November 9, 2003, Updated September 12, 2012

‘Harmony in this area really means harmony in the world,’ say participants at the Women’s Voice in Conflict Resolution and Peace-building symposium.

Where could a more fitting place be for women from around the world to discuss conflict resolution and peace-building than in a city whose residents work hard every day to coexist in peace?

This is why The Golda Meir Mount Carmel International Training Cente (MCTC) in Haifa was the site of the recent Women’s Voice in Conflict Resolution and Peace-building symposium.

“I think it is important that this conference takes place here. It is important for us to be in Haifa where you have Muslims and Jews and Christians living together in peace.” Aicha Bah Diallo, UNESCO’s deputy assistant director general for education and a participant in the conference, told ISRAEL21c

“You can’t talk about a conflict from a far distance. It’s so comfortable to talk about a situation from Canada,” said Canadian senator Mobina Jaffer who also attended the
six-day meeting. “It’s important to come here to the conflict zone. Harmony in this area really means harmony in the world,” said Jaffer, who as the first Muslim senator in Canada represents the quiet and picturesque province of British Columbia.

Jaffer and Diallo were not the only ones to come from afar for this convention. In fact, high-level positioned women from around the world – among them Victorine Wodie (Minister for Human Rights, Ivory Coast), Minodora Cliveti (Member of Parliament, Romania), Monique Ilboudo (Minister for the Promotion of Human Rights, Burkina Faso), and Prof. Sondra Rubenstein (Reviewer, Fulbright Senior Specialist Review Committee, US) – converged at the MCTC.

The mainly women participants – Tsjeard Bouta, a
researcher at the Netherlands Institute of
International Relations Clingendael, was the only male guest – held seminars on the political and economic empowerment of women, the promotion of sustainable human development, and education towards tolerance and respect.

“Just to bring women together and talk together is an accomplishment. It is vital for women from developing countries to see how important it is to discuss issues where most of the time women are not called. When you have peace negotiations, look around the table and you will
see very few women, if any. It is important that we meet and discuss these things because women have their say too,” UNESCO’s Diallo said. “By
talking to each other we will know how strong we are. We have more women than men in the world. Why is our voice not heard? When we come together, we can see how we can push for that voice to be heard.”

And that’s exactly MCTC’s goal: to empower women in getting their voices heard and coming up with
strategies for shaping the future of their societies.

Located on a quiet street in a hilly neighborhood of Haifa, MCTC has been around since 1961. It was founded by MASHAV – the Center for International Cooperation,
Ministry of Foreign Affairs, to put gender issues on the international agenda. Although nary an Israeli knows of its existence, the center has organized hundreds of training sessions for the benefit of women from Africa, Asia, Latin America, the Caribbean, Oceania, the CIS, Eastern Europe and the Middle East.

“We’re the best kept secret in Israel,” said Hava
Karrie, Deputy Director at MCTC. “We are well known all over the world. As well as training here we also go abroad. We do a lot of training seminars in developing countries as well as in the US and Canada. We don’t have a mandate to train Israelis. MCTC began years ago before there were relations with a lot of the countries and this was one way to have those relations.”

The center, which is set in a modest building with a conference room and dining hall, trains women from around the world and helps empower them to claim their right and just role in development, peace building and their nations’ progress. Tokens from participants of
the 147 countries, who have taken part in MCTC events over the years, decorate the inside of the building. Golda Meir, former Prime Minister of Israel, and Mina Ben-Zvi, MCTC’s founding director, established the center.

“As long as there are spots on the globe where some people are more developed and others less, there is no development and no culture, there is no freedom and, I am afraid, no peace in the world,” Meir, Israel’s Prime Minister from 1969-1974, is quoted as saying. “We women of the world must participate in the necessary war – not against men – but against poverty, ignorance, inequality and injustice. We women
are not better than our men, but we are too good for our own countries and the world to do without our active participation in the struggle for peace and development.”

Graduates of MCTC programs have set up women’s
organizations in Senegal, Mali and the Ivory Coast; education centers in Nepal and the Philippines; and small business centers in Argentina and Kazakhstan. MCTC’s biennial international seminars and symposia
are based on topics declared by the United Nations as of current international concern.

As such, this month’s conference focused on the UN resolution to highlight “the importance of bringing gender perspectives to the center of all United Nations conflict prevention and resolution, peace-building, peace-keeping, rehabilitation and reconstruction
efforts… the role of women in peace-building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution” (Women, Peace and Security, United Nations, 2002).

“There are so many world conflicts but the media put the emphasis on the Palestinian-Israeli conflict,” said director of MCTC, Mazal Renford. “We have to see what we can do to educate our children, the new generation towards peace and the acceptance of the other. We have to try to get people to think in terms
of peaceful solutions. I think we women have a role to play and our voices should be heard.”

MCTC this year ran seminars on Early Childhood
Education (March-April), Rural Tourism Creating
Additional Sources of Income for Women (May), and
Women Entrepreneurs at a time of Technological Change (September). Upcoming conventions include Media Strategies for Social Change (end November) and Women’s Leadership Development (October 2004), among others.

“This center gives me great hope,” said Canada’s Jaffer. “So many women have come. It shows there’s a great will to bring peace.”

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