We'll start seeing more lasting peace when women get more seats at the negotiating table.

Peace agreements last 35% longer when women are involved in the negotiating process. But too often, they're not.

For most of human history, war and peace have been decided at tables full of men. But as the world moves slowly but surely towards more gender equality, the contributions of women to the peace process are becoming more prevalent and more visible. Women have always played a big grassroots role in building peace; they've just largely been excluded from formal decision-making processes that have the power to create lasting change.

Such exclusion has a cost for humanity. According to research shared by UN Women and the Council on Foreign Relations, peace agreements in which women meaningfully participate are 35% more likely to last 15 years or more. And yet between 1990 and 2017, women made up only 2 percent of mediators, 8 percent of negotiators, and 5 percent of witnesses and signatories in all major peace processes.


That's a problem.

Women are effective peacemakers, but multiple barriers still keep them away from formal negotiating tables.

Jennifer Bradshaw, Program Officer for Women PeaceMakers at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace and Justice at the University of San Diego, says that safety and security are big obstacles for women working for peace. She told Upworthy:

"Given the countries and cultural contexts women peacebuilders are operating in, more times than not they are taking on greater security risks than their male counterparts. While this is the case, they are the ones who are not provided the security and protection they need to build peace. What is more, they are often the caretakers of dependents — and hold a greater level of responsibility to ensure their children and extended family are safe. Women peacebuilders have to make decisions around building peace, or taking on great personal risk to themselves and/or family, or even flee their country to seek refuge."

Another barrier stems from "traditional power structures where “big men” still dominate," says Bradshaw. "In such societies, women are viewed as second-class citizens and excluded from any areas of influence and power—and, even if they manage to enter these areas, views or concerns marked as 'feminine' are less likely to be taken seriously."

Women also struggle to get the funding and support they need to get to the table, Bradshaw adds:

"Even if all other obstacles are removed for women, at the end of the day, they still need support and resources to be physically present at the peace building table. Unfortunately, women do not have access to simple things such as funding to purchase plane tickets and lodging to be present at peace talks. Or visa regulations are preventing them from being present in countries where peace talks are occurring (e.g., Yemen peace talks being held in Sweden). These obstacles are keeping out vital voices and perspectives, and ensuring only a small subset of society, the elite, are present at peace talks."

Programs like Women PeaceMakers and Women Waging Peace provide support for women doing this important work.

The Kroc School at University of San Diego is deeply invested in women who are building peace locally and globally. Its Women PeaceMakers program, which is in its seventeenth year,  works with leading women peacemakers from around the world to collaborate on improving peace efforts. In 2016, the school became home to the Women Waging Peace network, and the two programs bring together over 1,000 women peacebuilders from 55 different countries to share insights and opportunities.

"We work alongside women who are countering violent extremism, protecting human rights, building transparency and rule of law within their governments, helping re-educate and reintegrate former militarized soldiers, negotiating local and global peace agreements, bringing vital perspective to traditional security and military operations and operating directly within the security sector," says Bradshaw.

"We work with these women to document their stories and insights, learn and share their lessons, connect them with each other to amplify their impact. Together we develop powerful new strategies to end violence and build peace on both local and global scale."

On International Women's Day March 8, four extraordinary women will share their peacemaking insights.

The Kroc school's Women PeaceMakers Fellowship supports the work of extraordinary women peacebuilders. The fellowship is a highly competitive program for women who have been working on the front lines of conflict for 10 to 20 years, and four are chosen each year from 100 to 150 applicants.

Four previous fellowship recipients are taking over the @WomenPeaceMaker Twitter account for International Women's Day, sharing their stories and experiences and lessons, and engage in conversations.

Bradshaw says the social media takeover is an effort to amplify the voices of women peacemakers doing extraordinary work most of us don't see: "These are voices that are often silenced, dismissed and ignored. This is despite the vitalness of their expert words, insights and knowledge on how to build more peaceful communities."

Here are the women taking over the @WomenPeaceMaker account:  

  • Wazhma Frogh (@FroghWazhma) of Afghanistan. She is the director of the Women & Peace Studies Organization, one of the few civil society organizations in Afghanistan that is working for women’s inclusion in security sector reform processes, with a particular focus on women in the police force.
  • Jane Anyongo (@nyasigoti) of Kenya. She is the founding director of the Polycom Development Project, based in Africa’s largest informal settlement, Kibera, and the founder of Kibera Women for Peace and Fairness.
  • Stella Sabiiti of Uganda. She is the founder of the Center for Conflict Resolution, an NGO addressing conflicts in the Horn of Africa and Great Lakes Region. In 2012, she joined the AU’s Women, Gender and Development Directorate (WGDD), strengthening African women’s voices to be heard in peace processes within the framework of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and the AU’s Gender Architecture (AUGA).
  • Irene Santiago (@irenesantiago) of The Phillippines. She is Chair Emerita and CEO of the Mindanao Commission on Women, and convener of the national Mothers for Peace movement. She is well known internationally as a strong advocate of gender equality to transform society.

We can support women working for peace by amplifying their voices and sharing the contributions they make to build peace around the world. We can also find ways to work for peace in our own communities and countries.

"We all have the potential to be peacebuilders," says Bradshaw. "If you ask any of our women peacebuilders we work with, they believe they are average people. They are average people who made important decisions at key points. Anyone can do this. So when you see injustice, oppressions, violence — do not ignore it. Do not be complacent, do not shy away from having hard conversations — the time for this is over."

Images courtesy of Letters of Love
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When Grace Berbig was 7 years old, her mom was diagnosed with leukemia, a cancer of the body’s blood-forming tissues. Being so young, Grace didn’t know what cancer was or why her mother was suddenly living in the hospital. But she did know this: that while her mom was in the hospital, she would always be assured that her family was thinking of her, supporting her and loving her every step of her journey.

Nearly every day, Grace and her two younger sisters would hand-make cards and fill them with drawings and messages of love, which their mother would hang all over the walls of her hospital room. These cherished letters brought immeasurable peace and joy to their mom during her sickness. Sadly, when Grace was just 10 years old, her mother lost her battle with cancer.“

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Losing my mom put the world in a completely different perspective for me,” Grace says. “I realized that you never know when someone could leave you, so you have to love the people you love with your whole heart, every day.”

Grace’s father was instrumental in helping in the healing process of his daughters. “I distinctly remember my dad constantly reminding my two little sisters, Bella and Sophie, and I that happiness is a choice, and it was now our job to turn this heartbreaking event in our life into something positive.”

When she got to high school, Grace became involved in the Leukemia & Lymphoma Society and a handful of other organizations. But she never felt like she was doing enough.

“I wanted to create an opportunity for people to help beyond donating money, and one that anyone could be a part of, no matter their financial status.”

In October 2018, Grace started Letters of Love, a club at her high school in Long Lake, Minnesota, to emotionally support children battling cancer and other serious illnesses through letter-writing and craft-making.


Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Much to her surprise, more than 100 students showed up for the first club meeting. From then on, Letters of Love grew so fast that during her senior year in high school, Grace had to start a GoFundMe to help cover the cost of card-making materials.

Speaking about her nonprofit today, Grace says, “I can’t find enough words to explain how blessed I feel to have this organization. Beyond the amount of kids and families we are able to support, it allows me to feel so much closer and more connected to my mom.”

Since its inception, Letters of Love has grown to more than 25 clubs with more than 1,000 members providing emotional support to more than 60,000 patients in children’s hospitals around the world. And in the process it has become a full-time job for Grace.

“I do everything from training volunteers and club ambassadors, paying bills, designing merchandise, preparing financial predictions and overviews, applying for grants, to going through each and every card ensuring they are appropriate to send out to hospitals.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

In addition to running Letters of Love, Grace and her small team must also contend with the emotions inherent in their line of work.

“There have been many, many tears cried,” she says. “Working to support children who are battling cancer and other serious and sometimes chronic illnesses can absolutely be extremely difficult mentally. I feel so blessed to be an organization that focuses solely on bringing joy to these children, though. We do everything we can to simply put a smile on their face, and ensure they know that they are so loved, so strong, and so supported by people all around the world.”

Image courtesy of Letters of Love

Letters of Love has been particularly instrumental in offering emotional support to children who have been unable to see friends and family due to COVID-19. A video campaign in the summer of 2021 even saw members of the NFL’s Minnesota Vikings and the NHL’s Minnesota Wild offer short videos of hope and encouragement to affected children.

Grace is currently taking a gap year before she starts college so she can focus on growing Letters of Love as well as to work on various related projects, including the publication of a children’s book.

“The goal of the book is to teach children the immense impact that small acts of kindness can have, how to treat their peers who may be diagnosed with disabilities or illness, and how they are never too young to change the world,” she says.

Since she was 10, Grace has kept memories of her mother close to her, as a source of love and inspiration in her life and in the work she does with Letters of Love.

Image courtesy of Grace Berbig

“When I lost my mom, I felt like a section of my heart went with her, so ever since, I have been filling that piece with love and compassion towards others. Her smile and joy were infectious, and I try to mirror that in myself and touch people’s hearts as she did.”

For more information visit Letters of Love.

Please donate to Grace’s GoFundMe and help Letters of Love to expand, publish a children’s book and continue to reach more children in hospitals around the world.

Peter Dinklage in 2013.

Disney has taken another step toward diversifying its iconic princesses by casting Rachel Zegler to play Snow White in its upcoming live-action version of the Grimms’ fairy tale. Zegler’s mother is of Colombian descent and her father has Polish roots. The 20-year-old actress recently wowed audiences in Steven Spielberg’s “West Side Story.”

Disney has also announced that Halle Bailey, a Black actress, will play Ariel in its upcoming live-action version of “The Little Mermaid.”

Disney’s big push toward inclusivity in the casting of its princesses is definitely a welcome move, but according to actor Peter Dinklage, the Mouse may be missing the forest for the trees.

Dinklage, who was born with a form of dwarfism named achondroplasia, criticized Disney on the “WTF with Marc Maron” podcast for being hypocritical for focusing on race while completely missing the ball when it comes to people with disabilities.

"There's a lot of hypocrisy going on, I've gotta say, from being somebody who's a little bit unique," Dinklage told Maron.

"Really? Like what?" Maron asked. "What do you see?"


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Images courtesy of AFutureSuperhero and Friends and Balance Dance Project
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The day was scorching hot, but the weather wasn’t going to stop a Star Wars Stormtrooper from handing out school supplies to a long line of eager children. “You guys don’t have anything illegal back there - any droids or anything?” the Stormtrooper asks, making sure he was safe from enemies before handing over a colorful backpack to a smiling boy.

The man inside the costume is Yuri Williams, founder of AFutureSuperhero And Friends, a Los Angeles nonprofit that uplifts and inspires marginalized people with small acts of kindness.

Yuri’s organization is one of four inaugural grant winners from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, a joint initiative between Upworthy and GoFundMe that celebrates kindness and everyday actions inspired by the best of humanity. This year, the Upworthy Kindness Fund is giving $100,000 to grassroots changemakers across the world.

To apply, campaign organizers simply tell Upworthy how their kindness project is making a difference. Between now and the end of 2021, each accepted individual or organization will receive $500 towards an existing GoFundMe and a shout-out on Upworthy.

Meet the first four winners:

1: Balance Dance Project: This studio aims to bring accessible dance to all in the Sacramento, CA area. Lead fundraiser Miranda Macias says many dancers spend hours a day at Balance practicing contemporary, lyrical, hip-hop, and ballet. Balance started a GoFundMe to raise money to cover tuition for dancers from low-income communities, buy dance team uniforms, and update its facility. The $500 contribution from the Kindness Fund nudged Balance closer to its $5,000 goal.

2: Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team: In Los Angeles, middle school teacher James Pike is introducing his students to the field of robotics via a Lego-building team dedicated to solving real-world problems.

James started a GoFundMe to crowdfund supplies for his students’ team ahead of the First Lego League, a school-against-school matchup that includes robotics competitions. The team, James explained, needed help to cover half the cost of the pricey $4,000 robotics kit. Thanks to help from the Upworthy Kindness Fund and the generosity of the Citizens of the World Middle School community, the team exceeded its initial fundraising goal.

Citizens of the World Mar Vista Robotics Team video update youtu.be

3: Black Fluidity Tattoo Club: Kiara Mills and Tann Parker want to fix a big problem in the tattoo industry: there are too few Black tattoo artists. To tackle the issue, the duo founded the Black Fluidity Tattoo Club to inspire and support Black tattooers. While the Brooklyn organization is open to any Black person, Kiara and Tann specifically want to encourage dark-skinned artists to train in an affirming space among people with similar identities.

To make room for newcomers, the club recently moved into a larger studio with a third station for apprentices or guest artists. Unlike a traditional fundraiser that supports the organization exclusively, Black Fluidity Tattoo Club will distribute proceeds from GoFundMe directly to emerging Black tattoo artists who are starting their own businesses. The small grants, supported in part with a $500 contribution from the Upworthy Kindness Fund, will go towards artists’ equipment, supplies, furnishings, and other start-up costs.

4: AFutureSuperhero And Friends’ “Hope For The Holidays”: Founder Yuri Williams is fundraising for a holiday trip to spread cheer to people in need across all fifty states.

Along with collaborator Rodney Smith Jr., Yuri will be handing out gifts to children, adults, and animals dressed as a Star Wars’ Stormtrooper, Spiderman, Deadpool, and other movie or comic book characters. Starting this month, the crew will be visiting children with disabilities or serious illnesses, bringing leashes and toys to animal shelters for people taking home a new pet, and spreading blessings to unhoused people—all while in superhero costume. This will be the third time Yuri and his nonprofit have taken this journey.

AFutureSuperhero started a GoFundMe in July to cover the cost of gifts as well as travel expenses like hotels and rental cars. To help the nonprofit reach its $15,000 goal, the Upworthy Kindness Fund contributed $500 towards this good cause.

Think you qualify for the fund? Tell us how you’re bringing kindness to your community. Grants will be awarded on a rolling basis from now through the end of 2021. For questions and more information, please check out our FAQ's and the Kindness Toolkit for resources on how to start your own kindness fundraiser.

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Montequlla the orange tabby had somehow not gotten the memo that he and his family were moving. As they dropped off furniture, including a big recliner chair, to the Denver Arc Thrift Store on New Year’s Eve, they had no idea that poor little Montequlla was tucked away inside.

Luckily, the staff began to notice the chair meowing.

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