”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.
The day was arranged by the NGOs European Peacebuilding Liaison Office (EPLO), The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation and Life & Peace Institute and focused on the EU’s peacebuilding efforts in Somalia and the rest of the Horn of Africa, together with its commitment on gender, peace and security. And there wasn’t always agreement on what could be seen as good practice.
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.
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.
”We have a lot of instruments for peacebuilding, the challenge is to join up the dots. The structures are not ideal, there is a lot to do to make them more comprehensive and holistic. And there are also a lot of policies that doesn’t lie within the EEAS, like trade for instance, that still are important for our peacebuilding work” said Andrew Byrne from Conflict Prevention, Peace Building and Mediation Instruments within the EU’s European External Action Service (EEAS)
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.