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Inclusion of women essential to long-lasting peace

[Brussels, 15 October 2012] MEPs heard last week how it is essential for women to be included in peace processes and in post-conflict decision-making. The conference, entitled “Equal Power – Lasting Peace: Conference on women and conflict resolution” and organised by Kvinna till Kvinna, a Swedish grass-roots organisation which supports women in war and conflict zones, was attended by a number of members of parliament, including Mikael Gustafsson, Chair of the Women’s Rights and Gender Equalities Committee, Åsa Westlund from S&D and Norica Nicolai from ALDE. Among many speakers were also Sanam Anderlini, Co-Founder of the International Civil society Action Network (ICAN), Monica McWilliams, a female activist from the conflict in Northern Ireland and Ms Teresita Quintos-Deles, Adviser to the President on the peace process in the Philippines.

The EWL, present at the conference and active at EU and international level in the field of women, peace and security, supports the conclusion that the EU should lead by example and put pressure on its Member States to remove the obstacles women face in being included in peace processes.

The EWL also calls on the EU, as the latest winner of the Nobel Peace Prize, to take note of the lesson that long lasting peace requires the full inclusion of women in decision-making as well as the support of a vibrant civil society.

Below you can read an article by Norica Nicolai, Åsa Westlund and Lena Ag on the topic, published in on 11 October 2012:

EU urged to recognise the role of women in conflict resolution

Norica Nicolai, Åsa Westlund, and Lena Ag, underline the important role women can play in securing long-lasting peace and call for the international community to make firm commitments to gender equality.

The European Union was built on the ruins of world war II, with grievous insights of how much war costs, and a vision of ending devastating conflicts between neighbours. Peace is still at the core of the EU, mirrored in the union’s ambition of playing a peacemaking role around the world. As we can see in the DR Congo and Afghanistan, peace is hard to build. The World Bank report from 2011 tells us that a majority of peace agreements fail and conflict erupt anew after a few years. It is painfully clear that the world needs new peace strategies and in that the EU can play a leading role.

Studies show that the chances for peace to be rooted increases dramatically if the warring parties are joined by different groups in civil society, including women’s organisations, at the negotiating tables. More than a decade ago, the UN security council (UNSC) adopted resolution 1325, arguing that gender equality is a precondition for peace and calling on member states to include women in peace processes and protect women in conflicts. The EU has followed by adopting policy documents, including the comprehensive approach on UNSC resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security.

A new report from the Kvinna till Kvinna foundation, ’Equal power - lasting peace’, reveals however that the gap between official rhetoric and grim reality for women on the ground is huge. ’Equal power - lasting peace’ is based on interviews with women activists and other actors in conflict affected regions. It is clear that women in general are not recognised as relevant actors.

’Equal power - lasting peace’ contains a unique mapping of the obstacles women face trying to engage in peace processes. Although the contexts vary, the obstacles are strikingly similar. Traditions, discriminatory laws, violence, corruption and poverty all weave a web that effectively keeps women out. Activists in the study tell us how women must be prepared to be subjected to slander and all kinds of threats, including death threats, if they engage in peace work. Since a woman’s reputation is one of her most valuable assets, slander is a powerful tool to keep women quiet. By getting involved in politics a woman may be looked upon as "dirty" or a "prostitute" and risks being ostracised by both her family and community.

Many of the activists are grateful for support from the international community. Yet, women activists criticise foreign actors, including the EU, for the overwhelming male dominance in international missions. Why should local leaders take gender equality seriously when the international community doesn’t? Since the mid-1990s, women have made up only eight per cent of participants in peace negotiation delegations. It took the EU 10 years after the adoption of resolution 1325 to appoint its first female special representative and there is currently no female head of common security and defence policy missions.

Last year, the European parliament adopted the report ’Women’s situation in war’, calling for the EU to push for the inclusion of more women in the prevention, mediation and resolution of conflicts. If the EU is going to be an effective peace builder it needs to put women’s participation at the core of its strategies and lead by example:

  • EU institutions should be gender equal and include women at all levels.
  • EU representatives should meet and listen to women and women’s organisations.
  • EU delegations and missions must increase its efforts to protect women human rights defenders.
  • EU should find flexible ways of funding for women’s participation.

Norica Nicolai is a member of parliament’s women’s rights and gender quality committee

Åsa Westlund is a substitute member of parliament’s development committee

Lena Ag is secretary general of the Kvinna till Kvinna foundation

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