Ukraine. Manipur. Sudan. Congo. Palestine. As the list of places reeling under acute humanitarian crises grows heartbreakingly long, I am often given to despair. But then I remind myself that it is a luxury not afforded to those of us living in safety and privilege, and there is much to be done.
I turn to Martin Luther King Jr. for inspiration in moments of darkness and repeat his words: “Those who love peace must learn to organize as effectively as those who love war.”
I take heart in the fact that metropolises around the world have held vigils and solidarity marches especially in support of Palestine, which has seen an unprecedented number of civilian deaths. As a conscientious world citizen, I joined these marches and meetings, used my social media to amplify demands for ceasefire, and fended off trolls who accused me of being ‘woke’. But the peace educator in me was eager for the next steps..
To turn mirrors into windows
Perhaps it is ambition, perhaps it is anxiety. I want to quickly move from peacemaking to peacekeeping to peacebuilding, for the last pitstop is where my skills are most useful. For those unfamiliar with these terms, peacemaking refers to steps to resolve an ongoing war or conflict; peacekeeping refers to measures taken to maintain truce agreements; and peacebuilding is about creating just and equitable systems so societies can thrive in peaceful conditions.
Peace education is one of the ways to undertake peacebuilding, by educating young people and citizens on the paradigms and possibilities of peace. It is, what one might call, the opposite of propaganda. I took one such opportunity at educating, when I put together a knowledge-sharing session based on my recent learnings from the Institute of Economics and Peace on November 22, 2023.
Hosted by The Education for Peace Initiative at Prajnya Trust, it was supported by Sapan, the Southasia Peace Action Network, and GATHER, the impact arm of Seeds of Peace, the hour-long free virtual session was aimed at offering participants some facts and conceptual frameworks that may be useful in all manner of peacebuilding practices.
I called the session ‘Where Do I Start? Tools to build peace in a broken world’, taking into cognizance the helplessness many of us have felt in the face of the Gazan genocide, not knowing what to do to help ease the colossal suffering of our fellow beings.
The ‘Positive Peace’ framework
A useful starting point, I feel, is moral framing. Moral framing helps to position oneself more clearly on where one stands on an issue, and consequently define the direction in which one wants to go.
One of the hardest questions posed to me early in my peacebuilding career was ‘What is peace?’
Peace is a notoriously ambiguous term and can mean different things to different people. My answer came by way of the categories created by renowned Norwegian sociologist, Johan Galtung, now 93. Also known as the ‘father of peace and conflict studies’, Galtung proposed, among other things, two major types of peace: negative peace and positive peace.
Negative peace is the absence of violence, while positive peace is an ecosystem that makes peaceful and successful lives possible.
I was struck by the scope of this idea. After all, mere survival is not peace, just like the absence of disease is not health. It is adequate nutrition, regular exercise, and good mental health that make it possible to be holistically healthy.
Similarly, peacefulness is achieved by meeting certain conditions, called the eight pillars of positive peace. Articulated by the Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) on their website, these eight pillars include (i) Well-functioning government, (ii) Sound business environment, (iii) Equitable distribution of resources, (iv) Acceptance of the rights of others, (v) Good relations with neighbours, (vi) Free flow of information, (vii) High levels of human capital, and (viii) Low levels of corruption.
This framework points us to places where we ought to hold ourselves, our governments, and our people accountable, and it gives us tangible goals to work towards. It also tells us where our skills can be put to best use to create positively peaceful societies, even if our work doesn’t necessarily look like peacebuilding. Many of these pillars are aligned to the UN’s Sustainable Development Goals, and can be used to create/ strengthen peace-oriented programming.
The IEP Reports
In addition to the positive peace framework, the Australia-based Institute of Economics and Peace (IEP) offers several other grounds upon which peace can be substantively built. Notable among the global thinktank’s offerings are three reports that they publish annually –, the Global Peace Index, the Global Terrorism Index, and the Ecological Threat Report. Covering more than 99% of the world’s population, each of these reports is extensive, led and vetted by experts, and most importantly, open access.
The Global Peace Index (GPI) is their oldest property, which ranks countries on peacefulness, based on indicators like ongoing domestic and international conflict; societal safety and security; and measures of militarization. The Global Terrorism Index (GTI) similarly ranks countries on terror activity, considering not only deaths but also incidents, hostages, and injuries from terrorism, weighted over a five-year period.
The Ecological Threat Index (ETI) is the newest addition, which assesses threats relating to food insecurity, water risk, natural disasters, and demographic pressure. It also draws important connections between ongoing conflicts and ecological threats.
The facts and figures shared in the session and the reports themselves can add to a peacebuilder’s arsenal. I use the term ‘arsenal’ unironically here because, as King said, organising peace is serious business. For those of us who step up, must do so on no uncertain terms.
Our demands for peace, just like our ideas of it, cannot be arbitrary. When we call for peace, it must be voiced loudly, precisely, and positively. We must know exactly where we stand, what our failings are, and what we want, in order to start building. And build we must, for so much, oh so much lies broken.