Working for Peace and Justice is an Uphill Battle


WORKING FOR PEACE is an attractive, but nebulous cause. Without Justice, conflicts are hard to avoid and peace gets disrupted. And so, the work begins again on peacebuilding.

Last February Penang Monthly was invited to attend the Roundtable on Women, Peace and Security hosted by the Commonwealth Foundation to review platforms for Women and Peacebuilding, and to identify an advocacy map and pathway that participants can work towards and collaborate on in the future.

This is the third of such events to engage women as expert-actors in the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325, to address the impact of war on women and the importance of women’s full and equal participation in conflict resolution, peacebuilding, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction.

The participants this year are 12 professionals in each of their own fields, who have experiences as negotiators for peace, recovery and justice in their home countries of Cyprus, Kenya, Nigeria, Northern Ireland, Pakistan, Sri Lanka, South Africa, Uganda, the UK and from Bougainville in the Pacific; and at regional and international levels.

But that does not mean that they are given due recognition at the UNSCR 1325 negotiation tables; there are too few women leaders and some unfortunately only hold ceremonial positions.

Helen Kezie-Nwoha is a feminist peace activist and a women human rights defender from Nigeria. Photo credit: Chammaine Tan, Commonwealth Foundation 

“Patriarchy has to deal with women who are feminists, have knowledge, are experienced advocates for equality of the sexes and who will question marginalisation. Many women are not in these meetings. Patriarchy finds it tough if women leaders are at the table,” says Dr. Anne Gallagher, the foundation’s Director- General, in her opening address.

The scarcity of women at these dialogues speaks for itself. Gallagher shares that about 2% of women are mediators in major conflicts; 5% are witnesses and signatories; 8% are women-negotiators; and only three of the 11 peace resolutions signed in 2011 had provisions relating to women and gender.

The political power, structures and culture of a country also limit women’s involvement in peace talks. For Northern Ireland, the National Action Plan (NAP), as required under the UNSCR 1325, was drafted in the UK, with very few consultations made with civil society organisations (CSO) and women’s groups in Northern Ireland. Though part of the UK, Northern Ireland’s history and conflicts over territories and religion have marginalised their inputs on the NAP.

On the other hand, women leaders of North and South Cyprus are included in the peace dialogues, but discussions often come to a standstill when the country’s history and political divisiveness are addressed. “There is an identity confusion on what it means to be a Cypriot,” says Biran Mertan, showing the two identity cards she carries. She adds that disabled persons, and the indigenous and LBGT communities are also sidelined.

When wars are protracted, communities become distrustful of each other. In Bougainville politicians are notorious for taking advantage and capitalising on differences among women’s groups, splintering further the already fragile process of its independence from Papua New Guinea.

Vague Accomplishments

The UNSCR 1325 is now 20; yet, there is a general sense of ambiguity surrounding its achievements over the past two decades. Only 83 member states (43%) have developed NAPs, and only 34% have allocated budgets for their programmes.1

The violation of women and girls by peacekeepers and aid workers in delicate peace post-conflict zones; the compromised security of women when the military or the police force barges into homes on counter-terrorism measures; armed units operating violently within the community; and the increase in militarisation and arms despite being in post-conflict situations are but some examples of prevailing problems on the ground.

"Patriarchy finds it tough if women
leaders are at the table.”

In conflicts, acts of violence against girls, women, boys and men occur en masse as perpetrators target persons from opposing ethnic, religious or political groups that form part of the fault line. Victims are put through sexually degrading acts of violence to bring about humiliation and dishonour to the communities, and to terrorise the population into compliance. The Articles 10 and 11 of the UNSCR 1325 compel governments to address these “wages of war”, acts of gender-based violence.2

Adding to this, there are NAPs drawn up by countries that do not properly address the necessary treatments needed for victims who suffer gynecological-related problems, posttraumatic stress, depression and sexually transmitted diseases. Neither are there clear measures to protect people in postconflict zones from being trafficked to slave-like conditions of work or the sex trade.

The women experts seek clarity on conceptualising peace, terrorism, gender-based violence and militarisation as key areas in post-conflict work in shelters and refugee camps so that women are protected. They are keen to form a workgroup with partnered allies, comprising academics, donors, government key personnel, the UN and regional representatives as consultants.

These experts also identify their own disconnect between what they know and the knowledge level of people at the local and national fronts. Transforming their repertoire of “knowing and experiencing” into the UNSCR 1325 with its many subsequent resolutions, remains a tall order. Simplification is needed as survivors of conflicts are inclined to prioritise food, water and shelter, rather than “alien” concepts within the UNSCR 1325.

Ruth Ochieng from Uganda, Susan Owiro Chege from Kenya, Salma Bibi from Pakistan and Nomathamsanqa Masiko from South Africa. Photo credit: Chammaine Tan, Commonwealth Foundation 

More representation by women from the grassroots and from survivors are encouraged, for their views are fundamental in the planning of the NAP; with more training at the local level, developing a toolkit, securing documented cases, conducting research and developing advocacy strategies.

Success stories of the UNSCR 1325 still need to be captured and documented. Such stories include how perpetrators are brought to justice by women as witnesses, the recovery work, peace efforts in the community, survivors’ stories and the rebuilding of lives. This has happened in Bougainville, where a book about women survivors has been published.

Despite growing scepticism surrounding the UN on its human rights agenda, engaging the UNSCR 1325 still remains important since the UN has “the best platform” on Women, Peace and Security and in its work with governments.

Often women in leadership positions are absent in these negotiations and are only called upon to give their approval. But the clarion call has sounded, and the space at the peace tables seems to be there for the claiming.

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