Women were absent when the peace agreement in DR Congo was signed. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Ida Udovic
Eleven countries signed a peace agreement mediated by the UN to end war in the eastern Democratic Republic of Congo. But civil society is not elated.
The new framework agreement for peace and stability in eastern DRC was signed in the Ethiopian capital Addis Ababa on February 24, in the presence of UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon. Eleven African countries signed the agreement, which among other things regulates the deployment of a special UN intervention brigade to the eastern DR Congo with troops from Southern and Eastern Africa. The brigade is supposed to reinforce the UN peacekeeping troop MONUSCO, which already is in the country. The undersigning countries furthermore committed not to interfere in each other’s internal affairs.
“Rwanda and Uganda have been criticized for their support to the rebel group M23. With this agreement, this kind of support has to stop. But it remains to be seen what will happen,” says Ylwa Renström, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s coordinator for the DR Congo.
The violence escalates
Ylwa Renström sees it positively that there seems to be a will in the region’s countries to bring about a peaceful solution in DR Congo. At the same time, she continuously receives reports on escalating violence in eastern DR Congo. In early February, 30 women were for example raped in the Fizi territory in the South Kivu Province, brutal assaults which are believed to have been carried out by the FDLR rebel group. “This happens all the time! Sure, countries in the region can sign peace agreements, but it will be an enormous challenge to demobilize the rebel groups,” states Ylwa Renström.
The organization Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains (SOFAD), who works for peace and to increase women’s participation in political decision-making, is not impressed by the agreement. “They consider it a desktop product, signed by high-level politicians without consultation of civil society. Because of this the have doubts of how effective the contract will be to lay the foundations for lasting peace,” says Katarina Carlberg, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s field representative in DR Congo, who has spoken with representatives of SOFAD.
Signees of the agreementThe peace agreement has been signed by Angola, Burundi, the Central African Republic, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Congo-Brazzaville, Rwanda, South Africa, South Sudan, Tanzania and Uganda. Signees are also the International Conference on the Great Lakes Region (ICGLR), the African Union, the Southern African Development Community (SADC) and the United Nations.
Katarina Carlberg also points out that the agreement neither mentions women’s rights nor women’s participation. Neither reflected in the agreement are the principles of the UN resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, nor mentions it women’s inclusion in the different mechanisms of stabilization and peace building the agreement suggests. “The only thing the agreement contains is a brief reference to sexual violence,” says Katarina Carlberg.
The content of the agreement has been criticized from different sides for being too vague. 46 Congolese and international organizations from civil society wrote for example in a joint statement that if the agreement should contribute to a genuine peace, it must be supplemented by concrete measures, such as the appointment of a special UN envoy with a mandate to mediate in both Congo and the region and the inclusion of civil society in the peace process.
In the organizations opinion it is furthermore important that war criminals do not go unpunished, as it has been the case in previous agreements.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
This is not the first time Shatha Naji receives recognition for her work. She has already received the Mimosa Italian Award (2009) and the Shield of the Baghdadi Woman from Baghdad's governance council (2010). Photo: UNAMI
Shatha Naji Hussein from the Iraqi organization ‘Women for Peace’ was recently honored together with four other human rights activist by the Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Iraq, Mr. Martin Kobler, during a ceremony to celebrate International Human Rights Day in Baghdad.
Every voice counts and can make a difference in society. Shatha Naji Hussein has raised hers to improve the situation of women and girls in Iraq. “The tireless efforts of those who campaign for justice, protect and support victims of violence, and work to ensure the political participation of people from all backgrounds, often go unrecognized,” Mr. Kobler stated in his laudatory speech. “I wish to draw particular attention to those ordinary Iraqis who have made their voices count by working to improve the lives of their fellow citizens,” he added. Shatha extended the honor to her colleagues at Women for Peace: “I feel each one of them deserve this honor more than me” .
In the seventies, Iraq declared full literacy for women, today the country is down to 40 percent. Before the 1980′s, Iraqi women were more visible and active in public life compared to other women in the region’s countries. A period of economic growth led to more education and employment possibilities. But the patriarchal structures and conservative moral concepts remained unchanged. Since then, women have been forced back into traditional roles and the overall situation in Iraq deteriorated after the invasion. In the war-torn and impoverished country, women now see themselves faced with stigmatization and marginalization from wider society. Sharia law has been introduced and honor killings, sexual slavery and domestic violence are serious problems. Until today, the law and custom allows male family members to “discipline” women with violence. The war has left many women widowed and with post-war trauma symptoms.
Against this background, Women for Peace was founded in 2003 to change Iraqi women’s conditions. Women for Peace works to empower women to bring change about in their own communities. According to Shatha Naji Hussein it requires a two-way process between civil movement and decision-makers to empower women and to secure women’s rights to build a safe future for women. “A nation’s development is measured by women’s development. If we want to build a nation that’s well-developed and prosperous, we must secure women’s rights to live a safe life”, says Shatha.
To reach that goal, women should also be included in the peace building process in the country, but are facing many enormous obstacles and challenges, Shatha points out. “It’s important to do continuous and diligent work in raising awareness about women’s legal rights in order for women to be more aware of their rights and to fight violence in all its forms. Moreover, the government has to work very hard to implement the UN resolution 1325 terms and make sure that women have an effective and real participation in all walks of life.”
Katharina Andersen | Afrah Nasser
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.
Representatives from nine women's and peace organizations met in Bukavu in November 2012 to mark the beginning of a three-year collaboration. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation | Anna Lithander
Politics and conflict resolution in DR Congo are areas reserved for men. But a new project, strengthening women at the local level, aims to break this pattern of discrimination.
Violence, harassment, slander and threats, poverty, corruption – the obstacles for women taking part in the daily life and future of their societies are many in the war-torn DR Congo. And the escalation of the conflict in eastern DR Congo the last couple of months, has once again made it evident that women are especially targeted. Several of the organizations in the region working with women’s rights and peace, have been subjected to violent threats and harassment.
In DR Congo, politics is not considered to be something for women to occupy themselves with. For many women the mere thought of participating on a political level is totally alien and women who do go into politics are at times even singled out as “rebels” and “prostitutes”.
Still there are many strong women in the country who are trying to increase women’s involvement. To support these struggles and to contribute to a more equal and sustainable peace, two Swedish orgainzations – The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the Life & Peace Institute – have teamed up to finance a three-year-long project for women on conflict resolution.
The Life & Peace Institute has worked with peaceprocesses on a local level in eastern DR Congo for many years.
- For several years we have tried to get a gender perspective into our work, but we haven’t been able to do it systematically. With the help of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and the Congolese women’s organizations that they work with, we hope to reach more women and make sure that their voices also are heard when local disputes are being resolved, says Zaurati Nasibu at Life & Peace in Bukavu, eastern Congo.
The conflict resolution method used by Life & Peace is based on long-term work to resolve local conflicts, with as many parties as possible involved in achieving peace. So far, however, too few women have been present and active.
- We advertise about information meetings, but not many women come. Clearly we have to have a different approach. Perhaps we should invite women separately? says Loochi Muzaliwa from Life & Peace.
- We women’s organizations also work with women’s peace issues, but we lack strategies and we don’t have the right connections. In this project we can all come together with our different points of view, but with the common idea that women are central in achieving lasting peace. We are very positive about this collaboration, it feels really important, says Gege Katana from the women’s rights and peace organization Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains, SOFAD, in Uvira.
The project kicked off in November 2012, when men and women from nine different women’s and peace organizations from eastern Congo came together in a two-day-meeting held in Bukavu. They discussed everything from how traditions discriminate women, to what the UN resolution 1325 on women, peace and security really means.
“Can we talk about women’s rights and participation at the same time?” one of the participants asked himself and initiated a loud discussion. “People have no idea that there even is a UN resolution on women in conflicts – education and training will be needed,” another person around the table said. “Women make up half the society and are the war’s main victims. They must be part of the work otherwise the peace won´t last,” a third participant pointed out.
The meeting ended with the participants listing the concrete tools they thought they would need to be able to work more systematically with peace and women’s participation.
The peace organizations expressed a desire to learn more about what a gender perspective really means and of legal and other documents that support women’s rights. The women’s organizations wanted to learn more about mediation, negotiation techniques and conflict analysis.
- In AFEM (Association des Femmes des Médias) we support women in rural areas and often help out as mediators when women who have been raped have been disowned by their families. We need to learn more about good mediation techniques, so that we really can help people reconcile, says Julienne Baseke.
The next participants meeting will take place early 2013. After that a pilot project related to Life & Peace’s conflict resolution method will be launched in one of the villages in the region that currently is dealing with a conflict. With the help of women’s organizations participating, the hope is for more women to be able to share in the talks to reach a solution.
Text: Anna Lithander
Translation: Malin Ekerstedt
Congolese staff member from Femmes en Action Pour le Developpement Intégré, FADI, in Kiliba, South Kivu. Photo: Ida Udovic, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
The Democratic Republic of Congo has been named the worst place on earth for women to live in. Rape, murder, violence and acid attacks have become a part of women’s everyday life, from the beginning dominated by poverty and traditional role models. Nevertheless, the world mostly gives the Congo and the Congolese women’s fate the cold shoulder. But a group of Congolese women discovered the internet as a tool to make their voice heard.
The war and the post-war years in the DR of Congo have cost about five million people their lives – thus making it the deadliest conflict in the world today and even the deadliest of the past half-century. This number is not only brought about by bombs and bullets, but also from preventable diseases and starvation. But the death toll and destitution is mostly met with silence by the rest of the world, despite the fact that we live in a world with unprecedented possibilities of access to information and high levels of attention and resources being devoted to foreign affairs.
“What …[came] as a surprise was the resounding silence with which the revelations of the conflict’s unparalleled scale were met: from policymakers, the media, the public and academia alike. It seemed that no matter how large it was, or how high the death toll became, the conflict simply could not elicit a serious response from the world outside the region,” writes Virgil Hawkins, assistant professor at the Global Collaboration Center at Osaka University, Japan, in his book ”Stealth Conflicts: How the World’s Worst Violence Is Ignored”.
If a country – as large as two-thirds of the size of Western Europe – can be blanked out in public awareness, then how must the situation be for those in the country, who are marginalized in the first place? For those, who traditionally have no chance of making their voice heard, for those who suffer most under the circumstances? If there is little awareness about the DR of Congo, then there’s even less about the situation of the Congolese Women. Their fate is mostly consigned to oblivion, supported by the fact that the country has little to no communications infrastructure.
Discrimination, the lack of security with a high risk of being subjected to various forms of violence, illiteracy and poverty effect and shape Congolese women’s lives profoundly. The war has also destroyed the life-sustaining structures, and women as the traditional foundation, upon which all family and community structures rely, bear the brunt of this.
Furthermore, rape was systematically used as a weapon of war, and the rate of sexual violence is still very high.
A study from 2011 estimates that about 1.8 million women in the Congo aged 15 to 49 have experienced rape, which means that approximately 1,152 women are raped every day, or 48 every hour, or four women every five minutes. It is not without a reason that the UN Special Representative on Sexual Violence has dubbed the Republic of Congo “The rape capital of the world”.
Raped women will not only carry the trauma of rape with all the results for their mental and bodily health throughout their lives, if they survive, but raped women traditionally are condemned to a life with the stigma of dishonor and are often cast out by their families or abandoned by their spouses.
Rays of hope
But there are rays of hope, changes that might come about thanks to some women’s initiative and the internet!
Neema Namadamu, a woman from the Eastern Congo, belongs to a marginalized tribe and is crippled from polio. But, as she writes, “none of those things characterize me. I have a vision for my country that compels me, and its destiny is driving me. It’s big, maybe improbable, but not impossible. For I have learned that making the impossible possible, simply requires a different set of rules.”
In July 2012, together with the action media network World Pulse, Neema gathered over 200 grassroots women leaders from her region to talk about the future of their country and to host workshops, training the women in the use of media with the aim of empowering them and giving them a global voice. The group call themselves “Maman Shujaa”, the Hero Women.
From their local internet café, with twelve computers that take ten minutes to load one page, the women report about their lives in the war-torn region, share their visions of change and connect with a global network of supporters, for example with women from Liberia, to exchange experiences. According to Neema Namadamu, they use World Pulse’s online forum “as a beginning platform to mobilize, enlighten, and engage a leadership group for future gender rights activities.” This project is also a first step to close a media gender gap, as Congolese women normally don’t have access to media.
No silence anymore
Women have finally a possibility to make them heard. This silenced country is not so silent anymore! Having lived for so many years being silenced, with the fear of the worst and no help to expect, they now can share their story and try to activate the world.
Maman Shujaa-member Riziki Bisonga shares her experiences of violence:
“Domestic violence like what I experienced in my own home is widespread. I recall the horrible story of the fate of a child in my community. When a mother went to get water – which is an arduous task here in DRC – the father raped his 9-month-old child and then ran away. The mother returned to find her child crying and full of blood.”
While Ruhebuza Vumilia Jeanette calls for action:
“Let us raise a cry to people of good will so that they will support literacy and access to schools. Let us awaken society’s conscience to ban outdated customs. Let us encourage churches to invest more in education and instruction to loyal patrons. Let us cry out to those who are able to give scholarships for the strengthening of female leadership.”
The group also used their newly found voice to author a letter to the female leaders at the White House, asking Hillary Clinton and Michelle Obama for their solidarity and for support for a real peace process in their homeland:
“We have had enough. We call upon our global sisterhood to take action. We will not be quiet until REAL Peace is upon us… And, it is essential that any action ensures Congolese women – who are uniquely positioned to act on behalf of family and community – have a voice in the peace process and a seat at the table.”
Being asked what she wishes for her country, a Congolese women answered: “To all the different countries of the world, open your eyes and ears so you can see and hear the women of the Congo.”
The Hero Women have launched an online petition headed to the White House that has garnered well over 100,000 signatures by now. You can sign this petition here to support them in their struggle.
Once again the level of violence is escalating in eastern DR Congo. Many women’s rights and peace activists have been subjected to death threats and harassment.
– I have been threatened several times through the years, but now the situation is getting worse. The threats are no longer directed just at me, but also against my family, says Eric Lwa Mwenge from the peace organization FADI in Uvira.
During the last month there have been many reports from eastern DR Congo of increased levels of violence and of death threats against people who are working for peace in the conflict-affected region.
The city of Uvira, in the South Kivu province, has been especially targeted and has become a dangerous place to live and work in. Since two weeks there are restrictions on travelling in and out of the city in the evenings, in an attemt to curb the development.
Questioned about motives
FADI (Femmes en Action pur le Developpement Intégré) works with conflict resolution at the local level, between people from different ethnic groups in the villages outside of Uvira. Eric Lwa Mwenge often gets questioned about his motives.
– “Why are you talking to them? Whose side are you on anyway?” The suspicion is great, even though all I try to do is to contribute to a better climate between people, he says,
He has sought support from the local authorities, but they say that they are not able to protect either Eric Lwa Mwenge or his family. But fleeing is not for him.
– If we who believe in a change leaves the country, how will the situation ever get better? How will there be peace then? I have to stay!
Sleep across the border
Gege Katana, who works at the women’s organization SOFAD (Solidarité des Femmes Activistes Pour la Défense des Droits Huimains) in Uvira, agrees with him.
- It would be cowardly to flee, you just can’t do that, she says.
According to Gege Katana, peace actors in the region are trying to continue their activities, at the same time as they are talking precautions for their safety.
– For example some of us are crossing the border into Burundi in the evening to sleep there, just to not have to worry during the night. Then we can go back and work at home in Uvira in the daytime.
It is unclear who is behind the escalating violence. Most likely there are several different actors. There is a lot of tension between different rebel groups and criminal elements also follow in the wake of the conflict. Only a few nights ago three families in Uvira were seriously injured in an attack by a group of men armed with machetes.
There are speculation about there being political motives behind several of the recent attacks, including the one on the chief surgeon at Panzi Hospital in Bukavu, Denis Mukwege, two weeks ago.
In Goma, north of Bukavu, a peace activist was recently kidnapped by a group of men. She was released the next day. According to her organization the kidnapping occured because of the organization’s criticism of the government’s unwillingness to address the conflict in eastern Congo, a criticism which they share with Dr. Mukwege.
– When there is turbulence among those in power it spreads down to the civilian population as well. We have no links to the top but what we can, and must, do is to continue working for peace in the region. Work with the people here so they not get stained by images of the evil enemy and drawn into the conflict, but instead focus on a peaceful future, says Eric Lwa Mwenge.
We recieved a blog post from Lena Ag, the Secretary General of the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, regarding the decision of giving the Nobel Peace Prize to the EU.
“Three distinguished, senior, white men will go to Oslo December 10 to collect the Nobel Peace Prize. European Parliament President Martin Schulz, European Commission President Jose Manuel Barroso and EU President Herman Van Rompuy.
They reflect perfectly the power structure within the EU.
All Heads of the EU Common Security and Defence Policy (CSDP) missions are men, as are 73 percent of Heads of EU Delegations. Only two women have ever been appointed as an EU special representative. Just two of the Unions 25 member states have a female prime minister, and of 19 presidents only one is a woman.
The Swedish journalist Jenny Nordberg captured my feeling in her tweet yesterday: “Three white middle aged Western European men will go to Oslo to accept Peace Prize for Europe. That’s my modern, inclusive continent…” @nordbergjenny
Although you can call the EU the world’s largest peace-building project, the Union has a lot left to do to be a worthy winner of the Nobel Peace Prize.I wonder how the Norwegian Nobel Committee reasoned regarding the basic idea of the Peace Prize, that it is supposed to promote disarmament and non-military solutions. Within the EU there are major military actors, including nations with nuclear weapons.
At policy level, there are high aspirations for peace and human rights, but what counts is what is carried out on the ground. Especially considering that last year’s winners, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf, Leymah Gbowee and Tawakul Karman was awarded for their peaceful struggle for women’s security and participation in peace processes. The Nobel Committee noted then that a sustainable peace and democracy can not be achieved as long as women are discriminated against.
Our partner organizations in the Balkans testify to how the EU work is a total failure at this point, despite the enormous resources spent. The EU has a shamefully low number of women in high positions, for example none of the EU’s common peace and security mission, like EULEX in Kosovo, is lead by a woman. And the list goes on. EU and the international community’s failure is evident when studying our latest report, Equal Power – Lasting Peace, that was presented in the European Parliament on October 11th. The report’s conclusions, and the discussions during the conference in the Parliament, show that there is a lot left to be done before the EU implements new strategies, worthy of the Peace Prize.”
The unique mapping was presented at the conference. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Ida Udovic.
On October, 11th the Equal Power – Lasting Peace report made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation on women’s participation in peacebuilding was presented at a conference in the European parliament. Based on the interviews with women-activists from Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia, the report is a unique mapping of obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating in peace processes on equal terms with men.
The Equal power – Lasting Peace conference gathered more than 100 participants, EU and NATO officials and politicians, as well as civil society representatives – in the audience and among the panelists.
The opinions and discussions at the conference were many, all of them though sharing a common stand: something has to be done to increase women’s participation in peace negotiations. The question is how and by whom.
– Women’s political participation and decision-making are the key issues, underlined Ms. Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs at European External Action Service (EEAS).
At her opening speech she mentioned Egypt, where the draft of the Constitution does not make any provisions for gender equality and where there are only six female MPs.
– We focus our assistance in the EU neighborhood to civil society and women’s issues, in particularly legal rights and equal access to decision making and to the power structures. Gender cannot be an excluding factor in the political processes from an early stage of mediation in the process and onwards, said Ms. Helga Schmid.
Ensuring that gender equality is guaranteed from the very beginning when designing a peace agreement has proven to be a crucial factor for the sustainability of the peace. How bad a gender-blind peace agreement can turn out Alexandra Petric, Programme Director of United Women Banja Luka, BiH, testified on.
– Bosnia and Herzegovina has gone eight years without any women ministers, 17 years without any women members of the BiH Joint Presidency, and 17 years without any women in negotiations about crucial political issues that affect lives of women and men citizens of BiH, such as security sector and constitutional reforms, says Alexandra Petric
“EU should lead by example”,
The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation’s Secretary-General Lena Ag highlighted in her introduction. While the EU has adopted a comprehensive approach
on UNSC resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security, the reality reflected by statistics
leaves much to be desired
. EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy) are all led exclusively by men, and only two of EU:s ten special representatives are women, just to name a few examples.
This statistics, says Mr. Olof Skoog, Chair of the Political and Security Committee at EEAS, was a lesson from the day:
– Not a single woman leads our missions. We are choosing the best of the best, but the problem is that member-states are not nominating any women. What we can do is to explicitly ask them to nominate more female candidates, says Mr. Skoog.
NGOs not GONGOs
The topic of giving room to the voices of women from conflict-affected regions was discussed by many of the panelists and raised in questions from the audience. Finding the authentic grass-root organizations can be a challenge when a lot of GONGOs (governmentally organized NGOs) are entering the scene. Still it is crucial in getting a comprehensive understanding of the situation in a region:
– When EU officials are visiting a region, they really need to seek contact with, and talk to, real civil society organizations, including women organizations, not those who will tell the convenient things that the officials want to hear, says one of the panelists Gulnara Shahinian from the Armenian organization Democracy today.
Slander, violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes, the report shows. Photo: The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation/Sara Lüdtke.
Women has important role
The role of women’s organizations and women activists in peace processes was stressed by many panelists throughout the conference. Monica McWilliams, one of the signatories of the Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland dwelled on it at her presentation at the conference, as well as Teresita Quintos-Deles, advisor to the President of the Phillipines on the peace process, who sent her greetings on video, as she herself was occupied with the upcoming peace agreement. Both women provided striking evidence of the importance of women’s empowerment.
Long-term support neeeded
A long-term strategic approach and continuity are what women activists Alexandra Petric and Gulnara Shahinian would like to see from the EU:
– The EU needs to develop strong and coherent strategies to address women’s human rights and gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina to address both direct and indirect support of perpetuating ignorance toward these issues by BiH authorities. This requires the EU’s commitment to a long-term support of women and gender equality – specific programs that focuses on the prevention of and fighting against gender-based violence and that underlines women NGOs positions as watch-dogs and partners to BiH government institutions. This would both strengthen women’s human rights in practice and the NGO’s work on empowering women, says Alexandra Petric.
– We would really appreciate sustainable and strategic involvement from the EU. What we see now is that the EU finances short projects, where partnership with civil society has a formal character, says Gulnara Shahinian.
The findings from the Iraqi field study show that the US occupation increased secterian thinking within the country and severly crippled women's rights. Photo: Anna Lithander/The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women in conflict-torn regions from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes. Another big part of the problem is that the international community gives priority to men for senior positions in peace operations. This according to the new report Equal Power – Lasting Peace made by the Swedish women and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace is based on field studies made in Armenia, Azerbaijan, Bosnia-Herzegovina, Iraq, DR Congo and Liberia. Although the countries and conflicts differ, the patterns are strikingly similar.
In all the regions women and women’s organizations play important roles in resolving conflicts in local communities and in handling everyday life.
But when it comes to formal decision forums the doors are closed for women. This contrary to the statements of UN Security Council Resolution 1325, which emphasizes that women must participate on the same terms as men in all parts of peace processes, for the peace to be sustainable.
The exclusion of women is present both within the international missions and negotiating team at national level. Equal Power – Lasting Peace shows that very little has happened, despite the fact that twelve years have passed since Resolution 1325 was adopted.
– Peace Processes that excludes half the population are imperfect. Women’s needs and experiences are made invisible, says Lena Ag, Secretary General at The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace’s survey shows that the most common obstacles for participation that women face are:
- Legislation and standards
- Rumours and threats
- Domestic violence, including sexual violence
- Poverty and corruption
- Ignorance of the international community
- As in other policy areas, the male dominance within the peace and security area needs to be broken. It is a question of democracy and a basic condition for sustainable peace processes. It is also important to push for the appointments of more women to key positions within the EU and the UN. How else can the international community credibly argue that equality is important? says Lena Ag.
No female UN Chief Mediator
Examples of the representation of women and men in key positions related to peace and security:
- At the 24 largest peace negotiations held between 1992 and 2010, only 7,6 percent of the negotiators and 2,5 percent of the mediators were women.
- The UN has never appointed a female Chief Mediator.
- 89 percent of the UN’s special representatives and envoys are men.
- 84 percent of the UN peacekeeping operations are led by men.84 percent of the UN member countries’ UN ambassadors are men.
- There are only men leading the EU’s CSDP operations (operations under the EU’s common security and defense policy).
- 2 of the EU’s 10 special representatives are women.
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, the report
Equal Power – Lasting Peace, summary
Statistics of women and men in key positions within the EU and the UN
A memorial evening held in Gori to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war. Photo: Goga Aptsiauri/RFE-RL
In the beginning of August, a memorial evening was held in Gori, a city in eastern Georgia, to commemorate the anniversary of the 2008 August war that broke out between Georgia on one side, and Russia and the breakaway state of South Ossetia on the other side. This armed confrontation is a continuation of a 20 year old ethnic conflict that erupted in the South Caucasus region after the Soviet Union’s collapse, and has been considered a “frozen conflict” ever since the ceasefire in 1992. As in previous years, internally displaced persons (IDPs) as well as family members of fallen soldiers gathered together, appealing to their political leaders for the restoration of peace in the region.
According to the organizer of the event, Manana Mebuke, leader of the movement Women for Peace and Safety, a similar event also took place in Tskhinvali, arranged by the Association of Women of South Ossetia for Democracy and Human Rights.
Members of the “Women for Peace and Safety” movement commemorated all war victims, regardless of their ethnicity. They marched through the streets of Gori, holding candles and flowers. Arriving at the fallen soldier memorial, they observed a moment of silence and laid down flowers.
This event is only one out of several campaigns that “Women for Peace and Safety” arrange simultaneously with their partners in Ossetia. As a sign of peace they light candles in the windows of their homes on the International Day of Peace on September 21 and demonstrate on the International Women’s Day on March 8.
One of the women present at the commemoration was Nazzi Beruashvili who has been a forced migrant for four years now, living in an IDP settlement in Karaleti, in Georgia. She often asks herself what she could have done to prevent the war. In 2008 Nazzi joined the peace movement, and today she is negotiating for peace with South Ossetian women. According to her, reconciliation will surely happen one day:
- The aim of Women for Peace and Safety has always been the establishment of peace, trust, mutual friendship and understanding. All of us – the Ossetians and Georgians – should strive for peace and a happy future on Earth.
At the office of the "Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors" Union. Photo: Julia Lapitskii/ The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
At the heart of the Women for Peace and Safety stands the “Union Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors”, that has been working with citizen diplomacy for two decades now, the starting point being a conference entitled “Peaceful Caucasus – Peaceful World”. The conference was the first meeting ever for war veterans fighting each other during the first armed confrontation, as well as for women affected by the conflict. For the first time they had an opportunity to share their experiences and together identify ways to achieve peace.
Some years later, the main focus of the peace organization shifted to working with women – those who bear the main burden of the conflict. Men went to war, while the children and elderly remained at home, and families were lacking the most basic necessities – bread, electricity and heating. Many women became widows, and the husbands of others came back from the war with disablities.
In the 2000’s the “Wives of Invalids and Lost Warriors” union organized numerous meetings and conferences, both with Abkhaz and Ossetian organizations.
Women’s peacebuilding school
In August 2008, with the outbreak of a new war in South Ossetia, all the peacekeeping efforts of the organization were destroyed. Not only did the war lead to a new wave of violence and hatred, but it also imposed insurmountable physical boundaries. The activists at the union, however, never gave up; rather they continued meeting women IDP’s who had left their homes in South Ossetia, and talking to them about the importance of dialogue.
Mimosa Mamatsashvili, one of the members of the union, describes these seminars:
- We usually start with the basics: human rights, women’s rights, what a conflict is – how it develops and spreads, and its consequences. We talk about conflict resolution and look at various international treaties, resolutions, and other mediation tools. We talk about tolerance and discuss the basics of communication.
Women attending the seminars often start off in an aggressive mood: everyone of them has their own story of loss, how they were forced to flee, leaving everything behind and settle in small rooms in abandoned guest houses and school buildings. Without work and without means for living, women managed to pull through with their families. Many of them suffered from the conflict twice – once in the beginning of the 90’s and then again in 2008. Mimosa Mamatsashvili, who herself left her home and her life in Tskhinvali, continues:
- Women start changing their attitudes right before our eyes – the original aggression is transformed into understanding. We have an exercise called “the dialogue”, where we divide the participants into three groups; one “Georgian”, one “Ossetian” and one “observers” group. The different groups then have to enter into dialogues with members from the other groups. And the participants start selecting their words, in order not to offend the others, speaking in a way that would not ignite a conflict, but rather focusing on what they have in common. At the end of the course the participants often remark: “Yes, it turns out that we can still agree.”
In total, 1000 women have attended the training courses organized by the union, a significant contribution in building up trust among the conflicting nations.
- One thousand women, means one thousand families, and each family consists of at least four members. And they in turn pass on the longing for peace to their children, says Mimosa Mamatsashvili.