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EUME-Africa First Ladies, Women Leaders Meet at ILC 2020

Africa/Europe/Middle East—The ILC 2020 organized by UPF of Africa and UPF of Europe and the Middle East dedicated its sixth session to “Perspectives from Current and Former First Ladies and Women Leaders.”

The webinar was held on September 12, 2020, by the International Association of First Ladies for Peace (IAFLP), an association that is part of the Universal Peace Federation as a project of the International Summit Council for Peace.

The session was hosted by the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, an organization that is affiliated with UPF.

The title of the session was “Toward a New Paradigm of Women’s Leadership and Cooperation in Response to Global Crises.”

The moderator was May Sacko Gaye from Côte d'Ivoire, a national TV news presenter.

The speakers were:

Dr. Julia Moon, the president of WFWP International

Vera Tembo Chiluba, the first lady of the Republic of Zambia (1991-2001)

Hon. Driss Senda, advisor to the president of the Republic of Congo

Hon. Dr. Nadia Al-Sakkaf, former editor in chief of Yemen Times

Hon. Dr. Olga Bogomolets, a member of Parliament (2014-2018), Ukraine

Carolyn Handschin, the vice president for Europe of WFWPI, gave the opening remarks. She noted that in preparing for this ILC, women in Africa, Europe and the Middle East, through listening and considering others’ situation, successfully transcended barriers, built bridges and produced something better than they could have done separately.

Mrs. Handschin observed that UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, as the wife of a spiritual peace leader, learned what it is to be in a supportive role. From that experience Mother Moon came to understand the value and potential of that position, while gaining and developing wisdom and a heart of concern for others, as well as many leadership skills.

Mrs. Handschin gave the example of the first lady of the South Pacific island nation of Palau, who uses her influence, mind, heart and time to promote awareness about environmental issues and to train the youth to engage in projects related to the environment.

Mrs. Handschin said it is the vision of IAFLP to create a network of solidarity at the highest levels, bringing greater empowerment to the grassroots, that can influence decisions and attitudes as a new paradigm of leadership and a peace culture.

Dr. Julia Moon, the president of the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, began by saying how honored she was to participate in this session together with first ladies and prominent women leaders from Europe, the Middle East and Africa. She also recognized the excellent work that the Universal Peace Federation has been doing to develop the International Association of First Ladies for Peace. She explained that the founders of UPF and WFWP, who are affectionately called Father and Mother Moon, worked for 50 years with one single-minded purpose—namely to build a world of lasting peace. Since the passing of Father Moon in 2012, Mother Moon has shouldered the burden of “bringing to fruition all the seeds planted by her husband as they established organizations in every field of human endeavor.”

Reminding us of the IAFLP goals, Dr. Moon called for unity and solidarity in response to today´s challenges, invoking the UPF vision of interdependence, mutual prosperity and universal values. She explained that these are no longer a choice but the only way forward if we are to overcome the many threats that we face.

Dr. Moon pointed to the recent tragedies in Lebanon, Belarus and Africa and to the world COVID-19 pandemic. In closing, she quoted Mother Moon: “Upon maternal love and affection, the world of the future can be a world of reconciliation and peace. The time has come for the power of women to save the world.”

The speech of Vera Tembo Chiluba, a former first lady of the Republic of Zambia, member of Parliament of Kasenengwa Constituency, chairperson for women's affairs and deputy minister of environment, was read by her daughter. Mrs. Tembo Chiluba’s speech reminded the audience of the difficult time that the world is facing with a global pandemic. She urged a global response focusing on the concept of humankind in which race, religion or nationality should not divide us and said we should find a common ground, turning interdependence into the norm.

Those who have been blessed with positions that allow them to give a voice to the voiceless should be encouraged to take meaningful action toward change, Mrs. Tembo said. There must be a shift in the narrative, we must begin to change, and change begins with us, she said.

The former first lady called for change in the way in which women perceive themselves, arguing that traditional stereotypes should be left behind. Women should realize and appreciate their potential, she said, because, given the chance, they will rise to the occasion. She gave the example of how women during the pandemic have taken on the roles of teachers and providers for the community. She also mentioned that countries run by women have systematically and strategically dealt better with the pandemic. To conclude her inspirational and driven speech, Mrs. Tembo declared that the dark times in which we are living must be seen as an opportunity to accelerate the empowerment of women as the great achievers and multitaskers that they are.

Hon. Driss Senda, an advisor to the president of the Republic of Congo and the president of UPF in his nation, said that in light of the current global crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic, women are now faced with unprecedented challenges. However, the crisis also highlights the role of women in society, particularly in decision-making, where women take a more comprehensive view resulting in better outcomes. Representing 50 percent of the population, women’s input is invaluable. 

Mr. Senda emphasized that women should no longer be marginalized or seen as victims. Taboos of the past should be erased, he said, and women should be enabled to serve in key roles in society, both practically and spiritually—for example, through advising political leaders. This should become more apparent in the aftermath of the pandemic, he said.

He also mentioned the crucial role of women in peacebuilding and their ability to create space for exchange and dialogue while serving as agents of change, peace and goodwill, noting that the platforms of the IAFLP and WFWP support such roles. Finally, he reinforced the message that, to face the current challenges, words must be followed by actions through using our unique skills and modern technology. In conclusion, he pointed to the vision of UPF co-founder Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, whose ambition is the realization of universal peace.

Dr. Nadia Al-Sakkaf became Yemen’s first female minister of information in 2014 and was previously editor in chief of the Yemen Times.

She began her speech with the following riddle, “A father and a son were in a car crash. The father died, and the son was rushed to the hospital. At the hospital the surgeon stopped and shouted, ‘That is my son.’ Who was the surgeon?” The response was confusion, so Dr. Al-Sakkaf explained that the surgeon was the boy's mother and the reason why we did not realize that sooner was due to our deep-rooted prejudices whereby we continue to associate the male gender with certain professions. That is why, for example, we say, “Madam President” and not just “President.” She explained that in Arabic, the situation would be different, since it is a more gendered language. This is one of the reasons why she loves Arabic and also why she decided to learn Spanish, also a language with gender differentiation, she said.

Dr. Al-Sakkaf explained that she wanted to work toward improving the visibility of women’s achievements and demystifying the idea that women are averse to holding certain professional positions. She pointed out that women tend to be perfectionists and are often not comfortable committing to something that they do not feel 110 percent capable of doing, unlike men who are content to learn on the job.

To conclude her passionate speech, Dr. Al-Sakkaf urged the public to join her on her quest to make this decade the decade of women’s empowerment. She challenged everyone to contemplate how they would complete the following sentence: “This is the time for women to become___.”

Hon. Dr. Olga Bogomolets, a former advisor on humanitarian issues to the Ukrainian president, spoke briefly of the tragic consequences of war as experienced by the thousands of widows and orphans in her homeland.  She referred to her period of frontline service to the military as a medical doctor and her unsuccessful bid to become Ukraine’s president. Undaunted by her defeat in politics, she determined to move on, as she was convinced that there are opportunities for women to lead where kindness will prevail over conflict. She spoke of four steps for women to effect change, namely: communicate, plan, act together and analyze results. She urged women to work to end ecological problems and war and promote peace and love to save the planet earth, our common home.

The closing remarks were offered by Susan Kone, the vice president of WFWP International for Africa and the coordinator for IAFLP in Africa.

Mrs. Kone stressed the role of women in supporting and complementing their husbands, brothers and fathers in their roles. She referred to the global spread of the COVID-19 virus, originating in China, reminding us of our common destiny.

She emphasized the need for dialogue, noting that isolation has no place in the world. The foundation of the IAFLP by Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon has provided a platform for such dialogue and exchange of ideas, and Mrs. Kone hoped that such dialogue will enable us to apply best practices to save the planet which is our common home. She encouraged further similar discussions on relevant topics, followed by action. She further emphasized women’s and men’s complementary roles.

Mrs. Kone concluded her remarks by referring to Mahatma Gandhi, reminding us of the sentiment: “Be the change that you wish to see in the world.”

To go back to the executive summary for the Africa-EUME ILC, click here.

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