"Peace"

"Peace" by stuckincustoms on flickr

By Shelagh Daley, cross-posted at On The Issues Magazine

You can’t build peace leaving half of the people out.

Women are a prime target in conflict, yet when it comes to building peace, they are being left out. The discourse around peace building often emphasizes the importance of inclusive and sustainable peace; however, many negotiations proceed amid blatant discrimination against half of the population.

Agreements made in peace negotiations set out the groundwork for post-agreement political, economic and social development, yet only a shocking one in 40 peace signatories in the past 25 years has been a woman. In addition to making claims of inclusivity highly questionable, this means experiences and issues affecting women are left off the agenda. Decision-making that is more inclusive and democratic is a better informed process and leads to better decisions and outcomes.

The “No women, no peace” campaign was created in the United Kingdom to mark the tenth anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 and to urge the UK government to honor its commitments on women, peace and security.

Issues such as sexual violence (including the widespread use of rape as a weapon of war), widowhood, women’s insecurity and the erosion of women’s rights in times of conflict are not paid sufficient attention. When women’s voices are not heard, their needs go unmet and wider power inequalities are perpetuated. Only 16 percent of peace agreements even mention women, and often when women are mentioned, it is to restrict their rights. In addition, the failure to empower women peace builders has been identified as a key barrier to the successful implementation of peace agreements.

The need to include women in peace negotiations has been accepted by the UN Security Council in Resolution 1325, which recognizes women’s experiences of conflict and calls for women’s participation in peace and reconciliation efforts. October 2010 marked the tenth anniversary of this landmark resolution, but its real impact is yet to be felt by many women who experience conflict. The “No women, no peace” campaign is working to change this.

Women worldwide are asking to be involved in formal peace and transition processes. In Egypt, women took part in the Jan. 25 revolution, but have been marginalized in decision-making and even subjected to virginity testing. This is a clear attempt to use fear and shame to prevent women’s participation in public life. Egyptian women are speaking out and demanding to be part of the process that will determine the future of their country.

The “No women, no peace” campaign believes that the UK government can help. By using its significant diplomatic clout and ensuring the effective implementation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 through policies such as the UK National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and the Building Stability Overseas Strategy, the UK government can make a difference for women in conflict areas.

Over the next few months, “No women, no peace” will work to ensure that the UK government puts women’s rights and women’s participation at the heart of discussions around the transition in Afghanistan.

When military intervention began in Afghanistan in October 2001, protecting the rights of Afghan women was prominent in both UK and U.S. government rhetoric. Ten years later, world leaders are discussing the transition of international forces out of Afghanistan. Will women be at the table to negotiate the transition? Will women’s rights remain firmly on the agenda, or will they be marginalized and traded away for so-called “peace”?

To show that people in the UK are serious about holding the government to its promises to Afghan women, “No women, no peace” is organizing workshops for activists throughout the UK. Activists are invited to attend or host workshops, and campaign packs will be available online for downloading. The recent publication UNSCR 1325: The Participation Promise, provides a detailed overview of the issues and arguments surrounding women’s participation in peace and post-conflict reconciliation. U.S.-based activists also can write to Secretary of State Hillary Clinton, asking her to ensure that women’s rights are central to discussions on the future of Afghanistan.

For peace to be meaningful, the end of conflict must mean the end of violence for women. Women must be involved in decisions that shape their societies and their future.