Sarah, USA

sarah

Dear World,

This letter comes too late for my sisters and brothers around the world but it’s not too late for our children and grandchildren. We are living in an age of war and at this rate, generations will grow up without ever knowing what a peaceful life is. We can change that, but it starts with you – and it starts now.

I need you to teach your sons that teamwork is more important than competition, and that ideas can have more power than force. Teach your sons that women deserve respect, unequivocally, that consent is always a necessity and that physical abuse is never acceptable. Teach your sons to ask questions with an open mind and respect other points of view, even if they disagree. Teach your sons to stand up for what they believe in, but to never be afraid to change their perspective if they learn new information.

I need you to teach your daughters that it’s good to be confident, even cocky, when they have worked hard and accomplished something. Teach your daughters that they should never feel ashamed of their bodies or how they look. Teach your daughters that they deserve respect, unequivocally, and that consent is always a necessity and that physical abuse is never acceptable. Teach your daughters to stand up for themselves even if it seems everyone is against them.

Have hard conversations. Hear the other person’s ideas – don’t just listen. Act with empathy and understanding. Remember to differentiate between the actions of governments and those of individuals. And if you don’t understand a point of view, a culture, a tradition, a religion: learn.

We live in an age of war, but we also live in an age of knowledge and connection. Do your research. Ask your questions. Be unabashed in your quest for information. Be respectful of the answers you may find. Find your similarities and your differences with friends around the world, and learn to appreciate both.

Together, all of us can create ripples of change. Together, we can change what the future looks like, so our sons and daughters and nieces and nephews and grandchildren can live in an age of peace.

It starts now. And it starts with you.

Sincerely,

Sarah

Age 21, United States of America

Women2Women Delegate

Emily, USA

Dear World,

My name is Emily and I am 20 years old, living in the United States of America. I am currently a student at a women’s college in New York City and a fast paced and inspiring community surrounds me every day. Going to a women’s college I see the value of women in a different way now than I did before. I had always been a self-proclaimed feminist but didn’t understand the nuances within the social movement nor the importance of intersectionality in understanding the world. I believe that most people in the world are similar to who I used to be—someone who was unaware of the world I lived in but with the desire to improve it in some way.

In order to achieve peace and equality in the world I think it is ESSENTIAL that people start learning about different identities and the struggles people face due to their identities that may not be obvious. It is important for men to try to understand what it is like to be a woman and to recognize our struggles. It is important for the youth to be educated and exposed to a diverse range of topics and people. It is important for men, just like any dominant group to recognize their privilege and to support those who do not have the same amount of privilege.

I have always been the type of person to go out and help those, who for one reason or another may not be able to help themselves, whether that be related to immigration, the judicial system or simply within a social setting. Our world is at a crucial point in history in which danger is not only taking shape in the form of war, but can occur anytime and anywhere, and can change the lives of a person and their loved ones forever.

People should not have to live in fear. 
People should not have to hide their identities. All people should be treated equally.

This will be hard to achieve and it won’t happen overnight, but in order to change our reality we need to change the social structures and mentalities of people in society to be more accepting and encourage them to stand up for others.

We can do this as women, as men, as children, as immigrants, as gay, as black, as white, as Jewish, as Muslim, as every person with every unique identity. Together we can make a difference in our world and together we can take steps toward equality and peace.

Thank you,

Emily

Age 20, United States of America

Women2Women Delegate

Madison, USA

madison

Dear World,

Every night when I go to bed, I listen to the traffic outside of my window. I can hear the subway train passing by, the cop cars blaring their sirens, and the splash of cars running through puddles. What I don’t hear is the sounds of gunfire, of bombs going off, of airplanes or helicopters in the sky. I’m lucky enough to live in the United States where things seem relatively peaceful, at least on my college campus. However, this is not true for most of the world around me. It isn’t true for so many of the girls and women who seem so much like me.

War is a scary, violent, nasty thing. It tears us apart and separates us from our own humanity. How can we, as a society, as a generation, continue to condone such acts of violence? How can we sit idly by as cities around us crumble and fall? As our generation of vibrant, smart, intelligent human beings comes into the workforce around the world, it is vitally important that we step up and step out against war and violence, and instead create peace.

Peace is found on a playground where kids of all ages laugh and play together. Peace is found on an airplane ride where men of different cultures discuss how they were raised and how that has made them who they are today. Peace is found in a government official’s office when diverse voices are praised, not put down. Peace is found in a university campus where every gender, sexual orientation, religion, and racial minority is welcomed and celebrated.

When we create peace in our day-to-day environments, it has profound impacts across our lives. The little girl playing on the swings learns that it is okay to be different. The university students understand that diversity in opinions and upbringings strengthens our conversations, instead of bringing them down. Our government officials and business leaders use diversity to their advantage. When we as a society learn and understand each other, that is when true peace will be created.

War begins because we cannot handle the diversity of opinions and cultures in our neighbors. We don’t like how the “other” worships their god or puts down ours. There’s an us and there’s a them. How do we make it a we?

We start those tough conversations. We seek to understand, not judge. We welcome other voices, stories, people into our lives. That is how we open ourselves up to peace. That is how we end war forever.

I don’t ever want to wake up to a phone call saying that my brother was killed in combat. I don’t want any more Pulse shootings like in Orlando, Florida. I don’t want to be afraid to speak my opinion because you might not like what I say.

Let’s create safe environments for discussion and diversity. Let’s create communities that celebrate differences instead of shoving them to the side. We will all be stronger for it.

Peace be with you,

Madison

Age 20, United States of America

Women2Women Delegate

Kayla, USA

Dear World,

More and more often, when I read the news I see reports of sexual violence. In my own country, the United States, and in countries all over the world people are subjected to harassment, rape, and murder because of their genders and sexualities. People are forced into marriages and sexual relationships, prostituted and trafficked. People are denied contraception, forced into pregnancies and abortions, and unwillingly sterilized.

More and more often, when I read the news I see reports of perpetrators of sexual violence going unpunished for their crimes.

To use a recent example, rapist Brock Turner was convicted of three charges of felony sexual assault. In addition to registering as a sex offender, he could have served fourteen years in prison for these charges, but he was only sentenced to six months and only served three. Judge Aaron Persky stated that a longer prison sentence would have “a severe impact” on Turner.

Turner’s case is exceptional—not because of the relative slap on the wrist Turner received, but because his case had eyewitnesses and went to court.

There are so many cases of sexual violence that do not have witnesses and do not go to court. Our failure to hold perpetrators accountable is unacceptable.

However, I believe that our societies can change.

I work for this change by speaking out. I work for this change by voting for representatives that are concerned with these issues and contacting representatives who could be doing more. I work for this change by supporting and donating to organizations that help those impacted by sexual violence. I work for this change by listening to the voices of others, educating myself about perspectives and experiences that are different from mine, and striving to live with empathy.

I ask you to work for this change with me.

If you are able to speak out, participate in your government, or donate to charities, please do so. But whether or not you are able to do those things, I ask you to work for this change with me by listening to different voices, educating yourself, and being empathetic.

Together, we can make our world a more peaceful place.

Kayla

Age 22, United States of America

Women2Women Delegate

Kate, USA

Dear World,

My name is Kate, and I’m 21 years old. I grew up in New York City in a small, cozy apartment with a wonderful family. I am privileged. There is no doubt about it. I am white, and of a stable socioeconomic status. My life in New York City was comfortable, my upbringing relatively easy. But I have seen traces of violence, war, hate, and injustice.

I was in first grade when 9/11 happened. I remember my mom coming to get me from school. I was mad I had to leave early and I wanted to go to gym class. My mom made me put my shirt over my mouth on the walk back to my apartment so I wouldn’t inhale the smoke. I remember sitting in front of the television watching the towers fall on a loop as our house phone rang in the background. At the time, I didn’t understand that it all happened forty blocks away from where I lived.

Throughout the years that followed, I acclimated to a post 9/11 world. George Bush invaded Afghanistan, and later Iraq. The words “weapons of mass destruction,” “drones,” and “terrorism” became part of my vocabulary. I had to take my shoes off at airports.

As the wars escalated so did Islamophobia. Hate speech and slurs permeated the news. The construction of a mosque next to ground zero resulted in anti-Muslim protests. People on the street began to point and whisper and women wearing hijabs, men with headscarves and beards were profiled by police officers on the subway. I would wonder to myself, how was this right? This behavior seen on the streets, in the news, in schools, was conditioning us to hate. It was giving us an ‘other’ to justify continued violence and war. It wasn’t fair.

In my opinion, the first step towards peace is mutual understanding. We must strive to understand that difference should not be equated with fear but should inspire us to learn. Understanding differences makes us more aware as consumers. We are able to pick out the lies, prejudice and stereotypes we are exposed to everyday.

As an American woman, I hold myself accountable to this challenge. To strive to understand and check my privilege, learn about others, and critique the institutions (both governmental and otherwise) that continue to espouse negative and harmful societal norms.

To all my powerful ladies, I encourage you to do this as well. Because why shouldn’t we be at the forefront of change?

Let’s do this.

Kate

Age 21, United States of America

Women2Women Delegate

 

Lauren, USA

 Dear World,

Look at your hands. Now close your eyes. Run your fingers along the bones of your other hand. Four fingers, probably. Three knuckles each. One thumb, one joint. Flesh and bone and blood pumping underneath the surface.

Open your eyes. What you see now: nails painted, or not; skin pale or dark, or a shade in between; one finger missing, or three, or all of them. We live in a world where what we see with our eyes open—without looking deeper—determines the value of your life, rather than the incontrovertible truth that all humans have equal value.

I urge you to take a second, and imagine that you have hands that are different from your own.

As a man, imagine that your hands are too small to fight off a man twice your size when he corners you, and the justice system’s response is to blame what you were wearing.

If your hands are pale, imagine them a couple shades darker, and imagine that just that extra little bit of melanin means that you make significantly less money per year, if you’re not killed at a traffic stop.

Imagine being born with hands that look like they belong to someone else, someone who is not you but who you see in the mirror, and being subjected to violence for which restroom you choose to use.

Would the words those hands wrote be different? Would it change the people to whom you offered a hand or closed a fist?

Everyone has a wealth of experience different from our own that we cannot possibly have had. People may do things that seem indefensible to you, but that they think necessary or obvious. We are all the good guys in our own story, even when we disagree. And the only way to agree—to stop killing other people for things that they cannot control—is to listen.

Close your mouth and listen. Acknowledge that there are people with perspectives that you don’t have, and that you should listen to them. You do not have the right to speak for someone else.

When you open your mouth again, make sure it’s not against people whose voices have been systematically silenced by the world. Make sure it’s in defense of them.

No one can make a scapegoat of a person that you have chosen to understand.

We will never all agree. There will never be a world that contains a homogenous people, devoid of disagreement—and what a boring, useless world that would be. But difference isn’t a good enough reason for hate. You just have to listen first, and open your hands.

With love,

Lauren

Age 22, USA

Women2Women Delegate

Alyssa, USA

alyssa-rubin

Dear World,

My name is Alyssa. I am 22 years old, and I live in Boston, USA. I wish that I could say that because I have never lived through a war in my home, I have lived a peaceful life. But peace is not simply the absence of war. Peace is an active and intentional state of being that promotes human rights, equity, and the pursuit of opportunity for all people.

So when I think of a peaceful future, I do not only think of a world where war does not exist. I think of a world where governments act not only in the interest of their own citizens but also in the interest of all people. I think of a world where not only every country is at peace, but within every country, systemic inequality is no longer the status quo, women and young people are not exploited, and our resources are used sustainability and distributed equally.

We have such a long way to go, but we can start right now. I need to demand more of myself, and of the women and men around me. We cannot hope for sweeping institutional change if we are not willing to work for peace in our own local communities, friendships, and workplaces. We must understand that building peace does not happen overnight or inside a vacuum. We must refuse to be quiet when injustices happen around us. We cannot remain quiet when we see violence in our communities, discrimination in our words, and complacency in the face of oppression.

I need men to embrace feminism as ferociously as women do. I need men to understand that hegemonic masculinity is as dangerous for men as it is for women. We need not only to integrate women — especially women of color, trans women, and disabled women – into our local, national, and global systems of power, but we need to fundamentally transform the systems of power that are fueled by the oppression of women, of people of color, and of the poor.

Change is an uncomfortable process. We cannot fight wars on the ground of securing our country while so many people, both in this country and around the world, live in a constant state of insecurity. I implore you to reconsider your definition of peace and commit to condemning bigotry, participate in uncomfortable and difficult conversations, and to hold ourselves accountable for creating a better world for the next generation of young people to inherit this beautiful, damaged planet.

Alyssa

Age 22, USA

Women2Women Delegate

Kira, USA

Dear World,

My name is Kira, and I’m a 20 year old from the United States. I am lucky enough to live in a country that has not seen a war on its soil since 1945. However, I still see and feel the effects of global conflict every day. The aftermath of 9/11 has shaped my life since I was 5 years old. I have friends who have lost siblings and cousins to a war overseas many of us weren’t sure why we were fighting. Every day on the news I see violence in other countries, and injured and displaced people struggling to live in war. I have friends in those countries that I worry about each time I hear of a new attack.

However, I have hope. I see a world in which war is not a primary option, but a last resort. I see a world in which global armed conflict lives only in history books, painted as unjust, foolish, destructive, and immoral. I strive every day to create a more peaceful world by living and loving with empathy, acting with kindness and understanding, learning all I can about the world, and standing up for what I believe in. I try to remind myself every day not to be a bystander, and to speak out against violence. We can create this peaceful world. But I need your help.

I need men to understand that compassion is not weakness, asking questions and admitting when you are wrong is not stupidity, and winning a fight does not prove you are right. I need you to invite everyone to the table, and listen to all perspectives. I need you to pull those below you up, and level the playing field. I need you to learn and value empathy, and consider how your actions will impact others.

I need women to make their voices heard. I need you to refuse to be silenced, no matter what obstacles stand in your way. I need you to have confidence that your perspective is vital, that your skills are innumerable, and that you can help end violent conflict. I need you to have empathy and hold onto it, and use it to inform your perspectives.

I need you to hold perpetrators of violence accountable.
I need you to hold yourself accountable in working for peace.
I need you to ask questions and pursue knowledge so that you can understand, and then act. I need you to realize that our differences as humans are so superficial and so minute, and I need you to help illustrate this to others.

We are going to create a peaceful world. And we are going to do it together.

Thank you,

Kira

Age 20, USA

Women2Women Delegate

Greta, USA

Dear World,

Peace. What a beautiful, meaningful word said only in one syllable. Peace. It is such a powerful word; so powerful that people have sacrificed or risked their own life in the name of peace. There are a million meanings of peace, varying from one month with no war, all the way to simply existing with no fear of danger. Some find peace in exercise, others in reading, and many others in religion or culture. While religion and culture normally unite many peacefully, it also tears others apart, causing meaningless, unwarranted strife. The root of this is mixture of a lack of exposure to religions & cultures and lack of will to learn about them, leading to extremism mislabeled as a certain religion or culture.

While there is little we as a society can do about religious extremism or terrorism, we can provide resources and platforms for our peers to learn more about our own cultures and religions. This simple act of bridging two different lifestyles seems like a small deed, but it can go a long way. At the end of the day, education is a small step to peace. Education will supply civilians more information about the truth, which in turn will eventually make its way to government institutions preaching and practicing peace on an international scale.

Yes, at some point, education can only do so much, but its impacts are long lasting. Education opens minds to new schools of thought (no pun intended) and harnesses peoples’ abilities to ultimately better the world. Education helps people with rational thinking and as mentioned earlier, provides exposure to a wide range of opinions and styles of living. Most importantly, education allows people to mold their own mind and allows people to filter what they hear in media and in conversation through their education. It truly empowers people to think for themselves. At the end of the day, World, all I can tell you is that education plays a huge role in your future and fate, and in bringing about change and peace.

Sincerely,

Greta

Age 17, United States of America

Women2Women Delegate