Kurdish Women Battle Islamic State..
(photo credit: REUTERS)
The turmoil engulfing the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) today is at one of its most vicious and aggressive phases. It would seem that everywhere you look around there is a state falling apart, a nation being divided, an economy collapsing and most of all chaos and terrorism. What’s worse is the fragmentation of the social texture, which unlike infrastructure and governments, will take decades to heal.
Despite its significance, not many politicians or decision makers are prioritizing or even acknowledging the effects of conflict on culture and societies. There are the immediate concerns of deaths, injuries, displacement, food insecurity and other humanitarian emergencies, and there is the long term issue of rebuilding state institutions and putting sound political systems in place. What about the people? Aren’t they the ones who are supposed to do all that, from rebuilding the economy to enforcing and respecting the law?
According to a survey by the Heidelberg Institute for International Conflict Research (HIIK); compared to seven violent crises in the region in 2005, the number has risen to 32 in 2014. And according to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees, conflict forcefully placed nearly 60 million persons by end of 2014, either Internally Displaced or as refugees. With the numbers of civilian causalities increasing exponentially it becomes obvious that whatever MENA politicians are trying to do to stabilize the region is not working, that is, if they are indeed trying to do something about it rather than being the reason behind it.
Hence, comes to play the role of women as peace builders. A 2015 research highlighted in the Global Study commissioned by UN Women under the title “Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, Securing the Peace” emphasized the role of women in improving humanitarian assistance, peace keeping efforts and economic recovery. This study comes 15 years after the United Nations Security Council (UNSC) issued its 1325 resolution on women and armed conflict (issued in October 2000) which was created after the issuing of four similar resolutions on children and armed conflict (Resolution 1261 issued in August 1999 and Resolution 1314 issued in August 2000) and civilians and armed conflict (Resolution 1265 issued in September 1999 and Resolution 1296 issued in April 2000).
The United Nations Peace Keeping agency states that this resolution “stresses the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace-building and peacekeeping. It calls on member states to ensure women’s equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security, and urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspective in all areas of peace building.”
Since the Beijing Declaration and its Platform of action in 1995 it took women’s movements and gender activists five years to lobby for a resolution at the international level, one that would respect and facilitate the positive involvement of women in the peace process, hence the 1325 resolution in 2000.
Eight years later, the UNSC issued another resolution on women and armed conflict (Resolution 1820 issued in June 2008) which “reinforces Resolution 1325 and highlights that sexual violence in conflict constitutes a war crime and demands parties to armed conflict to immediately take appropriate measures to protect civilians from sexual violence.” This was in turn followed by a two resolutions in 2009 (Resolutions 1888 and Resolution 1989 issued in September and October 2009 respectively) which aimed at “further strengthening of women's participation in peace processes and the development of indicators to measure progress on Resolution 1325..” These was again followed by another resolution (Resolution 1960) in December 2010 and two more three years later (Resolution 2106 and 2122 issued on June and October 2013 respectively) re-endorsing all the previous resolutions and inviting the Secretary-General to review resolution 1325’s implementation.
Although the UNSC and its member states unanimously endorsed the various resolutions on women and armed conflict while acknowledging the fact that women were deliberately shunned away from the warfare paradigm, in reality not much has been done to follow up on these promises. In his article in the 2010 NATO Review on women and conflict, Ambassador Anwarul K. Chowdhury who was led the initiative on UN Security Council Resolution 1325 in his role as President of the Security Council expressed his disappointment at not living up to the promise. His article under the title “10 years on, the promises to women need to be kept” he says that the main point is not to make wars safe for women, but rather not to have wars in the first place by structuring the peace process in a way that prevents future conflicts. He says, “That is why women need to be at the peace tables, involved in the decision-making and in peace-keeping teams. They need to be there particularly as civilians, to make a real difference in transitioning from the cult of war to the culture of peace.”
It is not the lack of UN resolutions or international treaties that undermine the important role of women in armed conflict whether representing their best interest as victims or seriously acknowledging their contributions to peace building and conflict resolution. It is rather the lack of political will and adequate practices in peace building processes which are almost always are exclusively managed by men; that is the problem. Although in theory, there is slight improvement in the referencing of women in peace agreements. The same global study by UN Women marking 15 years since the resolution indicated that only eleven percent of signed peace agreements referenced women, a percentage that has increased to 27 percent since 2000. Naturally it is gravely inadequate to reduce women’s involvement in the peace process to a percentage of agreements where women were referenced.
There are many stories that illustrate how involvement of women in conflict resolution and peace keeping could prove significantly useful to sustaining the peace and catering to the minorities especially from a cultural perspective. Women have an innate skill in attending to the social fabrics of the society being the nurturers and the consensus builders. There are examples of heroic peace building efforts by women in conflict zones in the MENA region itself such as in Palestinian-Israel conflict, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Yemen and beyond. These stories remain of no interest to most media and decision makers who fail to see the real value of women in such turbulent times. Consider this alternative scenario of the MENA region: If at least one third if not half of the participants in the peace processes were women, would the results be any different? Would there be more peace in the region? My answer is definitely yes. Why not give women a chance to contribute to stability, after all, men have been doing it for a long time and a new way of thinking is long due.
Nadia Al-Sakkaf is a researcher and independent journalist. She was Yemen’s first Information Minister in the 2014 cabinet and the Editor of Yemen Times for nine years before that.
For more stories for Media Line visit: http://www.themedialine.org/