Equal Power – Lasting Peace met Elizee Mwele Ngongo from CEDEJ, Cercle d’Échange pour le Développement des Jeunes, in The Democratic Republic of Congo, on a visit to Sweden. She works against sexual harassment in schools – a common reason for girls dropping out and thereby not getting an education. “I will not rest until girls finish their studies” she says.
Ursula Keller, Swisspeace, Louise Olsson, Folke Bernadotte Academy, Pelle Enarsson, Political Advisor to the EUSR for the Horn of Africa and Shukria Dini, Somali Women's Studies Centre was in one of the panels discussing the EU, peacebuilding and gender. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Pavlina Ekdahl.
”You can hardly find a single high-level speach not mentioning the importance of including women. Resolution 1325 is firmly established on the policy level. So why has so little changed in practice?” This was one of the questions debated at a day of seminars on the European Union and peacebuilding, held in Stockholm, Sweden, last week.
Pelle Enarsson, Political Advisor to the EU Special Representative (EUSR) for the Horn of Africa, described a ”successful political transition” taking place in Somalia last year, after 20 years of conflict – a success that the EU, and the rest of the international community, contributed to. Regarding women’s participation he highlighted that there had been a strong pressure from the international community to have a quota of 30 percent women in the transitional parliament, although this goal wasn’t reached in the end.
Somali women not listened to
But Shukria Dini from Somali Women’s Studies Centre was not impressed by the international efforts that ended with 12 percent women now holding seats in the parliament. ”Somali women are really not represented well in the new parliament. The international community cared about ending the process, not making sure that women fulfilled the 30 percent quota. We had a number of meetings with different international stakeholders and they all said ‘you women, go negotiate with your clan elders, there is nothing we can do about this’”she said.
On a question from the audience for advice on how to include women in work with conflict resolution and prevention, Shukria Dini pointed out that in Somalia women orchestrated local cross-clan peace processes for several years before the international community arrived, and had a lot of knowledge on participation. “We told the international community that we didn’t trust the clan elders to deliver lists with women for the parliament and that we could present these lists instead. But our appeal fell on deaf ears and we felt we had been cheated. So, there has to be more consultations with women in the concerned country – not just one, but several! Find out what women want, what solutions do they have?”
Many instruments – too little coordination
Many of the participants, both from within and outside of the EU, repeated that if the union isn’t yet seen as a strong actor in peacebuilding, it’s not due to a lack of policies. On the contrary, some mentioned that the fact that there are so many institutions within the EU working with peacebuilding, could be one of the problems. At the same time there are parts of the EU that doesn’t deal with peacework, but that should be involved for a common approach to be effective.
UNSCR resolution 1325Resolution 1325 was adopted by the UN Security Council in 2000.
It was the first time that the Security Council addressed the disproportionate and unique impact of armed conflict on women and also recognised the under-valued and under-utilized contributions women make to conflict resolution and peace-building. It stresses the importance of women’s equal and full participation as active agents in peace and security.
Resolution 1325 is binding upon the UN and all its member states.
Catherine Woollard from the NGO European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO) elaborated:
”The EU is still divided. There are multiple institutions working in different external missions and there are fights on who should be dealing with conflict prevention and resolution. Additionally there are a lot of actors, like us, standing on the outside telling the EU what to do. So in the end there are more people studying the EU and conflict than who are working with conflict within the EU – more reflection than action!” she said.
Practice what you preach
When it comes to women being equal participants in the EU’s peacebuilding actions, the problems seem to be the same as for most big actors: transforming big words into reality. Many of the (female) participants pointed out that the EU has to practice what it preaches, i e how can its officials go to conflict-ridden countries and talk about the importance of including women in their decision-making structures, when there at the same time are so few women within the decision-making structures of the EU peacebuilding missions?
Another area where the credibility of the EU’s equality approach seems to be faltering, is in reporting. According to EU policy, gender mainstreaming is supposed to permeate all its work. To follow up on this, all institutions and actions are to report on their actions to live up to that committment.
But out of the participants in the seminar, none of the persons who worked within the EU could say how, or even if, this reporting system was being implemented at their division. It came down to a voice from the audience, Giulia Pasquinelli from EPLO’s Gender, Peace and Security Working Group, to explain the regulations and how they should be working. A clear sign of the need for acute measures to be taken to fill the gap between policy documents and practice, if the EU is to be taken seriously as an actor working for women, peace and security.
Villagers fleeing their homes in Sake, in the Democratic Republic of the Congo (DRC)’s North Kivu province, after fighting erupted between FARDC Government forces and rebel groups. UN Photo/Sylvain Liechti.
In November last year, the Congolese armed forces (FARDC) and the militia group M23 were responsible for nearly 200 cases of rape and arbitrary executions, during their fighting in the North and South Kivu provinces in the Democratic Republic of the Congo, states a new report from the UN Joint Human Rights Office (UNJHRO).
More than 350 victims and witnesses were interviewed for the report and their testimonies speak of gross violations of human rights and international humanitarian law, like mass rape and the rape of girls as young as six years old, executions and violations resulting from widespread looting. Particularly systematic and violent was the abuse committed by FARDC elements as they retreated from the towns of Goma and Sake in North Kivu and regrouped in and around the town of Minova in South Kivu.
“Those responsible for such crimes must know that they will be prosecuted,” UN High Commissioner for Human Rights Navi Pillay said in a comment.
BackgroundIn April 2012, a mutiny of the Forces armées de la République démocratique du Congo (FARDC) in North Kivu, initiated by General Bosco Ntaganda, led to the creation of the Mouvement du 23 mars (M23) rebellion.
After occupying part of Rutshuru territory from July 2012, the M23 rebellion seized the towns of Goma and Sake on 20 and 22 November 2012 respectively, while troops from the FARDC retreated towards Minova, South Kivu province.
In partial compliance with a communiqué issued on 24 November 2012 by the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), M23 combatants began to withdraw from Goma and Sake on 1 December 2012. Source: UN Joint Human Rights Office
In December 2012, a judicial investigation was launched, supported by MONUSCO, the UN mission in the DR Congo, and other partners. As of the end of March 2013, 12 senior officers had been suspended in relation to the Minova incidents while the investigation by Congolese justice authorities is ongoing.
According to UN News, the joint investigation puts poor discipline among soldiers and officers, as well as improper training and inadequate vetting mechanisms as causes behind the violations.
“I welcome the measures taken so far by the Congolese authorities, including the decision to suspend senior officers allegedly connected to the mass rapes,” said Special Representative of the Secretary General in the DRC, Roger Meece. “The UN continues to offer its support to both the judicial investigation and the Congolese armed forces. However, for this support to be continued, the ongoing investigation should be pursued in an independent and credible fashion, and justice should be delivered to the victims. Future efforts to reform the security sector must include a systematic verification of the human rights records of combatants and their commanders in order for the Congolese army to fully ensure the protection of civilians.”
10 May, Tanzanian soldiers arrived in Goma as part of an intervention brigade of 3 069 peacekeepers, authorized by the UN for the area. The brigade is part of MONUSCO and is tasked with ”neutralizing armed groups, reducing the threat posed to State authority and civilian security and make space for stabilization activities”, reports UN News.
Earlier session for raising awareness of women's rights among women, organised by ACCDL and held by a male preacher. Photo: ACCDL
In Egypt, Muslim women preachers often have a lot of influence over ordinary religious women. Therefore, the Arabian Company for Consultancy, Development and Law (ACCDL) decided to target this group with a project on women’s rights as part of a moderate Sharia view.
With the rising discussion about the dominance of the Muslim Brotherhood in Egypt’s parliament in the wake of the 25 Jan. Revolution, 2011, another discussion rises on the political Islam and its implications on the Egyptian people, which faces key social and economical challenges.
Women face even greater obstacles like a high rate of illiteracy, domestic violence, sexual harassment and lack of economical empowerment. At the same time the legal system doesn’t fully support women’s rights as women have a limited influence over it, say women’s rights groups. Hence, ACCDL decided to act upon and tackle women’s issues through a religious perspective.
Religious perspective on women’s issues
With a project titled Muslims Sisters – Issues between the Conservative Thought and Shari’a, ACCDL addresses women’s issues from a religious perspective. It targets female religious preachers at mosques and in religious circles, important places where women gather. This is also were women turn for advice on religious issues.
The idea of this project was born in the wake of the 25 Jan Egyptian revolution in 2011 and the raise of the Muslim Brotherhood political party in the parliament. Its members have generally focused on excluding women in their statements and decisions and have also attempted to ban laws related to women’s rights, claiming that they were the product of the corrupt previous regime.
As a reaction to this, ACCDL had several meetings with Sharia experts to investigate Sharia’s take on women’s issues. “In those meetings, ACCDL found out that the claims the Muslim brotherhood are making are just an absolute patriarchal point of view that doesn’t belong to Sharia laws or Islam. In fact, the Islam religion is one of the most women friendly religions and supports women’s rights” says ACCDL’s Executive Manager, Hala Abdelqader.
“However, especially among poor and illiterate women, there is a lack of awareness of women’s rights based on a gender perspective and their rights mentioned in the international agreements that Egypt has signed”.
Biggest influence on women
So, in order to support women’s rights ACCDL last year held several training courses for religious preachers and imams about women’s issues from a moderate Sharia point of view. During these courses, the organisation realized that female religious preachers are the ones who have the most contact with women at mosques, and thereby also have the biggest influence on women.
“Those female preachers provide a sanctuary for many women, but they also lack in understanding of women’s issues. So, we decided to target them directly with trainings and meetings to raise their awareness with regards to human rights and women’s rights and to show that Sharia laws don’t contradict with women’s rights” says Hala Abdelqader.
Hala Abdelqader believes that it is important to work with women’s issues through the religious female preachers as a way to influence larger audiences.
“In Egypt, especially in areas where illiteracy, poverty and lack of awareness prevail, like the Imbaba area where ACCDL is located, female preachers have a huge influence on women. We have heard from many women that the female religious preachers are their main reference for advice. For example, a woman would turn to a preacher regarding personal affairs between her and her husband, and she takes her advice as the constitution between her and her husband. Accordingly, if problems occur the wife would insist on sticking to the religious preacher’s words and the marriage might end in a divorce. To that extent, the preachers have an influence over the women. Usually the preachers are illiterate and their competence is only that of reciting the Quran after memorizing it through listening. Still, they give religious advice, which usually is very backward, on social, financial and political matters.”
According to Hala Abdelqader religion is a sensitive area for many Egyptians, and prevailing attitudes that suppress women and reject gender equality are further fuelled by illiteracy and a lack of awareness. ACCDL hopes that it will be able to dispel some of the myths surrounding women’s rights and Islam.
And their Muslim sister’s project has been successful. About 175 Muslim women preachers participated in the training and a large number of them showed changes in attitude and behavior towards women’s rights. ACCDL mentions some concrete examples in its evaluation of the project:
”Many of the preachers were also keen to volunteer work with us or transfer to us cases of family violence of women in need to listen or adopt their issues; others asked for advice on how to deal with issues of women who are frequent visitors to mosques from legal and social perspectives, and many of preachers asked us about the list of activities we offer to attend with us and actively participate therein.”
“The dialogue was about the referendum, they completely refused to talk about the referendum or the President as they largely support him, but with the end of the training three of them started, with the assistance of their husbands, to invite the villagers to work on claiming women’s rights in the new constitution. They admitted that before the training they were lacking the awareness and it led them to maintain and defend the Constitution as it is, but after the dialogues they admitted that their opinions have been changed and they would lead a campaign within mosques to discuss women’s rights in the Constitution.”
“There was a preacher who attended at the first meeting on participation of women in public life and she was refusing everything we were saying to the extent that she attacked the project coordinator and accused her of being bias to anti Islam movements. But with continuous dialogues and communication, she adopted an idea of forming a complete group of mosque preachers that she knows personally. She composed a group of 23 preachers and supervised their training and participation with them. She invited as well the project coordinator to deliver lectures at the mosque where she works and they agreed thereon.”
With this good result in mind, ACCDL is now planning a new series of trainings.
The fights in Syria started in March 2011, and, according to the UN, in February 2013 the death toll had reached 70 000. Here it's the city of Homs that is being hit by shelling. June 2012. Photo: UN Photo/David Manya.
The situation in Syria is critical, especially for women and children. Society is being destroyed by war and violence and the consequences will be long-term. The Iraqi women’s rights and peace organisation Warvin recently went to Syria and reports that women’s rights are being increasingly threatened.
In April, a representative* of the Iraqi organisation Warvin Foundation for Women’s Issues visited Syria. For three days he travelled around and spoke to civilians living in various cities.
In Aleppo, all the people he met told him that living conditions are very hard and asked him for help to reach out internationally with their stories.
– The people I met told me that they haven’t had electricity for six months and that the mobile phones don’t work. Everything is expensive, if you want to buy 1 kilogram of potatoes, it costs more than 4 dollars. Also, they don’t have any gas or petrol. I saw many people who were sick, but treatment and medicine is very expensive, if available at all.
We’ve heard reports about sexual violence during the conflict. Did people say anything about that?
–Because of the situation it’s difficult to find any documentation. But people told me that many women were raped. One big problem is that if for example you are a sunni muslim man who rape a shia or Alawi muslim woman, it is seen as a success story.
You mean that rape is used as a tool to punish other religious or ethnic groups?
– Yes, exactly.
Conservative group in control
Another thing that worries the Warvin representative is the advance of the conservative military group Jabhat Al Nusra (”The support front for the people of greater Syria”), supported by Al-Quaeda. The group now controls the whole Aleppo area.
– Jabhat Al Nusra tells women and children to wear scarves. At checkpoints they stop the buses to check if the women inside wear scarves and if they don’t, they will be taken outside and punished. They cut the hair of one Kurdish girl at a checkpoint, because she didn’t wear a hijab.
The Warvin representative was also told that members of Jabhat Al Nusra throw stones on cars in Aleppo that are driven by women and that the group has forbidden women to wear jeans.
– They want to practice Islamic sharia law. In the city of Derezor, with a mixed population of Kurds, Christians and Turkomens, Jabhat Al Nusra has already established sharia courts.
No promotion of peace
He is not optimistic about the future of Syria. The different military groups are all supported by foreign actors, who push for their own interests in Syria rather than promoting peace and human rights, he says.
During his visit, he did not come across any specific peace initiatives. According to him, the Syrian opposition does not have a road-map for the future of Syria.
– They have no clear vision of what the country should be like after Assad’s regime has fallen, regarding for example human rights, women’s rights and rights of ethnic minorities.
He is disappointed about the fact that although more than two million Kurds live in Syria, the Syrian opposition has not yet recognized the difficulties this group faces. The situation for Kurds, as well as for Christians and other minority groups, was bad already under Assad, and it has not improved, he says.
– In Aleppo there have been systematic thefts taking place, supported by Jabhat Al Nusra and The Free Syrian Army. They ask Kurds and Christians to sell their houses to sunni people, and then force them to leave the city. No one looks after the rights of the Kurdish people.
International actors should take action
The Warvin representative would like to see international actors like the United States and countries in Europe to take action to solve the situation. In his opinion, European countries should force China, Iran and Russia to cut their funding to Bashar Al-Assad’s government. He also thinks that they should ask Saudi Arabia and Turkey and others to cut their funding of fundamentalistic islamic groups.
– This is crucial for democracy, women’s rights, human rights and freedom of speech. People wanted to get rid of Assad because of a lack of democracy. If fundamentlist groups take control over Syria, the war will continue, says the Warvin representative.
* For safety reasons the representative wants to be anonymous.
According to a study carried out by the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, inequalities are behind three major problems for women living in Area C of the occupied Palistinian territories’ West Bank: early marriages, lack of political participation and violence.
The study, named Inequalities facing Women living in Area C of the Occupied Palestinian Territories’ West Bank, is based on interviews made with Palestinian women living in Area C. In addition, Kvinna till Kvinna held a meeting with representatives of national women’s rights organisations and international actors, to explore in specific the challenges to addressing violence against women in Area C.
150 000 Palestinian inhabitants
In accordance with the Oslo Accords from 1993, the Palestinian territories were divided in three temporary distinct administrative divisions, the Areas A, B and C, until a final status accord would be established. Area C constitutes 62 percent of the West Bank, with about 150 000 Palestinians living there, but who only have access to about 30 percent of the land.
The area was to remain under full Israeli civilian and military control for five years, but 20 years later, the Israeli military is still in control, and the number of Israeli settlers today by far exceeds the number of Palestinians. The Palestinian National Authority (PNA) has no authority in Area C and no formal representation as an executive body. How are women affected by this construction?
As PNA is not represented in Area C, there are almost no public services, like medical treatment or police. The area is mainly rural and women work mostly in the agricultural sector, having farming as their primary source of income, very few have the opportunity to get higher education. Isolated as Area C is, school attendance for young women is difficult, there is hardly any chance of getting access to information, to meet women from other areas or countries, to get inspired, informed, empowered or to network.
Without permission from the Israeli government, no international organisations are allowed to operate facilities in the area; a fact that hinders economic development of the rural villages and an alteration of the predominant conservative attitudes. Additionally, heavy restrictions apply to building housing or development projects, and demolition happens quite often.
Many villages are located in close proximity of Israeli settlements and attacks from settlers on Palestinians are on the rise. This creates an atmosphere of fear, out of which the freedom of movement is restricted for women. Schools are oftentimes located at great distances, which means that pupils have to walk far every day. Thus parents are very hesitant to let their girls attend school.
In some cases, this perceived insecurity – along with other factors, such as financial constraints – become reasons for which parents seek to marry their daughters off at an early age. This in turn means that women are not allowed to leave the house and to get an education. One interviewee in the study said: “My dad made me get married when I was 16 to protect me, because at that time Israeli soldiers were coming every night claiming that they are looking for wanted people.”
Lack of political participation
Security threats, a lack of space and presence, a lack of education and conservative attitudes block women’s political empowerment, including the chance to gather knowledge about political processes. All of this contributes to controlling and limiting women’s participation.
Violence against women
As there is no police service in Area C no protection strategies can be implemented. Due to this lack of health-, social-, judicial and policing authorities, women are exposed to violence without any means of protection or justice. The level of violence perpetrated by family members and intimate partners is high and in the patriarchal and conservative society regarded as a private matter. Customary or traditional response fills the vacuum of absent laws and policies.
The Israeli newspaper Haaretz wrote in March 2013 that Israeli “right-wing parties view Area C as a primary area of struggle against the Palestinian Authority.” And again: women bear the brunt of this struggle.