The Words of the Handschin Family

Contributions of the Family to Peace-building and Human Rights

Carolyn Handschin
May 15, 2009
Director, UPF - UN Office in Geneva

Geneva, Switzerland - In the sixth event in an ongoing “Peace-building and Human Rights” conference series, the Universal Peace Federation, together with the Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance and the Women’s Federation for World Peace International, sponsored two sessions at the United Nations in Geneva on May 15 to mark the International Day of Families.

Reinforcing the United Nations' declared theme for this year, “Mothers and Families: Challenges in a Changing World,” the pivotal role of the mother in the family took the stage in the first session of the conference.

The session chair, Dr. Alpha Ayandé, director of Synergy for Development and International Partnership, introduced the theme of family in its current social context. Afton Beutler, chair of the Commission on the Status of Women Working Group of CONGO on “Health and Human Rights,” and Sonia Billard-Fattah, coordinator for women’s issues and online education at the United Nations Institute for Disarmament Research, both covered the very practical aspects of mothers as peacebuilders in their roles as “caregivers, educators, and models” in their communities. The need for better support systems for those young and elder women was raised.

Michel Reymond, Director of UPF-Geneva, presented the more theoretical perspective concerning the roles of parents and family members in constructing world peace, giving guidelines for a best practice scenario. Responding to the rather positive views presented, Dr. Christiane Agboton Johnson, Deputy Director of UN Institute for Disarmament Research, reminded the participants of the other side, the destructive role that the family can play in cases of some human rights violations such as female genital mutilation or honor crimes. As the sobering challenge was meant to do, it underlined another common thread of the previous speakers’ statements -- prioritizing access to education -- including values-based education. It was noted that celebration of this day each year is meant to be a time to create greater awareness about the current situation that families face and explore how the UN, governments, and civil society organizations can contribute to their improvement.

In the second session, four of the 12 delegates of the Geneva Interfaith Intercultural Alliance's Youth Interfaith Council prepared statements on the family. Dorcas Pimizi (Christian), Marwa Mahmod (Muslim), Jasdeep Singh (Sikh), and Nina Habermacher (Baha'i) were introduced by Carolyn Handschin. When each of the representatives read their text, they showed a surprising similarity in their analysis of the role of the family in today’s society as a much-needed stabilizing, strengthening, and educational force. As all major religions recognize, one delegate read, when there is no distinction between our physical family and the neighborhood “family” around us, we will be living in a culture of peace. Religions teach these tools.

They concluded with a “Youth Interfaith Council Resolution on the Family“ that highlighted the common contribution that religion can have on the family and that family can have in the healing of our communities. It began “As the Youth Interfaith Council we feel as one family. We have learned that mutual respect can create unity within families and among cultures and religions. Family needs a common moral and spiritual support to achieve unity within... Priority for education for women will contribute to the achievement of equality of men and women. The concept of family values is the only way to create a lasting peace and prosperity.… In a family each member is unique, it implies that each has a different character with weaknesses and strengths, but are all called to progress together. Therefore, religion can be a supporting factor in guiding the family to reach equality of its members, help them to work towards being an example in society, and form a vital and strong base for a strong society to be built on.” 

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