Women And Peace.

Involving women in the peace building process of any country recovering from war has been an interest of mine for a couple of years now, since I started to more seriously research the psychological effects of war on children. This interest was further explored by me during my trip to Uganda, where it was often a topic of discussion as the Juba Peace Talks were beginning their long journey to which the finish is still not in sight. This is a topic that I would like to further explore eventually through my work and definitely through keeping up on readings, which brought this speech to my attention. Presented by Donald Steinberg, Vice President, International Crisis Group, to UN Department of Peacekeeping Operations Townhall Meeting on December 6, 2007, this speech is called "Beyond Victimhood: Involving Women in Peace Operations."

The first sentence that caught my attention was: It took me only a few weeks after my arrival in Luanda to realise that a peace agreement that is “gender-neutral” is, by definition, discriminatory against women. This sentence struck me because it just highlights how patriarchal most countries and cultures still are. Steinberg goes on to discuss how he discovered this fact when councils and meetings that were open to both sexes ended up being attended only by men. The reasons why this was so were not explicitly explored by Steinberg, but it's easy to give the reasons if you've have any knowledge on cultural structures in Africa. Most women are expected to care for the children and run the family. Leaving the home for any reason is often strictly forbidden, as in many countries women are not even allowed to work. To leave the family to attend a meeting is completely out of the question for many women, and so in making the peace agreement what Steinberg considered "gender-neutral" (because there were no genders identified in the document) was actually not gender-neutral because it was written by men and in the context of a man's world. Men attend meetings away from home, at least in the cultures we're speaking of, not often women. In order to be completely inclusive of both sexes, keeping women's lifestyles and responsibilities in mind mind is essential. Instead of having a town-hall-type-meeting, could they instead go into the villages and take the effort to walk from home to home to discuss the issues with the women? Maybe even have small gatherings at a couple of different homes where the women can bring their children. These are the considerations necessary in a world that is still rigidly defined by gender roles.

The next sentence that I was jumping out of my chair saying, "Yes! Yes! Why didn't I think of putting it that way?" was: Given the prominence of sexual abuse during the conflict, including rape as a weapon of war, amnesties meant that men with guns forgave other men with guns for crimes committed against women. I seriously got goosebumps with that sentence because it's something that happens in so many post-conflict situations and is a serious injustice to the Actual victims of the wars. Women and children are used as weapons in many wars, through rape or use of child soldiers, and yet they are ignored in the peace building processes. It's infuriating at the very least and completely unjust.

Steinberg outlines the current challenges facing women in the peace building process as:
  • Courageous and talented women trying to help build peace around the world still face discrimination in legal, cultural and traditional practices.
  • We have been unable to expand the scale of outstanding conflict resolution done by women’s organisations at local levels and extend them writ large throughout their countries.
  • Sexual violence and threats against women in power impose a stigma of victimisation and a real danger that makes even the most impressive and courageous women think twice before stepping forward.
  • Men leading peace conferences still exclude women or shunt them off to ante-rooms while “real” negotiations take place.
Steinberg outlines some good issues that are keeping women sidelined in many peace building processes, and he continues the article by offering some proposals on how to further correct this problem. Some of the proposals are more vague than others, but I particularly liked the one about rebuilding social structures of particular importance to women, because if you know anything about women in many high conflict areas is that they do not care about social change if they can't feed and take care of their children. Helping women meet their basic needs gives them the freedom to join the more social causes and the peace building process.

Overall I felt that Steinberg made some strong points about involving women in the peace building process. I wished the article went more in depth, but any focus or discussion on this topic is strongly encouraged and appreciated by me! Focusing on women's special needs in post-conflict nations is still a fairly young concept that is gaining more traction as of late and something that someday I hope to contribute to.

I'll leave you with a quote that one of my co-workers shared with me today... now she shared it with me verbally so she wasn't even sure she got it right and she couldn't remember who said it, so it might be slightly off, but you'll get the point (by the way, if you know the complete quote or who said it, please leave a comment with the info):

If we raised our children we wouldn't have to heal our adults.

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