For women’s full participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding

An initiative from Kvinna till Kvinna

“Palestinians see no hope in these peace talks”

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“The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict" says Naila Ayesh from Women's Affairs Center in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

“The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict" says Naila Ayesh from Women's Affairs Center in Gaza. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna.

September 13, it will be 20 years since the Oslo Accords between Palestine and Israel were signed. Evaluating the on-going US-led peace talks, representatives from Palestinian women’s organisations are critical to a process that seems to repeat many mistakes of previous negotiations, without taking into consideration the changes that have taken place on the ground.

“In principle I do believe that we have to settle the conflict, but after 20 years of negotiations, the process has become more important than the outcome”, says Amal Khreishe, Director of the women’s rights organisation Palestinian Working Women Society for Development (PWWSD).

Peace talks between Israeli and Palestinian negotiators resumed in Washington, led by US Secretary of State John Kerry, in July. Since then, several rounds of talks have been held in Jerusalem and Jericho.

As was the case in earlier negotiations, representatives of the Palestinian women’s movement are excluded and feel that the talks do not actually deal with what is happening on the ground (for more information see link to the left), nor with their priorities. Furthermore, they feel that the Palestinian Authority – that is negotiating on behalf of the Palestinian people instead of the PLO who took part in the Oslo process – does not represent them.

Negative impact

Several of Kvinna till Kvinna’s Palestinian partner organisations say that the consequences of earlier agreements, especially the Oslo Accords, have had a negative impact on the situation for Palestinians. Naila Ayesh from Women’s Affair’s Center in Gaza says:

“Palestinians see no hope in these peace talks. The negotiations are destined to fail as long as they do not adopt a rights based approach to the conflict. The last 20 years of occupation only brought about more settlements and land thefts, and continued violations of Palestinians’ fundamental rights. Now, at a time when Israel is facing the threat of political isolation, it uses the negotiations as a cover for its on-going colonization and land confiscation. The result will be a further fragmented Palestinian society, making the objectives of women’s rights organisations increasingly difficult to achieve.”

“Change has to be seen”

Naila Ayesh says that she and other Palestinians are not against negotiations as such. But she emphasizes that a peace process has to aim at ending the occupation and achieve a complete Israeli withdrawal from all Palestinian land occupied since 1967, including East Jerusalem.

“Change has to be seen on the ground in order for people to trust that the negotiations has lead somewhere”, she says.

Amal Khreishe from PWWSD thinks that the process lacks transparency.

“The talks exclude all political parties and civil society. Only a narrow circle is involved and they are all the same who have tried and failed before”, she says.

Women without influence

No women’s organisations have been involved in the talks, and according to Muna Hasan, Program Officer for the women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Jerusalem, women’s influence over the peace talk agenda has largely been absent. And when women activists publicly have tried to express thoughts and concerns about the negotiations, media has not taken them seriously, but has focused on how they were dressed and whether their hair was covered or not.

Amal Khreishe fears that the Palestinians will be forced to agree on a deal that doesn’t solve the problem with the Israeli settlements on occupied land or the issue of Jerusalem. That would surely create frustration and more violence, she says.

“As a woman human rights defender, I would want to change the way security is dealt with and to discuss human security rather than military security. That could pave the way to democracy and real security.”

Not equal powers

Both Naila Ayesh and Amal Khreishe point out that the negotiations are not being held between two equal powers.

“Direct negotiations with the supervision of the US just creates a power imbalance. How can we trust that there really is a will to achieve Palestinian self-determination with all the settlement expansions and the violence against Jerusalemites?” Amal Khreishe says.

The peace talks had hardly begun before Israel announced that it plans to build more than 2 000 new houses for Jewish settlers on occupied Palestinian territory. This has created an even bigger distrust among the Palestinians, further exacerbated by Israeli security forces killing three Palestinians in Qalandia refugee camp on August 26.

Karin Råghall/Linda Öhman

Syrian women discuss their country’s future

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Women in Damascus

Women in Damascus, Photo: Trilli Bagus

February 18th to 20th, Syrian activists and members of the country’s opposition met in Stockholm for a three days conference to discuss ”Women’s Influence and Participation in a Post-Authoritarian Syria.”

Issues like gender quota, human rights, the constitution, peace and reconciliation, psychosocial support and women’s empowerment were among the discussed topics. The conference resulted in the foundation of The Syrian Women’s Network, as the participants decided to work closely together in the future.

Organized work for women’s rights might be essential to break the pattern women experienced in the Arab spring countries: To be an equal part of the revolution, but when it comes to decisions and peace making, they find themselves excluded.

One of the conferences’ participants, a female activist from Syria who wanted to remain anonymous for safety reasons, shared her experiences of equality in decision processes at the beginning of the revolution and that this changed as the protests shifted to armed conflicts. Now women are the ones suffering the most under the ongoing humanitarian catastrophe and she was worried whether women will be able to overcome the devastating effects of war and violence and find the power to get actively involved in politics.

Now might be a good moment to start to shape the role women can have in a future Syria, as Russian Foreign Minister Sergei Lavrov called for negotiation talks on February 20th, after a meeting between Russia and the Arab League. Sitting down at a negotiating table is the only way to end the conflict without irreparable damage to Syria, he said. “Neither side can allow itself to rely on a military solution to the conflict, because it is a road to nowhere.”

Hopefully, U.N. Security Council Resolution 1325, which urges the inclusion of women in conflict resolution and peace negotiations, will be attended and women will sit at this negotiation table as well. This would increase the chance of lasting peace and might also be a possibility to address the question of sexual violence as a weapon of war. Until now, in only three ceasefires in the world sexual violence was ever mentioned.

Katharina Andersen