Minnesota Senate President Sandy Pappas, DFL-St. Paul, is in Cyprus this week to talk not about building walls, but tearing them down. Pappas is co-founder of Forward Global Women, a Twin Cities-based nonprofit that trains women across the Middle East to become leaders in peace-building and conflict resolution. Her founding partners hail from Jordan and Israel.

Before Pappas departed for the conference, she answered questions about why women are well-suited for peaceful pursuits, and what we can do at home to promote coexistence.


Q: Peace. Coexistence. Conflict resolution. Do you feel as though you’re swimming upstream of late with those generous concepts?

A: Our leaders are incapable of making peace. Look what just happened in Turkey with the failed coup. But there is a lot more work going into grass-roots efforts by people trying to come at this from the bottom up. It’s [cultural anthropologist] Margaret Mead’s approach. We’re getting a tremendous response at the grass-roots level, even if our leaders are not leading.


Q: You and six American colleagues will be joined by 20 women leaders from Jordan, Palestine, Israel, Egypt, Tunisia and Morocco — many of these countries that are in constant conflict. Why do you think women are uniquely suited to find solutions?

A: Women are more likely to ask, “How can we negotiate or settle this peacefully?” Women think more broadly about security and about peace. This is not just about putting down arms. This is about water rights, environmental issues, education for our girls, and are we going to have jobs so that people don’t become subject to joining [Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant]?

One of our speakers is the founder of an Israeli group called Women Wage Peace, whose mission statement includes the words, “Whether left- or right-wing, religious or secular, Arab or Jewish, we want to live in a society characterized by normality, prosperity and human rights.” She’s coming to tell us more about her plans of working with Palestinian women. A lot of people think there’s nothing going on in terms of peace in the Middle East. Women need to be there.


Q: Three of the five Forward Global Women conferences have been held in the Twin Cities. What is it about our community that seems to embrace this global effort?

A: First, I’m located here. But, also, I have a tremendous support group. Guests stay in people’s homes; board members and others sponsor meals. People here are really interested in volunteering their time, their resources, their homes. Having said that, after a few years here, my friends in the Middle East said, “Sandy, can we meet a little closer to where we live next time?” We held the conference in Berlin in 2014.


Q: It’s interesting that you’ll be in the Mideast fostering women leaders during the week that Malala Yousafzai, the 2014 Nobel Peace Prize winner, was in Minneapolis. Can you speak to how her message is your message?

A: Certainly, her message is about empowering girls. We have brought in established women in their field — women in politics who are currently in office or were in office, renowned and published academics, and heads of NGOs in their home countries. But as we move forward, we are starting to bring in the next generation of women, just slightly older than Malala in their late 20s, to join us.


Q: What is the key to peacemaking in our own communities?

A: Relationships. Getting to know the other so they are not a stranger to you.


Q: Any concerns about traveling to Cyprus [off the coasts of Syria and Turkey] at this tumultuous time? Any additional security measures recommended?

A: Our hotel has security cameras. We probably will not be posting on Facebook or Twitter. We’re encouraging people to take cabs together.


Q: You’ve added a lovely closing to your e-mail correspondences. Might you repeat it here?

A: Yes, because it really represents my sentiment: Peace, Shalom, Salam.