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D. Remengesau: Women as Global Peacebuilders

Address to UPF's World Summit on Peace
February 20-24, 2007, Seoul, Korea

We have come here to this Summit from many nations large and small, and from many different cultures. I come from one of the smallest and newest nations on earth, the Republic of Palau. I could be tempted to question what we could possibly have that could contribute to the discussion on Global Peace; however when I look at our world I can see that many of our global problems actually begin at the grass roots level: at home, within our families and in the communities where we live. Our roles as wives, as mothers, as neighbors and nurturers is actually where we can all take action in the peace building process. In fact there can be no global peace unless we are successful in achieving peace in our hearts, in our homes and communities.

We have a unique culture in our part of the world.  Similar to other Pacific Island indigenous cultures, Palauan culture has traditionally been characterized by our strong family and extended family relationships, the central role of religion and spirituality, and our system of traditional leaders and chiefs which has historically formed the basis of our social organization, governance and system of justice.

The great Pacific Ocean has for centuries played a powerful role in influencing our national identity and way of life. Men have traditionally gone out to fish to provide protein and the women have taken the main responsibility to raise the children, and to tend the all important garden plot which provides fruit and vegetables such as taro and tapioca for the family and clan. There are elders who form a hierarchy of chiefs and there is a strong system of social responsibilities we call “customs”. For example, when there is a funeral or when someone needs to build a house, the whole community is expected to contribute. This system relies heavily on cooperation, respect, sharing and the distinct but complimentary roles of men and women. It has been part of our way of life for centuries. Our way of life has been closely connected to, and has been in harmony with nature. I was brought up in such a home and in such a community.

In Palau however in recent decades, although some things have remained the same, many things have been changing rapidly. With modernization and influences from overseas, we have been losing many of the simple but foundational aspects of our culture. Many young people don’t show the same respect that they did in the past. There is more focus on money, and less on family, faith, cooperation, sharing and community responsibilities. We have modern schools, cars, television, and Internet but modern life is taking its toll on our social cohesion and the love we shared in our clans and extended families and our relationship with nature.

Today, we stand at the beginning of the 21st century. It is neither possible nor even desirable to turn back the clock.  However as we race ahead into the future, we, especially as women leaders, need to evaluate what is valuable in the things of the past. Palau has the motto “preserve the best and improve the rest.” I believe that this holds true not only for environmental concerns but also for the more internal matters of morals and values. Many current problems stem from the fact that during the course of modernization we are being tempted into giving away that which has eternal and universal value for the lure of material or short term gain and pleasures. We are seeing the break down of our families and the loss of our sense of community and connectedness that was part of our traditional island cultures.

This phenomenon, however, is global in scope; there is no nation or race or culture which is unaffected. The effects are most evident in the attitudes and behavior of young people: the increase in drug use, immorality and disregard for the elders and the traditions which are their heritage.

I firmly believe that women all over the world are called to play a critical role in addressing these very issues. Women have traditionally been powerful home makers and nurturers with the central role in the family to educate, raise-up and pass on good values to the children. Women have also played a vital role as peace makers and harmonizers, stepping in to bring peace and reconciliation in the home and community when conflict or difficulties arise. When men fight women have the ability to compromise, forgive and to reconnect. When male leaders begin to go astray, it is often their mothers, wives or sisters who have the power of love and moral persuasion needed to bring them back on track.

We have to go back to the basics of love in the family and to recognize the immense value of our three generational and extended family and community traditions. As women we need to be wise to the seductions of materialism, secularism, immorality and self-centered individualism. We must cling tightly to the things of real, eternal value. No matter what our position in the society may be, we must never forget that our first and foremost role as women is to be filial, caring daughters to our parents, to be faithful and loving wives to our husbands, and to be nurturing, embracing mothers and moral educators to our children. That is to be the centre of love in the family. This is where the power of women as global peace builders will have its greatest impact.

When women around the world unite together in the spirit of Almighty God, we can surely rescue our young people from the ravages of drugs and immorality; we can surely defend our families and protect our sacred heritage. Who can stand against us?

We must go forward with our faith, our moral virtue and clarity, our loving, motherly hearts and our sisterly solidarity. Our unity is our strength.

I believe that this conference, and the launch of the Women for Peace Initiative, presents us with an exceptional opportunity to take stock of our situation, to awaken and to become proactive in the cause of global peace.

Let us not be changed in a wrong way by the world, but let us demonstrate to the world that faith and family are the answer to our social wows. Let us also show the example of how we can go beyond our differences. Let us lead the way as global peace builders.

My prayer is that the Women for Peace Initiative can be the start of a powerful movement for positive change and transformation. My great hope is that in the coming months and years we will work together with increasing vigor for peace beginning in our families and nations and extending to peace throughout the entire world.