Professor puts peace research to work
The future of peace depends on women and education, says Prof. Paula Rayman, director of the Middle East Center for Peace, Development and Culture. Rayman spent her recent senior Fulbright Scholarship sabbatical in Northern Ireland and Israel, working with women leaders on strategies for building peace and expanding women’s access to education and equal rights.
Equality, economics and education are primary topics in peace studies, says Rayman. And research bears that out: As women’s literacy and rights grows in a country, so does its gross domestic product, which improves economic security for all citizens, according to United Nations (U.N.) research. Rayman says that without economic security there can be no peace. Therefore, education of women must be an early step in peacebuilding, she maintains.
“We have a responsibility to answer the question of ‘How do we envision peace?’” says Rayman, who was the founding director of the Peace and Conflict Studies program. “Since there is such conflict in the world, we have to count on education to help people find a way to combat it. I believe there is still a nonviolent alternative and that women have to play a key role. It’s not going to happen without them.”
Engaging young people in this research is also important to Rayman, who often involves her students in projects. In fact, class research on the relationship between advancing women’s lives and building sustainable peace became the framework of her Fulbright sabbatical.
In addition to teaching as a visiting professor at the university's international partnership institutions Queens University in Northern Ireland and Haifa University in Israel, Rayman worked with women leaders in both countries to design National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement U.N. resolution 1325. Passed in 2000, the resolution classifies rape as a war crime, requires that all peace accords brokered by the organization must have at least 50 percent women delegates and specifies that the accords target decreased violence against women, including direct forms such as domestic violence and indirect forms, including situations where women are barred from education or voting.
“This is a real watershed around women’s rights as part of human rights. This resolution says that it’s not OK anymore to make women invisible in the world,” says Rayman. “Women all over the world are engaging in this project.”In Northern Ireland, Rayman met with women who led grassroots marches in the 1990s, spurring government movement toward peace, and others active in non-violent leaders in the country. The women are Catholic, Protestant and secular from across the country, but they decided to create a single NAP instead of divided plans. Rayman and two graduate students will present their research on building peace and gender equity in conflicted areas at an upcoming Queens University conference focused on resolution 1325.
While Israel and Palestine are at a different stage in their peace efforts than Ireland with violence still happening daily, Rayman met with a diverse group of women leaders to discuss their plans for NAPs. The women representing both sides of the conflict and others in the region decided to write a single action plan, which
Rayman will return to help them write using Ireland’s document as a template. While in the region, Rayman also led non-violent conflict resolution trainings for women leaders of all backgrounds and shared her experiences working with others like them across the world.
“Women in that region have been so devastated by continuing cycles of violence that they just look inward and don’t realize that’s there’s a large global arena where women all over the world have acted very courageously in the name of peace,” says Rayman. “I want to help connect them to that larger reality.”
Working with Students to Change the World
Rayman’s students at UMass Lowell are gaining an international perspective on gender and peace studies by participating in this research, a vital step in building a better future, she says.
“These projects give me hope that you can go beyond the research that stays on a shelf,” says Rayman. “So many of our students have a commitment to making a difference on the local, national and international levels. They want to have a voice as leaders and change agents.”