“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.
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
A UN tank makes it way through the streets of Bukavu in South Kivu. Photo: Kvinna till Kvinna/Mufariji Assy.
Recent months have seen an increase in fighting between different militia groups and the national army in the Democratic Republic of Congo’s North and South Kivu provinces. The situation is now so bad that it seriously affects civil society organisations ability to carry out their work.
”We are deeply worried, both for the safety of our partner organisations and for all civilians who are subjected to this violence” says Ylwa Renström, Coordinator for DR Congo at the Swedish women’s rights and peace organisation The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation
In February this year, 11 African countries signed an agreement called the Framework of Hope for peace and security in DR Congo and the region.
The following month the UN Security Council adopted resolution 2098, in which it for the first time gave a brigade within a UN peace keeping mission (MONUSCO, DR Congo) the task of carrying out offensive operations – on its own or together with the Congolese army. The resolution also gave the newly appointed Special Envoy for the Great Lakes, Mary Robinson, the task of helping the parties in the framework to deliver on their commitments. Within her mission is a special mandate to focus on women’s empowerment and regional economic integration.
Framework without women
Mary Robinson has highlighted the crucial importance of women and women’s rights organisations being a big part of the peace work. However, the framework itself hardly mentions women – apart from stating that it’s important that ”women’s groups” know the details of the agreement. And so far, neither the framework nor the resolution have lead to any big improvements in the situation for people living in the conflict-ridden North and South Kivu.
Besides from fights constantly flaring up, UNHCR in the end of July reported an alarming rise in sexual violence in North Kivu, with a registered 705 cases January-July, compared to 108 cases during the same period last year. At the same time tens of thousands of civilians have been forced to leave their homes, fleeing the armed violence. There are several militia groups that are active in the provinces and they are fighting amongst each other as well as with the Congolese army.
Severe threats against activists
Civil society organisations operating in the Kivu regions, are used to working under difficult conditions security-wise. However, it has gone from difficult, to worse, to really dangerous.
”Earlier our partner organisations talked about, for example, getting stopped in road blocks but being able to talk their way through. Now there are times when they don’t even dare to go out. There have been several severe threats against human rights activists and many are very afraid” says Katarina Carlberg, Kvinna till Kvinna’s Field Representative in DR Congo.
”It’s crucial that the Congolese government, as well as the international community, focus on the protection of civilians and to achieve a stable security situation. This is also in MONUSCO’s mandate.”
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.
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.
UNSCR resolution 1325
Resolution 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.
”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.
United Nations Security Council Meeting Room. Photo: Zack Lee, CC
Today, on April 17, the UN Security Council discusses the UN Secretary General’s 2013 report on sexual violence in war and conflict. The report highlights several emerging concerns, such as the practice of forced marriage by armed groups and the links between sexual violence and natural resource extraction.
“It is important that the UN Security Council continues to keep the focus on this issue. The Security Council plays a key role in preventing and combating the prevalence of sexual violence in war and conflict,” says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, and continues:
“But it is worrying that sexual violence used against political dissidents, as happened during the riots after the Kenya elections in 2007 and in Conakry in Guinea in 2009, is not mentioned in this year’s report, as it was in the last year’s. Nor can rape and serious sexual harassment Egyptian women recently suffered in Tahrir Square in Cairo be found in the report. Our experience is that sexual violence and the threat thereof is one of the most common obstacles for women around the world to get access to the public sphere and to gain influence in society.
This year’s report states that:
- sexual violence is a serious war crime and elucidates that there is an evident connection to international peace and security;
- sexual violence and the number of rapes in Mali have increased;
- sexual violence is often used as a strategy to forcibly displace populations and for ethnic cleansing. One of the reasons is to get access to coveted natural resources or to facilitate drug trafficking. This happens for example in Colombia, the Democratic Republic of Congo, Syria and Libya;
- in Syria, rape happens at some places and at certain times to such an extent that it could be classified as war crime and crimes against humanity. Jailed Syrian men have also been reported to be victims of rape and torture;
- forced marriage and sexual slavery has become increasingly common. Militia and guerrilla leaders in e.g. Afghanistan, Mali, Sudan, South Sudan, the Central African Republic and Yemen abduct young girls, marry them for then be able to “legally” rape them. Other victims of sexual violence are forced to marry their abusers. This way the perpetrator gets away from punishment;
- activists, opposition, local politicians and their families are particularly vulnerable to threat of sexual violence and sexual violence.
The report also provides recommendations:
- women who get pregnant after being raped should be offered adequate care and access to safe abortion or emergency contraception pills;
- impunity for perpetrators of sexual violence should be counteracted and prohibited;
- efforts should be made for better monitoring and reporting on men as victims of sexual violence.
“In recent years, conservative forces with religious leanings take every opportunity to try to limit women’s rights. We saw this most recently in March at the UN’s
After the UN Conference on Women in Beijing in 1995, the UN Security Council adopted in 2000 the Resolution 1325 “Women, Peace and Security
,” which is about women’s rights and participation as actors in peace processes. It was followed by the Resolutions 1820
, which further strengthen articles of Resolution 1325 (1889), and specifically target sexual violence in conflict (1820, 1888, 1960).
Commission on the Status of Women. An unholy alliance between the Vatican and Iran amongst others used every opportunity to put a spoke in the wheel of the effort to reach an agreement to end violence against women,” says Lena Ag and continues:
“It is therefore an important signal that the powerful G8 countries, with British conservative Foreign Secretary William Hague at the helm, adopted a declaration in support of the UN’s efforts against sexual violence in conflict last week.”
Anna Magnusson | Katharina Andersen
Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, Zainab Hawa Bangura, Foreign Secretary William Hague and Special Envoy of UN High Commissioner for Refugees Angelina Jolie launch G8 Declaration on Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict. Photo: Foreign and Commonwealth Office.
The G8 have adopted a declaration on preventing sexual violence in conflict. “The declaration is an important signal from some of the world’s most powerful countries that the G8 take a leading role in preventing and combating sexual violence in war and conflicts, says Lena Ag, Secretary General of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation in Stockholm.
On April 11, the G8 agreed on stepping up action against sexual violence in war and conflict. Zainab Hawa Bangura, the UN Secretary General’s Special Representative on Sexual Violence in Conflict, attended the meeting in London and welcomed the initiative.
The declaration reiterates the illegality of sexual violence in international humanitarian law, human rights and humanitarian law.
The Group of Eight is a forum for the governments of the world’s eight wealthiest countries. It brings together the leaders of Canada, France, Germany, Italy, Japan, Russia, the UK and the U.S. Please find the full declaration text here
“The ministers make it clear that there is an explicit link to international security. The declaration stresses that there is a lot to do and that the work must be continued and intensified. The statement comes a week before the Security Council debate on the same subject, which is important,” says The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s Secretary General Lena Ag, and continues:
“The G8 recognize clearly the role of civil society, pointing out that women activists and human rights defenders, who often are the ones who alert about the abuses, also can be at risk of becoming victims of violence and abuse. Special efforts are necessary to protect them.”
The Declaration also emphasizes the importance of women being involved and represented in peace negotiations, peace building and conflict prevention.
“The G8 declaration was initiated by the conservative British foreign minister William Hague, who has shown great personal commitment to this issue. The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation hopes that the Swedish foreign minister will be inspired by his colleague and that we’ll soon see a Swedish initiative on the issue,” says Lena Ag.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
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
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
Lena Ag, the Secretary General of the Swedish women’s rights and peace organization The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation, made this blog post available for Equal Power – Lasting Peace.
Last weekend, Egypt saw again violent demonstrations against the new regime. Instead of celebrating the revolution’s second anniversary, the Egyptians took the streets in mass protests against president Morsi’s administration.
Preparing for the demonstrations, local women’s rights organizations like Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard, searched via Twitter for male volunteers to help to protect demonstrating women. A little over the top? Hardly, considering what happens to female activists who raise their voices.
During the protests in Tahrir Square in 2011, which led to Mubarak’s fall, the square was for a short while a sexual harassment-free zone for women. This free zone doesn’t exist anymore. On the contrary, assault and sexual harassment of women and young girls have instead been systematized, as many reports showed during the weekend.
Our partner organization Nazra for feminist studiespublished an account from a very courageous woman who was harassed by the mob on Tahrir Square last November. She wanted to tell what had happened to her and felt sorrow and grief when she heard that the assaults unabatedly continued. It is a harrowing read.
She described how she was surrounded by a thick wall of men, ”There was no way out.” She felt how hundreds of hands stripped her naked and then the same hands started sexual attacks: “They said that they wanted to help me, but all I felt was the finger-rape, from the front and from the back; someone was even trying to kiss me… Every time I cried for help, they increased their violence and assaults.” Finally, one of the men she beseeched for help had pity on her. He suddenly took his belt and started to beat everybody around him while screaming: “I will protect her.” “I don’t know how I managed to appeal to his conscience, but then I could crawl to the field hospital and get help.”
Fouada Watch and Tahrir Bodyguard tweeted about their opinion that violence against women in the demonstrations aims to restrict women’s access to public space. Men forming physical circles of violence around women, which are impossible to escape from, have found a method they think will be effective to keep women from participating in politics and from being visible in public spaces.
But this must not happen! And it seems as if our partner organizations are not intimidated. In this question, they even have many men on their side.
That’s why it feels so encouraging to read the conclusion of the testimony: “I decided to write my testimony, so that everyone who bury his head in the sand will know that what is happening is a terrible crime that may happen to your mother, sister, daughter, friend or girlfriend. […] We will not be frightened; we will not hide in our homes!”
Translation: Katharina Andersen
Nabila Espanioly: feminist leaders in the Knesset!
Today, parliamentary elections are held in Israel. One of the candidates is the Palestinian women and peace activist Nabila Espanioly. She is determined to stand up for women’s, children’s, Palestinian’s and minorities rights, even though the political climate in Israel is increasingly toughening.
The general elections on January 22 take place in a country more and more dominated by ultra nationalistic and religious forces. During the last years, the democratic space for maneuver has shrunk, e.g. through laws restricting human rights organizations’ possibilities to receive financial support from foreign countries, or laws forbidding to advocate for a boycott of Israel or restricting public support for activities denying that Israel is a ”Jewish and democratic state”. This makes work difficult for mainly women’s rights activist, peace activists and –parties and left wing organizations. ”The political climate in Israel is very difficult and challenging. All Gallup polls indicate a right wing majority in the election, the question is how strong they will be”, says Nabila Espanioly.
Nabila Espanioly is the founder and leader of The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation’s partner organization Al Tufula in Nazareth. Now she is running as no. five for Hadash, a party for Jewish and Palestinian Israelis. This is her first serious attempt to win a seat in parliament, but Nabila Espanioly is by no means a newcomer in politics. The questions she wants to drive in parliament are the same she has been fighting for in the last forty years: peace in the region, poverty reduction, unrecognized villages and women’s, children’s and Palestinian’s security, amongst others. ”I have always been political active and felt responsible for trying to create new possibilities for children, women and Palestinians – that’s why I decided to run for office”, she says.
Those who work against discrimination of Palestinians with Israeli citizenship are constantly challenged. In December 2012, the central election committee of Israel (CEC), which is dominated by right wing parties, decided to disqualify the only Palestinian woman in the Israeli parliament, Haneen Zoabi, to run in the upcoming election. Prior to that, Zoabi was accused by the governing party, Likud, of denying Israel’s existence as a Jewish and democratic state, because her own party supports ”a state for all his citizens” and by taking part in the Gaza Freedom Flotilla in May 2010 she herself ”had supported terrorism”. Israel’s High Court decided later that Zoabi’s disqualification was against constitutional law.
According to Maayan Dak, who works at The Kvinna till Kvinna’s partner organization Coalition of Women for Peace, Haneen Zoabi is exposed to severe political persecution. ”She constantly gets sexist comments, referring to her personal life, her age and the fact that she – god forbid – is a powerful single woman.”
In Nabila Espanioly’s opinion the incident around Haneen Zoabi is one of several examples of the right-wing parties’ political strategy to question the Palestinians’ legitimacy in the Knesset. ”Right-wing parties try to impair the influence of Palestinian leaders in the parliament. They regard our party, which welcomes both Palestinians and Israelis, as the most dangerous party in Israel,” she says.
Despite the circumstances Nabila Espanioly won’t be silenced. ”I’ll always say what I think. I’ll continue my fight for peace and women’s rights, Palestinians and marginalized groups, even if it costs me dear – I’ve paid the price before and I’m willing to do so again in the future.”
The forgotten occupation
Prime Minister Benjamin Netanyahu called for general elections in Israel last fall. The elections were planned to take place in October 2013, but political friction about the national budget got Netanyahu to call for early elections. The question of Israel’s occupation of Palestine fell off the agenda, especially during the election campaign. “The occupied Palestinian territories used to be a major issue few years ago, for both right and left wing parties. But now the occupation has disappeared from the public discourse”, says Maayan Dak, from the Coalition of Women for Peace.
Likewise not discussed is the link between poverty – which concerned many Israelis during the wave of protests for social justice – and the occupation’s economy .
Disregarded or forgotten is also the question of marginalized group’s representation in politics. Even parties who have a balanced representation of women and men avoid to put marginalized women, Mizrahi-Jewish activists or Palestinians on their list, according to Maayan Dak.
According to Anna Björkman, The Kvinna till Kvinna Foundation‘s coordinator for Israel and Palestine, it is likely that religious and ultra national parties will be successful in the elections. They have already influenced the Israeli society, not least the situation for women. Last year, Israeli media repeatedly mentioned incidents where women had been harassed because they had been wearing “provocative clothes”. One extreme example was the attack of ultra orthodox men on an eight year old girl in a bus, because she was wearing shorts. “Segregation in Israel gets more and more obvious and the election will largely be about in which society the Israelis want to live: A more secular and democratic or a more conservative one”, says Anna Björkman.
Nabila Espanioly is certain to win a seat in the Knesset. If her party won’t win five seats, some of the candidates placed higher on the list will give way, so that women will be represented. Before we hang up on the crackling line between Israel and Sweden, she says that it is important with international solidarity, especially among women’s organizations. “We need all support we can get to be able to continue to fight, we need a solidarity movement,” she says.
Text: Karin Råghall
Translation: Katharina Andersen
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.”