Asia Pacific First Ladies, Women Leaders Address ILC2020

Asia Pacific—Three current and former first ladies (Palau, Northern Mariana Islands, Fiji) and a former deputy prime minister of Nepal shared their unique perspectives and insights on the theme, “Women Leadership at a Time of Global Crisis,” during Session Six of the ILC2020—Asia Pacific program, which was held on September 12, 2020 and hosted by the International Association of First Ladies for Peace (IAFLP).

The IAFLP, a project of UPF’s International Summit Council for Peace (ISCP), was inaugurated at the World Summit 2020, held in Seoul, Korea from February 3 to 7. IAFLP, in collaboration with the Women's Federation for World Peace (WFWP), brings together current and former first ladies from throughout the world, drawing upon their experience and wisdom as women leaders and as role models who serve their countries and their societies in very essential and significant ways.

There is a growing awareness among people around the world of the urgent need for the innovative vision and bold feminine leadership that is embodied by the leaders who spoke at the session.

Summary of keynote speeches:

Dr. Julia Moon is the president of WFWP International. In her opening remarks, Dr. Moon expressed how honored WFWP International and she are to be working with UPF to develop the International Association of First Ladies for Peace. The IAFLP initiative, led by first ladies, proposes that women leaders from all national, racial and religious backgrounds, and all sectors of society, unite in solidarity to respond to today’s challenges for the sake of providing a life of dignity for all people and for creating a world of lasting peace.

We are now experiencing a global crisis due to the COVID-19 pandemic. The coronavirus is teaching us that we are not separate from each other. Never before has it been more evident and clear that interdependence, mutual prosperity and universal values, as articulated in the founding vision of UPF, are no longer a choice, but the only way forward.

Especially, in such trying times, cooperation between government and civil society is indispensable for creating social harmony and economic sustainability. This is why UPF co-founder, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, is proposing the establishment of the Asia Pacific Union as a broad-based, independent, non-political body that draws together like-minded individuals and organizations from among the community of Asia Pacific nations. This union will draw on the region’s common cultural values of filial piety, family and faith to seek answers to critical challenges within the region.

As women of influence, let us follow Dr. Moon's leadership. Let us each find our internal compass, our True North, our vertical connection to God, and by doing so, let's heal our hearts and the hearts of others; celebrate our strengths; and work together with our brothers, husbands and sons to build a better world. This time of the pandemic and quarantine provides us with a silver lining: the opportunity to reevaluate old habits and focus on what is truly essential in life.

I would like to share a quote from Dr. Moon’s recently published memoir: “Upon the foundation of women’s 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.”

Mdm. Debbie Remengeseau is the first lady of the Republic of Palau. In her address, Mdm. Remengeseau reflected upon the life of UPF co-founder, Dr. Sun Myung Moon, and urged everyone to continue working together to achieve what he long envisioned for the world. The best ways to celebrate his legacy on the 8th anniversary of his passing is by promoting peace and prosperity in our communities. COVID-19 has shown how fragile and interconnected our world is. Even though our global health systems and economies are facing enormous challenges, there have been some positives from the pandemic: with less human activity, our precious environment has started to show signs of recovery. Our environment connects us all. The environmental risks posed to our planet are the biggest risks to peace, unity and prosperity in our time.

As the world takes a pause during lockdown, Palau is urging governments and people to use this time to reassess how we do things and to care for our oceans and our environment. We need to put our minds together to create a new future. We have that opportunity now, and we need to take it.

Mdm. Diann Mendiola Tudela Torres is the first lady of the Commonwealth of the Northern Mariana Islands (CNMI). Mdm. Torres asked, “How do we find opportunities during such dark days? How can we change the tide that continues to test humanity?” We have to take a steady approach in encouraging hope and continue guiding our loved ones, neighbors and members of our community to use this time as a chance and an opportunity to strengthen our weaknesses. That is, to find gains in our losses, to seek virtues in our shortcomings, and to find ways to rise from this fall.

My mission as first lady is to spread hope. Through the Lady Diann Torres Foundation, I have taken the initiative to work collaboratively with members of our community and other nonprofits to reach out and build goodwill and support for those most in need. The Canvas of Hope project encourages our local artists to use our once fallen power poles to create art, which now spreads hope and love throughout our islands. My foundation donates to nonprofits to help keep their programs running, as we all have unique ways to reach out to build goodwill and support for those most in need. Mdm. Torres expressed that she will not stop, and will not allow the current crisis to crush the dreams of a thriving Northern Mariana Islands.

She quoted Isaiah 40:31 from the Bible: “But those who hope in the Lord will renew their strength. They will soar on wings like eagles; they will run and not grow weary, they will walk and not be faint,”, We can count on hope during our most challenging times, so never stop hoping and believe that we will come out of this stronger and better.

Mdm. Adi Koila Mara Nailatikau is a former first lady of the Republic of Fiji (2009-2015). In her address, Mdm. Nailatikau began by saying that the devastating indirect consequences of the COVID-19 pandemic—loss of freedoms, work, connectivity and interaction—will continue even after an antivirus has been found. Minority groups, and in particular, women and children, are left more vulnerable in these times. In the Pacific region, the majority of our island nations rely on aid and tourism to support our national economies. Since the closing down of borders, as early as March, hundreds of thousands of jobs have been lost in Fiji and across the Pacific, resulting in a revival of communal interdependency and Pacific Islanders living a more sustainable way of life with one another and the environment.

The wisdom of our ancient systems of sustainable environmental resource management has always promoted harmony between mankind and between man and the environment. Moreover, the community-driven initiatives that have been developed in response to families spending more time together has been a light at the end of the tunnel. With the abundance of innovation that has come out of our lockdowns, I am truly optimistic and betting on our future generations to lead us to a better and more peaceful world.

The teachings of Rev. and Mrs. Moon focus on interdependence, mutual prosperity and universally shared values. This year, more than any other, is a time to embrace these teachings. The smallest acts of kindness to a brother, sister or stranger will go further in these stressful times. Quoting from Hebrews 11.1 of the Bible, Mdm. Nailatikau said, “Faith is the substance of things hoped for, the evidence of things not seen.” Faith is the ability to see beyond the high tides, rapids and rough waters and know that beyond them breaks a sea of calmness and serenity.

Hon. Sujata Koirala is the former deputy prime minister of Nepal (2009-2011). As Hon. Koirala began her remarks, she noted that while the entire world sweats profusely to contain the spread of the coronavirus, the role of effective leadership has been brought into razor-sharp focus around the globe. I applaud Dr. Moon and the Universal Peace Federation for bringing this topic for discussion at such a relevant time. The world did not need a pandemic to realize that people are generally better off when their leaders are smart, honest and modest.

Now that we are head-on with this global crisis, it is apparent that the challenges of the 21st century call for a new type of leadership, different from that based on command and control. This new type of leadership primarily involves resilience, courage, flexibility, listening, empathizing, collaboration, caring and recognition of collective contribution.

Through this esteemed forum, I urge world leaders and decision-makers to ensure gender is integrated into national and sub-national COVID-19 response plans, not only to achieve better outcomes for women and girls but also to achieve better outcomes for the whole of humanity.

Prof. Mieko Ikegame is the former director of the UN’s Office of the Under Secretary General, Japan. The leadership and participation of women in decision-making processes is essential for coping with critical issues affecting people’s lives, Prof. Ikegame said as she opened her remarks. There is a need for solidarity among women and for women to support one another as leaders. If a woman is educated, it has widespread benefits: for herself, her children and her community. In Prof. Ikegame’s view, women have a much more holistic view of society due to child bearing and their concern for the well-being of the family and community. Peace starts from ones heart and then expands to the family, community, nation and world. Most peace movements have been initiated by women. It is women who experience the most suffering during times of war and difficulty.

Being a global citizen and having a cosmopolitan mindset does not mean stopping to be Japanese or Indonesian. World peace requires mutual understanding and solidarity. It starts with understanding who you are and then developing the skills to explain to others who you are and what you stand for. Global consciousness is the key. Peace is the central concept in this challenging world, where current short term ambitions tend to dominate the need for long term and lasting sustainable development and peace.

World leaders play a critical role in shaping the next generation’s consciousness to take responsibility as global citizens, now and in the future. All in all, the future depends on how we shape the world today. Leadership is critical. The education of the next generation is vital for the survival of humankind; we must act together now.

Mrs. Blessie G. Dhakal, international coordinator of the IAFLP, gave special remarks on the topic, “Paving a Way for the Asia Pacific Union.” She expressed that an Asia Pacific Union is vitally important and has the potential to become a platform of interregional cooperation for mutual well-being, security and safety and where policies are created to protect the interests of the Union and its member nations for generations. Such a union would enable discussion and the exchange of ideas related to coping better with crises and situations, such as the COVID-19 pandemic. 

“Just imagine how much more prosperous and peaceful we would be [if were collaborating] together,” she shared. Working together as a region will help create healthier partnerships among nations within the region, which in turn will contribute to the growth of tourism and trade.

At times of natural catastrophe, Union nations can support each other with urgently needed resources and human expertise, and aid would become accessible and the delivery of it, more efficient. Countries that are performing better can share their methods and solutions with other member nations to help them recover and prosper.

The IAFLP creates camaraderie among first ladies, which in turn enables better reach and a wider scope of support for the work they and other women leaders do. When empowered women come together, great ideas emerge. The IAFLP initiative is timely and needed now more than ever before. There’s a brighter day ahead of us. Mrs. Dhakal urged the IAFLP to continue to expand its network. “Using the heart of a mother’s unlimited love, it is imperative that we find solutions to today’s problems in order to protect our future generations,” she said.

Mrs. Moriko Hori is the coordinator of the IAFLP-Japan. In her closing remarks, Mrs. Hori expressed her gratitude to the speaker’s for their dedication to their countries and for bringing hope to people who are suffering from the pandemic. She shared that WFWP conducts humanitarian projects in 50 developing countries. These projects aim to empower women and children to become independent through education. More than anything, WFWP’s projects give hope for the future.

WFWP’s founder, Dr. Hak Ja Han Moon, often expressed to WFWP members that as a mother’s organization, WFWP needs to conduct activities with a mother’s unconditional love. WFWP strongly believes that a person who has experienced true love can share it with others. In this way, we can bring peace to our communities, nation and world.

Now is the time for women leaders to show what needs to be done for the world. Let us turn this opportunity into an actual movement.

Mrs. Merly Barlaan is the international vice president of WFWP-Asia. Mrs. Barlaan shared that now is the time to strengthen our resolve, powered by the heart of a mother, to work in collaboration to build a unified Asia Pacific region centered on God. On behalf of the organization committee, Mrs. Barlaan extended her deep gratitude to everyone for joining the IAFLP session.

To go back to the executive summary for the Asia Pacific ILC, click here.

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