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June 20, 2004

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UN: Its All about women

Elayne Clift

In 2000, the United Nations took a long overdue step: It "remember [ed] the ladies" in peace and security issues. In that year, the UN Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 (R 1325) on Women, Peace and Security. By doing so the Council affirmed, for the first time, that integrating a gender perspective and ensuring women's participation are necessary at all stages of armed conflict as well as pre or post conflict. An independent expert assessment was also commissioned by UNIFEM, adding to a growing body of analysis on the matter. Since then, women's organisations around the world have been working and collaborating on a set of concrete activities that the UN, governments, NGOs, academics and others can and should be doing to address implementation of Resolution 1325. And as the annual meeting of the UN Commission on the Status of Women is to be held in March 2004 - where one of the topics to be discussed is women, peace, and security - the resolution takes on new urgency. As Carol Cohn noted recently in The Women's Review of Books, "Resolution 1325 breaks new ground because it not only recognises that women have been active in peace-building and conflict prevention; it also recognises women's right to participate - as decision makers at all levels - in conflict prevention, conflict resolution, and peace-building processes.... The resolution recognises that women are disproportionately victimised in wars and calls upon all parties to armed conflict to take special measures to respect women's rights." Understandably, the resolution has an active constituency. Women from nations all over the globe are mobilising to put pressure on the Security Council with a view to implementation. They are advocating for several specific steps to be taken, including having women participate in Security Council missions or serve as UN special envoys, having more women engaged in field operations, increasing gender-sensitive training, mainstreaming gender perspectives, especially in peacekeeping, and having the Security Council consult regularly with women's groups. With women comprising more than half the world's population, it should go without saying that women take part in peace negotiations in war-torn countries. Such negotiations are the first step towards building a post-conflict society; women need to be part of the process of shaping their own futures, as any Afghan or Iraqi woman knows. This is not only a political perspective; it is a practical one. Women are the caretakers, and they keep life going during and after war. They know what it takes to make society function, and they have proven themselves to be remarkably adept and innovative during hard times. Typically, they want to have contact with other women from all sides, and together, they envision alternatives and viable ways to solve problems and to heal rifts. In a 2002 statement to the Security Council on women, peace and security, Kofi Annan pointed to the fact that "existing inequalities between women and men, and patterns of discrimination against women and girls, tend to be exacerbated in armed conflict." Citing the preponderance of women and children as the world's refugees and internally displaced persons, and the problems unique to females during armed conflict, he noted that "if women suffer the impact of conflict disproportionately, they are also the key to the solution of conflict. Women's groups and networks at grassroots level have provided many examples of the imaginative strategies and flexible approaches required for effective conflict prevention." He was right about women's skill with imaginative strategies. In Melanesia, for example, women have established women's community media to share information in the hopes of making R 1325 a reality at the local level. Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo pressured their governments to honour their signatures to the resolution and lobbied hard for its implementation. In Kosovo, women translated R 1325 into multiple local languages and removed the UN jargon from the document in order to make it more accessible. With help from Italian women, they secured funding to sponsor several TV programs explaining the resolution. Iraqi women held a workshop to explain it to lawyers and others. Why are so many women mobilised around this resolution? Because it's an amazing opportunity to move away from militarism, to affirm women's rights, to make the world safer, to transform the way we live. If such transcendence is possible, it will take the full participation of women, and a genuine appreciation for a gender perspective on human society. There is always the chance that Resolution 1325 will not move beyond the rhetorical commitment for which the UN is noted. Approved but not implemented, it could languish as one of numerous documents that make its authors feel good while women go on being treated as wartime booty. But somehow that doesn't seem likely. There are just too many good women who care and who are active in seeing it through, country by country. As Carol Cohn noted, "What makes 1325 unique is that it is both the product of and the armature for a massive mobilisation of women's political energies." There's no way of stopping that kind of energy; just ask anyone who was in Beijing in 1995 for the 4th World Conference on Women. When it comes to women's peace and security, we are a tireless force - a veritable army, you might say.

Source: News Network

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