A group of global women aims to wage peace with a milestone walk across the 155-mile demilitarized zone (DMZ) that separates North and South Korea, and a call for an end to the state of war that has affected millions for over six decades.
The organizers announced the International Peacemakers’ Walk for Peace in Korea on Wednesday during the United Nation's 59th Commission on the Status of Women.
Honorary co-chairs of the peace walk are Nobel Peace Laureate Mairead Corrigan Maguire of Northern Ireland and trailblazing feminist and author Gloria Steinem. The organizing committee boasts dozens of dynamic women from across the globe including CODEPINK co-founder Medea Benjamin, professor of Korean history at Rutgers University Suzy Kim, filmmaker and philanthropist Abigail Disney, Nobel Laureate and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee, and human rights lawyer Patricia Guerrero of Colombia.
The walk is spearheaded by Women De-Militarize the Zone, an effort founded by writer and peace activist Christine Ahn, who wrote that "the DMZ continues to divide the Korean peninsula with recurring tensions that serve as a sobering reminder of the possibility of renewed war." According to the website for the effort:
On May 24, 2015, 30 international women peacemakers from around the world will walk with Korean women, north and south, to call for an end to the Korean War and for a new beginning for a reunified Korea. We will hold international peace symposiums in Pyongyang and Seoul where we can listen to Korean women and share our experiences and ideas of mobilizing women to bring an end to violent conflict. Our hope is to cross the 2-mile wide De-Militarized Zone (DMZ) that separates millions of Korean families as a symbolic act of peace.
Steinem said in a statement: "If this division can be healed even briefly by women, it will be inspiring in the way that women brought peace out of war in Northern Ireland or Liberia. In Northern Ireland women crossed the boundary of religion and region, and said, ‘No more’."
The Korean War of 1950-1953, known as the "Forgotten War," claimed the lives of four millions Koreans, most of whom were civilians. But that war is technically not over, organizers stress, as it was ended with a temporary ceasefire and the DMZ but no permanent peace treaty.
Ahn writes that the lack of a peace treaty has allowed "an endless arms race" to fester and has given "both Korean governments justification to invest heavily in the country's militarization." But
[p]erhaps most tragic about Korea’s division is the two-mile wide De-Militarized Zone that separates millions of Korean families. In April 2014, South Korean President Park said in her Dresden speech on Korean reunification that in 2013, “some 3,800 people who have yearned a lifetime just to be able to hold their sons’ and daughters’ hands -- just to know whether they’re alive - passed away with their unfulfilled dreams.”
To end the state of war and help reunite families, international women peacemakers have come together to form Women De-Militarize the Zone, an organization dedicated to promoting the peaceful reunification of Korea through women’s leadership. From Northern Ireland to Liberia, we have seen how women’s participation in peace negotiations makes peace attainable, and that peace itself is inextricably linked with the advancement of women. We will work towards seeing the passage of a peace treaty to defuse dangerous tensions in Northeast Asia and de-militarizing our world. We must act now to give hope to Koreans that peace and reunification is tenable in their lifetimes and to the thousands of Korean elders that they will be able to embrace their loved ones across the DMZ before they pass away.
The peace walk organizers hope to have the approval of both governments to cross the DMZ on May 24th, International Disarmament Day.
Follow the lead-up to the historic walk on Twitter with the handle @WomenCrossDMZ or at the website WomenCrossDMZ.