Two years ago, I published an article based on a conversation I had with Mel Duncan, founder of Nonviolent Peaceforce, during his visit to Marquette University. I still clearly remember the observations and insights he shared about the crucial role women play in promoting nonviolence across the globe. He explained, “Cross culturally, more often than not, efforts of peacemaking and peace-building are led by women.”
Mel’s insights from working with women peacemakers in countries like the Philippines and South Sudan inspired me to focus on women’s issues internationally. I decided to study in Amman, Jordan, where I learned about the Syrian refugee crisis. My specific concentration was on women’s experiences and their roles mitigating conflict.
In Jordan’s capital of Amman, almost 30% of registered refugees reside in host communities, which are already experiencing high levels of poverty and violence. Due to the influx of refugees, host communities need support and viable solutions to address traumatic experiences, anxiety, and violence — especially violence against women and girls.
I spent five months studying the refugee crisis and one month interning with the Jordan River Foundation, an NGO in Amman. During my internship, I worked in art therapy sessions focused on women’s empowerment. Many of the women in the classes were from vulnerable communities and experience high levels of violence and instability. The art therapy classes serve as a form of healing and expression.
These sessions move beyond art simply as a form of expression. The women I worked with improved their self-confidence and realized the power they have within their families and communities. The women told me they felt empowered to stand up for themselves and others in the face of violence.
Through the artwork these women created, I heard their stories, listened to the obstacles they had overcome, and witnessed their triumphs. I discovered that women in Jordan, specifically those most affected by the refugee crisis, serve as the glue that holds together families and entire communities. Engaging and supporting women both physically and emotionally can improve the health of the whole society.
Audrey Lodes is a senior at Marquette University. She received a summer peacemaking fellowship for her project “Art and Female Empowerment: The Resilience of Women in Jordan”. Later this year, she will host a gallery with photos and artwork from her fellowship. She has worked as a communications assistant at the Marquette University Center for Peacemaking for over two years.