Perspective

Reflections from the International Women’s Day

Tuesday, 08 March 2016 840 Views 0 Comments

WOMEN, PEACE AND APPROACHES TOWARDS CREATING A SAFER WORLD

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On the 8th day of March every year, we celebrate the social, economic and cultural strides women have made in a world that is still skewed against women’s development, career advancement and general development. On this day as well, we shine a spotlight on the suffering and struggles that women around the world face, especially in the developing countries of Africa, Asia and the Middle East.
As it is, women find it hard enough to succeed without the added burden of conflict. While wars and conflict affect both men and women alike, women have been known to suffer more adverse effects due to their added vulnerability. According to the Human Rights Watch World Report of 2015 on neighboring Somalia, the warring parties in the long running conflict continue to kill, displace and wound civilians. It also goes on to say that internally displaced women and girls remain vulnerable to rape by armed men which unbelievably includes Somali government soldiers as well as militia members.
The report also goes ahead to say that in some instances, due to stinging poverty and desperation, the women would accept humanitarian aid including food and medicine in exchange for sex, an unfortunate consequence of years and years of painfully slow or almost no development due to war.
Fast forward to the largest humanitarian crisis in the world as we speak. Syria. According to the UNHCR, since the beginning of the Syrian conflict in 2011 reports have revealed persistent patterns of gender based violence (GBV) perpetrated by the regime, and opposition.
Syrian women have been exposed to arbitrary detention, sexual violence amongst other atrocities. In ISIS controlled areas of Syria atrocities committed against women include rape, murder, enforced marriages, sexual violence and slavery amongst other inhumane acts.
The common factor in each of the two conflicts is the fact that women are suffering at the hands of their oppressors and what you would think would be their benefactors.
Throughout history women and children have borne the worst brunt of any form of conflict, the Rwandese Genocide of 1994 where up to half a million women were raped, sexually mutilated or murdered, the Holocaust, Libya, The Congo, Burundi. The list goes on and on.
More and more women however are taking up active roles to protect and safeguard their interests. The meteoric rise of feminist movements, most visible in online social media platforms is just one of the many ways women are reclaiming power, and championing for safer, more enabling environments for themselves.

“women are taking proactive approaches towards achieving gender parity, and creating solutions to problems that have for a long time been looked at from one lens”

Media portrayal of women in conflict has oftentimes painted them as helpless and vulnerable which is in most instances true, however it should not be lost on the world that we have women working tirelessly towards ending conflict and improving conditions for women in their respective countries. Malala Yousafzai has been the poster child of the war against the Taliban’s oppression of women in Pakistan, Dishani Jayaweera in Sri Lanka, women led interventions in Zimbabwe, Liberia, Kenya represent a more empowered female community taking the lead and showing their communities the way.
From gender forums to street activism to government lobbying, women are taking proactive approaches towards achieving gender parity, and creating solutions to problems that have for a long time been looked at from one lens.

8 August 2011. El Fasher: Deputy Joint Special Representative (Political), Ms. Aichatou Mindaoudou, visits Kutum (North Darfur) for the RSA National Women's Day. She attended the celebrations by the South African troops and visited the Maternity Hospital. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran - UNAMID

8 August 2011. El Fasher: Deputy Joint Special Representative (Political), Ms. Aichatou Mindaoudou, visits Kutum (North Darfur) for the RSA National Women’s Day. She attended the celebrations by the South African troops and visited the Maternity Hospital. Photo by Albert Gonzalez Farran – UNAMID

In Africa, the Women Peace and Security Network Africa (WIPSEN-Africa) describes itself as a women-focused, women-led Pan African Non-Governmental Organization whose core mandate is to promote women’s participation and leadership in peace and security governance in Africa in accordance with The United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 which requires member states to ensure the consideration of gender in Peace Building Processes.
As a follow-up to the adoption of the resolution 1325 by the UNSC in October 2000, the secretariat of the Global Study took a fifteen-year review and released a final study in 2015. The 420 page study is available for download in full at wps.unwomen.org in language choices of English, Arabic or Spanish.An excerpt from the report points to a key set of principles around which the world should unite concerning peace and security.
Prevention of conflict must be the priority, not the use of force – Greater attention must be paid to the prevention of conflict, and the use of force must always be the last resort when all other options have failed. The Global Study emphasizes the importance of short term prevention measures such as early warning systems and intensified efforts at preemptive dialogue at the local, national and international levels. It also examines measures to address the root causes and structural drivers of conflict, such as exclusion, discrimination, attacks on dignity and structural inequality. These, along with measures dealing with the proliferation of small arms, violent masculinities and climate change should also be implemented.
Resolution 1325 is a human rights mandate – It must not be forgotten that resolution 1325 was conceived of and lobbied for as a human rights resolution that would promote the rights of women in conflict situations. Any policy or program on women, peace and security must be conducted with this in mind. Attempts to ‘securitize’ issues and to use women as instruments in military strategy must be consistently discouraged.

Women’s participation is key to sustainable peace – This study contains research that comprehensively demonstrates that the participation of women at all levels is key to the operational effectiveness, success and sustainability of peace processes and peace building efforts. Mediators, facilitators and leadership in peace operations must be proactive in including women in all aspects of peacemaking, peacekeeping and peace building. The Global Study describes the substantial increase in frequency of gender sensitive language in peace agreements, and the number of women, women’s groups and gender experts who serve as official negotiators, mediators, signatories, witnesses or in advisory bodies. Nonetheless, in many conflict affected contexts, women’s official participation may be temporary, their delegated roles may be more symbolic than substantive and their influential capacity may be directly resisted by cultural norms.
Perpetrators must be held accountable and justice must be transformative – Perpetrators of grave crimes against women should be held accountable for their actions so that women receive justice and future crimes are deterred. At the same time, justice in conflict and post conflict settings must be transformative in nature, addressing not only the singular violation experienced by women, but also the underlying inequalities which render women and girls vulnerable during times of conflict and which inform the consequences of the human rights violations they experience. The Global Study explores both the importance of fighting impunity for crimes against women through criminal justice proceedings, while also recognizing the central role played by reparations, truth and reconciliation processes and in ensuring that victims and their communities heal and recover together.
Localization of approaches and inclusive and participatory processes are crucial to the success of national and international peace efforts – In the area of peace building, there must be a detailed mapping and understanding of local conditions with the participation of women themselves before programmes are designed, formulated or implemented. The ‘one size fits all’ policy, transferring ‘best practices,’ is not always what is needed in many situations of conflict. The Global Study describes the peace building period as an opportunity to transform societies and work toward gender equality; to build economies and institutions that recognize and seek to address the specific challenges women face.
Supporting women peace builders and respecting their autonomy is one important way to counter extremism – Across religions and regions, a common thread shared by extremist groups is that in each and every instance, their advance has been coupled with attacks on the rights of women and girls—rights to education, to public life and to decision making over their own bodies. It is clear that military responses alone are insufficient in rooting out violent extremism. The Global Study explores how funding and support to women peace builders in contexts of rising extremism can play a critical role in ensuring that extremist ideologies neither survive nor thrive.
All key actors must play their role – Member States, regional organizations, the media, civil society and youth all have a vital role to play in working together to implement the women, peace and security agenda, and holding one another accountable to commitments. The Global Study explores the successes and challenges that each set of actors has faced over the past 15 years, and sets expectations for carrying the WPS agenda into the future.
A gender lens must be introduced into all aspects of the work of the Security Council- The Security Council must continue its work on the implementation of the women, peace and security agenda, and in order to do so, requires additional support and information. The Global Study explores avenues to better inform the work of the Security Council on implementation, from more robust sanctions, to more frequent briefings from civil society, to closer exchanges with the Human Rights Council, to the creation of an informal expert group on women, peace and security.
The persistent failure to adequately finance the women, peace and security agenda must be addressed – The failure to allocate sufficient resources and funds has been perhaps the most serious and unrelenting obstacle to implementation of women, peace and security commitments over the past 15 years. This lack of financing may be somewhat overcome if Member States, regional organizations and the UN system all commit to earmarking a minimum of 15 per cent of all funding relating to peace and security for program whose principal objective is to address women’s specific needs and advance gender equality
A strong gender architecture at the United Nations is essential – The Study is clear: the United Nations must play the lead role in creating a peaceful and secure world for all of us— holding true to its original vision to turn ‘swords into plowshares.’ To do so, the UN must adopt structural changes to capitalize on its available resources for women, peace and security, and ensure that the entire system moves forward in a coherent and coordinated manner to bring gender equality and women’s empowerment into the core of its work in all areas.
Great strides continue to be made in efforts to improve the position of women in society worldwide, so ask yourself what you could do to make the world a better, safer place for current and future generations of women wherever you live.

 

Gerald Ndung'u

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