possibly create a concrete formula that would be relevant to all central American countries.  We decided that it would be more beneficial to create an invitation to women’s groups and peace groups in each country to ally with us to create a formula for that country.  Our letter began by calling for support to accomplish two goals.  One was to investigate how the political, economic, cultural, and social aspects that contribute to and perpetuate militarism and a culture of violence.  Second, to investigate how those aspects can be changed to foster a culture of peace, protection of the environment, security, and health.  Our group brought the declaration back to the large group and we decided that it was a good idea to create a proposal, rather than a concrete formula.  The ideas of other groups would be included as well on a second sheet.  They were concrete ideas for a formula, such as reducing military spending by 5-10% a year, and creating service jobs for soldiers coming out of the army as it reduces, gradually, in size.
    We also spent time talking about education.  The first day of the congress, student who we had been in contact with preformed dances and sang songs of peace.  The did a puppet show displaying the tragedy of violence, showed artwork, and read letters they had written to presidents of central American countries, asking them to consider demilitarization for the sake of the children.  The letters were intelligent and beautiful, as were their poems and stories.  Seeing the children express their desire for a peaceful world reinforced the need to continue educating the youth for me and many of the other women.  I also feel the performances by the children were important because we were a group of only women.  I think that having women work for peace is very influential because women raise children.  If women are educated in peace, have disarmed their minds, and emanate the culture of peace, their children will surely pick up on it.  In this way, mothers can collectively give rise to an entire generation of peaceful minded individuals.
    I showed my workbook to the congress, and received some valuable feedback.  They were impressed by my work, and that made me feel proud.  Some of the women told me that even they had learned some reading it.  I learned a lot creating the booklet as well, but wont go into the details, as the workbook is included in my portfolio.
    I would definitely call my independent study project a success.  Just having the time and room to think about masculinity and femininity and their roles in creating peace has allowed me to clear up some doubts and has been quite reassuring.  Participating in the congress allowed me to think about creating peace in a concrete way, as opposed to a philosophical way, which I have never been able to do before.  In the beginning, it was difficult, but I learned these skills and many others from the other women present at the congress. 
    In the future, I would bring a tape recorder with me, because I would have liked to remember more direct quotes; the way some of the participants spoke was so beautiful.  I also wish I had a camera, but there are some things in life that you just have to remember on your own.  I guess this was one of them.
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photo by: Isoinspira