Throughout history, peace has been associated with numerous definitions, with a common trend being that peace is the absence of war. Peace as I define it, however, is when the equality, right to political participation, and education of the people within a community is secured in addition to basic human needs and a lack of violence. Essentially, everyone must be equal before the law and have the same opportunity to work and make a living, void of discrimination. The public must also be able to participate in shaping political decisions: there is a democracy, and people have the right to free speech in addition to public assembly. Moreover, every person is able to obtain an education that is inclusive of peace studies and free of biases, in order to develop skills that promote a safer world as well as form their own beliefs and opinions.
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To begin, equality amongst the members of a community is an integral part of my definition of peace; people must have equal rights and opportunities, completely absent of discriminations that could be based on gender, race, religion, sexual orientation, and so on for peace to exist. Such prejudices and discrimination against people are components of structural violence— according to Farmer and Rylko-Bauer (2016), “these structures are violent because they result in avoidable deaths, illness, and injury; and they reproduce violence by marginalizing people and communities, constraining their capabilities and agency, assaulting their dignity, and sustaining inequalities” (p. 2). Being a woman, gender equality is especially important to me and drove me to educate myself on feminism and women’s issues in general. Currently, women are vastly underrepresented in positions of leadership related to peace and security matters, which is potentially impeding the development of sustainable peace. As found by the International Peace Institute, “Women’s participation has an even greater impact in the longer term: an agreement [for peace] is 35 percent more likely to last for fifteen years if women participate in its creation” (O’Reilly, Súilleabháin & Paffenholz, 2015). With women’s leadership lasting peace is increasingly attainable, and this stability fosters sustainable development. Evidently, structural violence results in further inequality, whereas the promotion of equality without discrimination cultivates peace.
Correspondingly, possessing the right to advocate for one’s beliefs and values, perhaps to obtain equality, is another fundamental component of peace. A key requirement for this to be possible is the existence of a democracy; within a democracy, the people of a community have the power to exercise their right to vote and bring about the change they wish to see. An example of the change made possible by democracy is a shift in the gender ratio of those who hold government positions, as the people are able to elect officials that best represent themselves and their interests. Lijphart (2012) found that consensus democracy had a significant impact on women’s representation in government, as it more than doubled between the years 1990 and 2010. The existence of a democracy enabled the population to better reflect itself within its government. In addition, entitlement to public assembly and freedom of speech in relation to peace are essential in shaping political decisions. Without the ability to raise awareness of the inequalities one might be facing, change cannot be accomplished, and peace is out of reach.
By the same token, access to an impartial education that integrates peace studies into its curriculum contributes to awareness of social injustices and is intrinsically related to peace. While providing education can greatly benefit a community, if done so with bias structural violence and political oppressions may be sustained. Macaluso (2015) stressed, “education is not neutral and can be used as a tool to perpetuate or even encourage social and ethnical divisions.” When done properly without bias, the deliverance of peace education holds the potential to positively impact a community; Harris & Morrison (2014) stated, “Peace education contributes to the social growth of all children if it helps them develop characteristics essential for the attainment of peace — a sense of dignity and self-worth, a confidence to question their values, communication skills, an ethical awareness and empathy for others” (p. 36). The benefits gained from receiving adequate peace education further cultivate peace among people, as those who have been educated can go on to spread the knowledge they gained and promote peace within their communities.
Owing to the previously stated, that concludes my definition of peace, which I surmised through my own personal experiences, beliefs, and values. One of my passions is social activism for women’s rights and equality, therefore I strongly value the right to public assembly, as well as equality itself, and believe both to be necessities when defining peace; to show my support for these causes, I participated in a couple of high school walk-outs and attended various peaceful protests for gay rights and the Black Lives Matter movement. I also believe that everyone should have a voice and exercise their right to use it, whether that be through activism or voting in elections. While I was not able to vote until just recently, I strived to remain educated and engaged with politics to be able to impart my values onto those who could make a change, which contributes to why I believe education holds importance when it comes to peace. Provided that I like to create the change I want to see, I have come to embrace my definition of peace. In conclusion, peace is the presence of equality, rights related to pursuing changes in relation to one’s beliefs, and unprejudiced education in a community following the security of basic needs and an absence of conflict. When inequality is present, structural violence and oppression fester. To combat this phenomenon, freedom of speech and assembly must exist in order to raise awareness, as well as the access to unbiased education to further cultivate peace.
My definition of peace encompasses more than the absence of war, instead, it suggests that peace is something you continue to grow rather than strictly achieve.