Meet the 2021 Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellows
The Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) is proud to welcome two new Cora Weiss Peacebuilding Fellows: Wevyn Muganda from Kenya and Manal El Tayar from Lebanon. Established in 2015 to honor Cora Weiss, a lifelong women’s rights, peace and social justice leader and activist, the Fellowship supports the training of young women peacebuilders on global policy advocacy. It helps ensure that more young people share Cora’s vision for sustainable peace and gender equality as strong and integral parts of the global culture. Through their experience of working with GNWP – both in New York and around the world – Fellows acquire experiences and skills, which enable them to advocate for women’s rights, inclusive and sustainable peace, and the participation of women at all levels of leadership and decision-making in their own countries. You can learn more about the Fellowship here.
As we welcome them to GNWP, we sat down with Wevyn and Manal to bring you their thoughts and experiences from their peacebuilding work in Kenya and Lebanon! Read the interview below:
Wevyn Muganda is a young human rights activist from Mombasa, Kenya. She initiated the Mutual Aid Kenya, a COVID-19 response initiative that supported communities in informal settlements of Mombasa and Nairobi with food relief packs, sanitation materials, education materials for children, medical supplies and organized the communities for political participation. Wevyn is also part of UNDP’s Global Youth Program ‘16×16’ that supports 16 activists from all over the world in advancing SDG 16. Read Wevyn’s full biography here.
Manal El Tayar is the co-founder of Unconventional International, a community led by young women for young women, and supporting the leadership and wellbeing of young women advancing peace and reconciliation. Manal is also TearFund’s Eurasia and North Africa Fragile States and Peacebuilding Advisor. Read Manal’s full biography here.
Date: January 25, 2021
Edited by: Natalia Valencia
Why are you excited to work with GNWP?
Wevyn: I am excited to join GNWP, as it is a women-led organization and a leader in advancing gender equality and women’s rights. I look forward to working with an organization that seeks to ensure women have equal access to opportunities in peace and security processes and decision-making. Most of all, I am looking forward to working with women for women — this is the sisterhood at work.
Manal: I am excited to join GNWP for three reasons. The first reason is the chance to work with incredible and like-minded women to bring about change. The second reason is the opportunity to translate global policies into concrete actions at the local level. Lastly, I look forward to learning more about working in partnership with different entities, including the government, in sustaining peace.
What do you see as the most pressing issues in the area of peace, security, and gender equality in the near future?
Wevyn: I identify three main issues. The first one is a transition to digitalization, which poses a problem for many women, particularly rural women who are illiterate or have little to no access to the internet, a smartphone, or a personal computer. The growing digital divide serves to widen gender inequalities. Secondly, poor mental health is a growing concern, and while there are many initiatives that tackle women’s well-being, it remains a problem, particularly for young people. The third issue is related to climate change and how our current trajectory — including worsening pollution, desertification and depletion of natural resources — could present a danger to the gains made towards building sustainable peace.
Manal: Growing up in Lebanon, I have seen armed conflict and deteriorating financial and economic conditions push many of my peers to emigrate. Those with enough economic resources or with networks to the gulf, Europe, or North America, relocated and pursued an education and/or jobs abroad. Others, with fewer economic resources and only networks locally, joined ranks and fought in Syria. As I observed these trends, I became attuned to how critical the intersection of peace and economic development is to address challenges faced by youth in fragile and conflict-affected states. From my lived experience, I also believe another pressing issue in this field is that of ensuring the well-being of women leaders working towards peace. For instance, identifying, addressing and dealing with the very trauma that may propel us into working for peace is necessary to ensure we are able to operate from a place of healing and abundance, and contributing to more holistic and effective communities.
What do you hope to gain from your fellowship experience? How will this experience further the work you have been doing in your country?
Wevyn: Given GNWP’s vast experience in the Localization of the UN Security Council Women, Peace and Security (WPS) and Youth, Peace and Security (YPS) resolutions, I hope to learn from your expertise in this area in order to implement it back in Kenya. I am also very interested in learning how young women can become more active in civic, political, and democratic processes. The example of Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, as the youngest woman elected to serve in the United States Congress, and her journey, has inspired me to see how I can support young women leading in decision-making and political processes and institutions.
Manal: Localization of Women, Peace and Security is very important for me. I view this work as the equivalent of putting in the train tracks to enable local women and youth to move implementation in a specific direction.
What insights, knowledge, and experiences do you bring to the Fellowship?
Wevyn: I have previous experience with community organizing, particularly in engaging youth from diverse backgrounds. I also have experience with the Localization of Youth, Peace and Security in Kenya, and I hope I can bring this experience into my Fellowship.
Manal: Growing up in war-torn Lebanon and moving 21 homes before the age of 18 has shaped the person I have become today and my desire to see peace locally, regionally, and globally. For me, it is also important to take stock of the progress and reflect on the question “How could we have done this better?” This is because, if peacebuilders and non-governmental organizations are not critical, even with the best intentions, their work can often cause more harm than good. I am also grateful for the people that have supported me and the experiences that have shaped me up to this point.
This interview has been edited and condensed for clarity.