Sunday, December 4, 2011

Post #101 - Bring Women into the Process

"Women hold up half the sky." (Chinese proverb)

While women may still be separated from men in a Coptic Christian church, an Orthodox Jewish synagogue or a Muslim mosque, the negotiating table needs to be a place where they are seen -- and heard. A few years ago I attended a Baptist conference in Washington, DC.  One of the speakers, Tony Campolo, founder of the Evangelical Association for the Promotion of Education, reminded us that women have a “triple burden.” They are again and again, along with children, the ones most directly impacted by war, poverty or dislocation. They are simultaneously the ones to whom we perennially look to “hold society together” under the most adverse circumstances. However, they are typically not represented in the leadership that creates these conflicts and disruptions, or that seeks solutions to them. It is worth noting that the while our Congress boasts less than 17% women members, Sudan has nearly 18%. While the UK betters us at nearly 20%, Rwanda has 48%. While Israel can point to only 14% of their Knesset, Pakistan has twice that in its legislature. France, which wages a cultural battle against Islamic women, has just 12%, but Afghanistan, Iraq and the United Arab Emirates average 25%. [According to the Interparliamentary Union.]

In Iran, more than any other identifiable group, it has been the Iranian women who have stayed at the barricades to hold government and society accountable for expanding human security, empowerment and equity. When the Iran-Iraq War was concluded, the “Gold-Star Mothers” of Iran – those who gave their sons to the defense of the border – insisted that the nation give them something back, in structures that served the basic needs of families. Their losses gave moral weight to their demands, and led to a number of social improvements.

In a commentary printed in Sojourners Magazine in the summer of 2007, Laurel Rae Mathewson, noted:

"In peacemaking processes the world over, women consistently underrepresented. At 50-plus percent of the population, we are the largest group to have this problem. It's not just a matter of fairness or equity: Creating sustainable solutions for conflict and post-conflict societies without the active leadership of women produces structural failure. Evidence shows that gender equality is not a pie-in-the-sky value, but a critical component for effecting long-term peace...."

In 2000, U.S. Resolution 1325 affirmed the need for full inclusion of women in all aspects of peace and security processes. Other international bodies have followed suit. Unfortunately, we still need to push past the paper affirmations and on to actual implementation. Despite these diplomatic strides, Swanee Hunt, director of the Initiative for Inclusive Security, says, “The U.N. has failed to realize meaningful, broad-based women's inclusion,” and notes, “We have the women, and we have the words. But we lack the will.”

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