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Spiritual Women Leaders Gather In India

Several hundred women leaders from 45 countries have gathered in India to discuss ways in which women can help resolve violent conflict in the world. Anjana Pasricha reports from New Delhi, the conference has been organized by the New York-based Global Peace Initiative for Women.

The goal of the nearly 450 women meeting in the western city of Jaipur in India's Rajasthan state is simple: find ways in which women's voices and ideas can be heard more loudly, so that the world can move away from war.

Most of the delegates are religious leaders representing different faiths. They have come from all over the world - Africa, the Middle East, Afghanistan, and the United States.

The five-day conference concludes Monday.

The participants at the conference say women bring a totally different perspective to the issue of conflict resolution, and need to be consulted more closely.

Dena Merriam, from the New York-based Global Peace Initiative for Women, says they want to advocate the need to explore non-violent options to resolve differences.

"There was a tradition in the native American tribes. Before a tribe went to war, they had to get the blessing of the women elders," said Merriam. "Why? Because if the women were going to send their sons to war, they wanted to make sure it was necessary. That it had to be. That it was not just a trivial thing. I do believe if women are consulted - do you want to send your sons to war ... we will think long and hard about it."

Other delegates say that feminine attributes of compassion, tolerance, and empathy can enable women to find alternatives to violence more easily than men, who are associated more closely with power and aggression.

Laila Athsan, a psychologist from the West Bank city of Ramallah, says the Israeli-Palestinian conflict could have been tackled differently if women had been in the forefront.

"In all cases, they do have power over men, in every relationship, but the front power which decides the world's destiny is unfortunately by men now," said Athsan. "So it needs to be reversed a bit. If women in Palestine take a stronger role, and take it effectively, we would not have had the Hamas problems, we would have had non-violent demonstrations in front of the biggest Israeli soldier and made another difference, instead of reacting with weapons."

The women here say there is no clash among them although they represent different religions because their goal is common: to ensure that the world is a safer place for their children.

They admit the task is easier said than done, but say the conference represents a beginning.