The International Day of Peace, or World Peace Day, is celebrated each year on September 21. Established in 1982, the day promotes cessation of conflict and violence throughout the world. The theme for 2015 is Partnerships for Peace—Dignity for All
To celebrate World Peace Day at Demeter Press, we spoke with Arlene Sgoutas and Tatjana Takševa, editors of the new anthology Mothers Under Fire: Mothering in Conflict Areas (Demeter 2015).
Mothers Under Fire examines mothering in conflict and post-conflict areas around the world, including Rwanda, Columbia, Pakistan, Syria, and the US. Chapters in the book, written by scholars and field workers, show how mothers and mothering are shaped by conflict and, perhaps more importantly, how mothers actively challenge, negotiate, and reshape the circumstances that oppress them and their families.
Demeter Press: What inspired you to create this collection?
Arlene Sgoutas: I was listening to a conference panel on conflict areas and starting thinking about the role of particular bodies in conflict. As someone interested in both motherhood studies and international studies, I realized that I have yet to hear about mothers and mothering in conflict areas.
Tatjana Takševa: I am grateful for Arlene's idea and for her bringing me on board this project. It allowed me to engage more fully with the subject of mothering in times of conflict and build on my work related to mothering children born of wartime rape in Bosnia-Herzegovina.
Demeter Press: The chapters in the book span many countries, cultures, and conflicts—from Sri Lanka to Uganda, Guatemala to Bosnia. Did you find any common threads across this diversity? Did anything surprise you?
AS: For me, the common thread was the resilience of mothers. What surprised me was how conflict was so broadly defined by the authors of this collection.
TT: I agree. When we started receiving proposals, we were both surprised by the way different authors approached conflict. I was mainly surprised by how all of those perspectives on conflict were congruent and revealed something that is often overlooked about women as mothers in dangerous times: their agency and their resilience.
Demeter Press: What can women who live in relatively peaceful times and locations learn from Mothers Under Fire?
TT: I think the book places local mothering practices, as varied as they may be, into a politically relevant and global context. It highlights, in very real, human terms, the relationship of mothers and mothering to larger social, military, and political discourses. I also think it highlights the myriad things that we who mother in more peaceful times tend to take for granted.
AS: For those of us in the US, we can learn that mainstream US media often portrays a very narrow, idealized version of mothering—a version that, I feel, contributes to a policing of mothers rather than an understanding the circumstances in which we mother. Chapters in Mothers Under Fire on Cindy Sheehan, immigrant mothers, and mothering amidst gang warfare tell stories not often heard in US media and show there is no single motherhood story. I hope these voices will lead to more empathy and understanding.
Demeter Press: Mothers Under Fire emphasizes the importance of voice and visibility, that mothers in conflict and post-conflict areas must have the freedom and security to talk about their experiences. How can we encourage this?
AS: We must continue to gather their stories and bring them to the table. It is important to seek out their perspectives and to see them as active agents rather than passive victims.
TT: Yes, the currently unfolding tragic situation of refugees and migrants who are flooding Europe in the hope of a life free of violence—many of whom are mothers and children—is a chilling and urgent reminder that certain basic conditions have to be put in place both in host countries and the counties affected by warfare to ensure the safety, on a human rights level, of those who are threatened. Also, the media plays a significant role in shaping how the world perceives the refugee populations; while on the one hand the media does bring this crisis to global attention, it also obscures the actual voices and experiences of the refugees themselves.
Demeter Press: What about at the policy level? What do you hope for at the international, national, and/or community levels?
AS: At all levels, there is a need for more diverse perspectives when considering policy and a need to include those most impacted by those policies. Working with groups at the grassroots level is key to this change.
TT: It is essential to bring girls and women in conflict and post-conflict societies into the political arena at all levels of government. International organizations, as well as local communities, need to make it easier for girls and women to enter political life, shape legislation, and formulate policies that take into account the real and gendered experiences and needs of those affected by violence. Involving them in peace-building discussions and social reconstruction would go a long way toward addressing the lack of women's/mother's voices in the public sphere and affecting political and social change.
Demeter Press: What are you working on now?
AS: At the moment, I am working on a paper that looks at how structural violence has hindered the progress of meeting the UN Millennium Goals.
TT: I am working on a paper that looks at the construction of national identity and ethnicity in children born of wartime rape in Bosnia-Herzogovina. This is part of a larger project concerned with the transgenerational transmission of trauma in women survivors of wartime rape and their children.
Arlene Sgoutas is Associate Professor and Director at the Institute for Women’s Studies and Services at Metropolitan State University of Denver in Colorado; Tatjana Takševa is Associate Professor at the English Department and the Women and Gender Studies Program at Saint Mary’s University in Halifax.