This evening I attended a panel discussion at the House of Commons on women, conflict and peace-building to mark the parliamentary launch of the No Women, No Peace campaign. Launched by Gender Action for Peace and Security (GAPS), the campaign brings together various NGOs (including ActionAid, Oxfam and UNIFEM) to push for a greater involvement of women in the peace-building process.
It has been 10 years since the UK government pledged its support for the UN Resolution 1325 – which recognises that women are uniquely devastated by conflict, whilst also being an immense untapped resource for buliding peace – but now, a decade later, little progress can be seen. During this anniversary year, No Women, No Peace aims to reaffirm the importance of involving women in peace processes and turn promises into action.
The panel discussion began with Chair Deborah Haynes (Defence editor at The Times) ruminating on this meeting happening so soon after on the tragic death of aid worker Linda Norgrove. Haynes expressed her sadness at the news but reminded us that, whilst Norgrove had chosen to work in the unstable environment of Afghanistan, many women have no choice but to find themselves impacted by violent conflict.
Gender based violence is, sadly, all too commonly used as a weapon of war – In Democratic Republic of Congo, rape, displacement, torture and humiliation are common experiences for women. In Sri Lanka, women (the primary care givers) have been left without support after community services have been destroyed. In Afghanistan, widows face extreme stigma and poverty. Yet, whilst women may be harshly affected by conflict, they often remain excluded from peace negotiations.
Baroness Nuala O’Loan, Ireland’s Roving Ambassador for Conflict Resolution, pointed out that many women in conflict will work for peace long before NGOs get involved; “Their primary need is for security,” she said, “That is more important to them than food and water.” Once security is found, everything else falls into place – which is why women will create support structures within their communities, looking after the children, minding each others market stalls and sharing clothes and provisions. Still, even though women prove themselves to be brilliant stabilising tools for their communities, they are not invited to express opinions in development forums. O’Loan put this down to such areas being predominantly ”patriarchal and have no experience of dealing with women on equal terms.”
Also on the panel were Kate Allen (Director, Amnesty International UK) and Wazhma Frogh of the Afghan Women’s Network, who expressed sorrow over the news of Linda Norgrove’s death and declared gratitude for the work done by her, and others like her. Frogh stressed the importance for “the UK government to ask the simple question ‘where are the women in your programs?’” when it came to working with peace building programs around the world.
The Foreign Secretary, William Hague, was also in attendance. “It remains an appaling fact…that the burden of war falls disproportionally on women and children” he said, but encouragingly listed the ways in which the government is striving to bring women into more powerful peace-building roles world wide; “We now have women heading 31 of our missions overseas,” said Hague, “I want many more.” On the stigma that women often face when standing up in their communities Hague admitted “We face a lot of cultural battles”, but emphasised that empowering women in their own communities would create faster progress in development.
Finally, Hague was presented with Asako Yanagita’s brilliantly clear design for the campaign (above, which won the campaign’s poster competition). His response? “Right, this will have to go in a prominent position in the foreign office!”
It was incredibly heartening to attend the launch of this much needed campaign, and to hear about all the positive steps being made to include women in an area that they can clearly enrich. As No Women, No Peace so rightly say; ‘You can’t build peace leaving half the people out!’Sarah Barnes, 11.10.2010 | Comments (1)
Tagged: Afghan Women's Network, Amnesty International, Asako Yanagita, Deborah Haynes, GAPS, Kate Allen, No Women No Peace, Nuala O'Loan, Wazhma Frogh, William Hague