'Women are not being utilized to bring about peace'

Finland’s first female president says she believes women can play a major role in bringing peace to the region.

October 10, 2010 20:00
3 minute read.
Finnish President Taria Halonen

Finnish President Taria Halonen 311 AP. (photo credit: Associated Press)


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Women are not being adequately utilized to bring about peace in the Middle East, according to Finnish President Taria Halonen. Speaking at news conference in Helsinki before departing for the region, Halonen suggested that women should become more active players in bridging gaps and correcting misconceptions in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict. She said that by creating more opportunities for Palestinian and Israeli women to meet, the improved understanding of one another that will result will enable women to play a larger role in bringing peace to the region.

The Finnish president stressed what the potential ramifications could be if peace fails to materialize in the region, insisting that Israeli and Palestinian women must share the responsibility to realize peace.

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Politically-involved women on both sides of the conflict agree with President Halonen, albeit while expressing reservations. Palestinian legislator and long-time spokeswoman Hanan Ashwari told The Media Line that Halonen “has the correct idea, absolutely.” Ashwari believes that “at present, the exclusion of women is a major drawback in the [peace] talks.” But she went on to describe the right woman for the job.

“Women who have a gender approach and are gender sensitive; who understand the nature and requirements of a just peace are those who can make a difference. [Women] who can make decisions based on the collective good, based on an understating of justice and not on political virtuosity and self interest.”

“Because you are dealing with a comparison of peace and not just a signed document but the quality of life, the nature of peace, the nature of justice, these are issues that women will deal with more effectively, I believe,” according to Ashwari.

When asked if there needs to be more action on the part of the governments and other organizations to increase the participation of women in the peace process, Ashwari agreed that there must be.

“There should be conscious efforts to have women participate more effectively and at all levels, on all fronts,” Ashwari told The Media Line. “I think if you have more women, they will pay attention to these issues and probably will bring about a more just resolution.”

An Israeli advocate suggested that it’s not enough that women become involved, but that women be placed in leadership and decision-making roles.

“Women need to be in more director positions,” Valeria Seigelshifer of The Women’s Budget Forum – an organization that promotes social policies that contribute to the advancement of women and girls in Israel, told The Media Line. “There needs to be more representation of women in national ministries and we need more female members of the Knesset.”

“Ideally, we should have a 50/50 split even in the directing positions. Two-thirds of those employed in the public sector are women, but not in higher ranked positions -- positions that are critical in decision making and policy planning,” Seigelshifer said.

Seigelshifer told The Media Line that in the experience of her organization which strives to fuel active participation from both sides, forming collaborations with Israeli-Arab and Palestinian women can be difficult.

The Finnish president is currently in the Middle East on a three-day regional visit. Her itinerary includes Jordan, Israel and the Palestinian territories. The goal of the trip is to establish better relations between the parties with specific attention being paid to enhancing the relations in the fields of IT, renewable energy and the environment.

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