"Peace Begins with Her"- a mosaic for women's voices in peace

From the UN Headquarters in New York to the University of Geneva, the “Peace Begins with Her” Inside Out Action recently traveled nearly 4,000 miles to mark International Women’s Day and continue advocating for women’s full, equal and meaningful participation.

Camilla Stamp
MARCH, 21ST 2024

To celebrate International Women’s Day on March 8, 2024, about 200 students, visitors and locals braved the cold in the heart of Geneva and queued up at Inside Out’s recognizable Photobooth Truck to take part in the “Peace Begins with Her” Action. Honoring the remarkable role of women building and protecting peace around the world, 56 portraits of women peacebuilders and peacekeepers were pasted on the glass facade of Uni Mail, a central campus of the University of Geneva (UNIGE). From Afghanistan to Colombia, Cyprus to South Sudan, the powerful images of UN peacekeepers, local peace activists and peacebuilders became an occasion for local communities – from New York to Geneva – to connect and add their collective call to promote the important role of women working for peace. With the Inside Out Action, the mosaic of portraits became a global chorus, as both the women and the public had the opportunity to add their voices to their portraits through an audio recording.

Hear from two participants below. 

“I have met brave and resilient Congolese women who work daily to bring peace by leading civil society organizations that empower their communities as well as by running for leadership positions in the national elections. We need women to be a part of every step towards peace, to reshape the narrative, to bring their dynamism, gentleness, resilience and strength that will ultimately change the world.” 
- Bintou Keita, United Nations Diplomat from Guinea. Listen to the full quote here.

“There is not complete justice, there is not complete truth or reconciliation if the voices of women are not included in these processes, from the beginning to the end.”
- Louisa Franco, a Colombian peace activist and programme officer with the SwissPeaceinstitute. Listen here.

Charlotte Garcia, Intern with UN Women in Geneva, helps operate the Inside Out Photobooth | Photo: UN DPO/Camilla Stamp 

Looking up at her large black-and-white portrait with Inside Out’s signature polka-dot background, Meltem Burak reflected on the title of the Action: “Peace Begins with Her because being a woman is making peace with yourself and with the society on a daily basis.” Born in Cyprus, Meltem currently lectures at Maastricht School of European Studies and is the podcast producer and host of the podcast show Sesta which airs on Island Talks, the first and only trilingual podcast station in the divided island. The young education and media professional believes that “peace can only be sustainable if it is diverse and inclusive, where women and young people’s voices are heard at the peace talks’ table”.

Raising awareness among students, locals, public and government officials, the Inside Out Action in Geneva brought together women peacebuilders and peacekeepers, like Meltem and Vanessa, as a testament to why their own, and women’s participation in peace processes and UN peace operations are so important: “Having this opportunity to share a little more about my work of the missions’ universe and representing, for a short moment, a voice for girls and women, has been really special and empowering - even more seeing the interest it raised. And of course, such a unique experience to meet other engaged and inspiring women!” Captain Vanessa von Viràg said about the day. Serving as a Captain, reservist, and Training Officer with the Swiss Armed Forces, Vanessa von Viràg is currently deployed in the United Nations Military Observer Group in India and Pakistan (UNMOGIP). In her role as a Military Observer who frequently patrols within communities living along the volatile border, she demonstrates to women and girls that their potential is not confined to predetermined paths: "As a woman peacekeeper, I can act like an example, showing that there are different ways of living and thinking for women and girls. There is not only one path, but a wealth of possibilities".

The Inside Out team begins pasting portraits of women peacebuilders, peacekeepers and peace activists from around the world at the “Peace Begins with Her” Inside Out Action in Geneva. | Photo: Valentin Crepain

Having the opportunity to express herself and gather around the important issue of women’s participation in peace- and political processes, through the means of art, Charlotte Garcia, an intern with UN Women in Geneva, shared her thoughts on the vital role of women in peace efforts as she helped visitors take their portraits in the Inside Out Photobooth Truck: "It’s very important to have women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding because numerous studies show that it completely changes the dynamics of diplomacy," she said. Charlotte’s participation in the global art installation, along with the 180 other students and personnel, and visitors of all ages pledging their support, fostered a unique dialogue through imagery where each portrait and individual story acts as a visual testament to the collective support for peace and equality fostering a more inclusive future for the next generation.

Supporting women’s voices has no gender: students add their pledge to the global push for women’s participation. | Photo: UN DPO/Sophie Boudre

"Today for International Women’s Day, we are promoting the greater participation of women in peacekeeping and peacebuilding," Shoko Ishikawa, the Deputy Director of UN Women’s Policy, Programme, and Intergovernmental Division (PPID), stated at the closing of a panel discussion held shortly after the Action. "We really need more women's leadership, contribution, and participation in peacebuilding for the benefit of women in conflict zones as well as for the entire community," she stressed.

Ms. Ishikawa's call to action, rooted in UN Women’s decades of advocacy for gender equality, makes it clear: the path to sustainable peace is led through the powerful voices of women trailblazers leading the way. In envisioning a truly peaceful future, the inclusion of women is not merely a benefit - it is essential. Connecting the local community with Government and UN officials, the Inside Out Photobooth was a chance to unify the collective movement for women’s inclusion on International Women’s Day, voicing the vital role of women working for peace through the means of art.

Installation of portraits of women peacebuilders, peacekeepers and peace activists from around the world at the “Peace Begins with Her” Inside Out Action in Geneva. | Photo: Valentin Crepain

Listen to more participant testimonies below! 

“Peace begins with her because she's a strong pillar of society. Peace begins with her because she's a mediator and a peacemaker.” - Nyama, listen here.

“Women are amazing. Happy Women's Day. I think we're full of a lot of potential and we deserve a lot more than we have. Society is advancing slowly and I'm looking forward to what the future holds for us. Happy Women's Day!” - Danisha Decius, listen here.

“This is for all the women in the world. The mothers, the migrants, the little children. This is for everyone. If we don't take action now, nothing is going to change.” - Belen falla, listen here

Take a look behind the scenes of the Action day through this video

From the left, Meltem Burak;  Dr. Markus Mäder, Secretary for Security Policy; Capt. Vanessa von Viràg; Nathalie Fontanet, Vice president of the State Council of Geneva; Alessandra Vellucci, Director of the UN Information Service; Yves Flückiger, Rector of the University of Geneva;  Gloria Gaggioli, Director of the Geneva Academy and associate professor at the law faculty, UNIGE; Luisa Franco, specialist in transitional justice with the SwissPeace institute; Shoko Ishikawa, Deputy Director, Policy, Programme and Intergovernmental Division, UN Women, and Frederic Esposito, Director of UNIGE International Relations Bachelor. | Photo: UNIS Geneva