Building "a new Turkey": gender politics and the future of democracy

Can Turkey's government eschew gender equality, demonise the country's dynamic women's movement, and still prevent gender-based violence? Can a party that rejects gender equality be a force for democratisation?

openDemocracy.net - free thinking for the world

Building "a new Turkey": gender politics and the future of democracy

Can Turkey's government eschew gender equality, demonise the country's dynamic women's movement, and still prevent gender-based violence? Can a party that rejects gender equality be a force for democratisation?

openDemocracy.net - free thinking for the world

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Maria's message on the Arria Formula offers us not just an opportunity to celebrate, but also an important challenge to reflect. On one hand, the Arria Formula was again a success - the speeches were good, Security Council member states showed good will and asked good questions. But we should acknowledge that three member states did not attend at all, and we had fewer Ambassadors/DPRs then ever. Why? Maybe we can take responsiblity for this - and I want to be frank here. The Security Council (SC) resolution offered us an opportunity to enter the peace and security discussion and as Amb Chowdhury suggested when he spoke at the launch of Five Years On (an excellent publication!), the subtitle could have been - "Making Peace Work for Women, and Ensuring Women are Working for Peace," instead of simply stopping at "Making Peace Work for Women". I simply wonder if we can do a better job of speaking to the SC mandate and the issues on the SC agenda directly.

Daily Links - 27 October

Women, War, Peace and Violence Against Women. (womenwarpeace.org)
What is violence against women? Women War Peace defines it, shows what can be done, and highlights the work of UNIFEM.

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“Women advocating for resolution 1325 in the democratic Republic of Congo”
(1325 PeaceWomen E-News Issue #10, peacewomen.org, 4/10/02)
After years of tensions between Congolese women and their government, 1325 was implemented in 2002.

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“Iran: Tehran Bans Movies That Promote Nihilism And Feminism” (Golnaz Esfandiari, rferl.org, 24/10/05)
Is the new ban on foreign movies the start of a new era of more restrictive cultural policies in the Islamic Republic of Iran?

Congratulations!

Congratulations to all on the amazing discussion that is currently taking place. Also, from Maria's email it sounds as though a phenomenal amount of work is being done by the NGO Working Group in New York.
 
Here in Afghanistan, we are awaiting news of exactly who will be in the new Parliament and how many women. Of course the issue of credibility will arise but for now Afghan women are happy to be able to contribute in some way to the reconstruction of their country.
 
While there have been many activities on this 5th anniversary of UN SC Resolution 1325 in New York, elsewhere things have been happening too. Some of the bloggers here participated in the UN FPA conference on Resolution 1325 and Violence Against Women that was held in Romania earlier this month. The discussions were extremely rich with the need to move past ad- hocery and apathy to concrete and effective action being highlighted.

after the Arria

Yesterday was a really big day here at UN headquarters. At lunchtime there were three different 1325 events happening at the same time, which was rather frustrating- a women and elections panel, a National Action Plans panel hosted by the UK Mission and a DPKO panel... so the NGO WG tried to distribute itself- I myself went to the elections panel, which was excellent. The Under SG spoke, as did the DPA's Electoral Assistance Division and Mr. Anders Johnson, the SG of the IPU, who gave a really fantastic presentation, as did Sweeta Noori of Afghanistan, one of our October Advocacy Program participants.

Mirror images in the Congo: sexual violence and conflict

Sexual violence is not merely a “by-product” but an integral and widespread part of conflict. Nicola Dahrendorf reports from the Democratic Republic of Congo, on a major humanitarian challenge.

Sexual violence is arguably one of the most challenging human rights violations to address in peace and security work. There is no vaccine to prevent it; there is no ‘cure’ for its effects. Girls and women are dying from the violence, and its long-term emotional, psychological and physical effects are profound and far-reaching.

"Our Resolution"


 
On the 31st of this month, in cooperation with Women in Black-Belgrade's conference on "Women, Peace, Security," our allies in the parliament will introduce a "Resolution on Women, Peace, and Security."  It is not expected to pass - Serbia has not ratified 1325 - but it is how we are marking the anniversary.  Here is our text:
 

A Draft Resolution: an initiative prepared by Women in Black, Belgrade
 
The National Assembly of the Republic of Serbia
-      Beginning from the expressed wish of citizens of Serbia to live in a prosperous and democratic state in which on the basis of the full equality of all citizens, security is guaranteed to every human being;

Daily Links - 26 October

Women are willing to make a difference on the international theater. But can children? The last part of the Toolkit (by IA and WWP) underlines the plight facing so many young civilians in war-torn countries.

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“In Lesotho and Swaziland, AIDS Activates Women” (Nicole Itano, womensenews.org, 24/10/05)

Preparing a message - part 2: gender, changing attitudes, international do's and don't's, local credibility...

Contents
1.  UN SCR 1325 needs to be better known and better understood
2.  UN SCR 1325 needs to be better enforced
3.  The participation/representation of women must go beyond numbers
4.  Our expertise must extend beyond women to gender
5.  How do you change attitudes in your society?
6.  International aid and intervention – what not to do
7.  We need local credibility

8.  How democracy can be made to work
9.  How to cope with vulnerability and combat victimisation
10.How to defend women’s human rights
11.Towards a ‘bloodless knowledge revolution’


4. Our expertise must extend beyond women to gender

Many bloggers were keen to shift the 1325 debate away from the concerns of women alone and towards a more profound understanding of gender equality, gender mainstreaming and gender hierarchies.

Lina Abifareh’s concern was that the women she encountered did not wish to be ‘extracted from their social realities’. They wanted to work with and alongside men. She saw this as a challenge for 1325 activists who too often liked to forget that men are an essential part of gender work. She cited one woman’s comment: “Men don't want to see women improve their lives. They think it is at their expense. No foreigner can come in and change this. If an organization comes to help men, this is better. First work and training, and then talk about change and women."

There was little disagreement about the need to encourage men to be active supporters of women’s rights and to work on gender relations. But different priorities were expressed. Mu Sochua was sympathetic to listening to those who fear change: ‘I think I went very strong on promoting women's space, when I was first minister of women's affairs and it was my deputy who told me, taught me to include men. And then it became easier as men who abuse their wives had less to fight against. They give up their space more easily when we explain that it is not a weakness but a sign of strength to allow their wives to have their own opinions’. But she is not keen to compromise ‘away our space in democracy because we need men… Democracy is never a free meal. It is not a fight between men and women – it is a fight to make sure that laws are used to protect men and women equally, rich and poor fairly, majority and minority justly.’

For some in the discussion, feminism helps both men and women, by ‘diluting the false patriarchal dichotomy, man/woman.’ For others, such as Farkhanda Chaudhry, speaking about the Muslim Women Talk project in the UK, women make a huge difference whether or not their work is recognized, or gender relations are challenged: ‘…the contribution of women in the creation of stronger communities is essential. Women's work needs to be recognised as valuable, like the cement used to build structures. This work may not always be recognised: it may be done in the background. Often we see women as the backbone to voluntary contributions: but men may front the initiative.’

But for others the right of women to be different and do things differently is what has to be defended, often from violence, and particularly in militarized societies where male aggression is the subject of adulation. Mu Sochua drew this conclusion from reading the discussion, ‘maybe women define democracy and peace very differently from men and that is the reason why women's agenda for peace rarely gets on the table.’

Galia Golan writes about how women in peace negotiations are more likely to be interested in individual well-being, inclusiveness, transparency – a win-win situation. Zainab, returning from monitoring the first free, multi-part elections in Liberia doesn’t mince her words, ‘Whenever I meet men politicians in Africa, I tell them Africa is in the mess in which it is because it has been run by men. They have destroyed our continent.’

Judith Butler’s essay, ‘On being Beside Oneself’ triggered a discussion about the violence against body and mind suffered by people ‘gendered and sexualized outside the mainstream’ in so many societies. This touched on the emancipation a closer encounter with diversity could afford all of us. Cindy Weber concludes, ‘the challenge is to make difference - in this case, the difference women make - something that is safe to imagine and to live.’

Sam Cook began to do the work of careful discrimination between terms which is crying out to be revisited in the attempt to understand, for example, sexual and gender based violence (SGBV): “Through research on sgbv in South Africa and Sierra Leone…it is clear that it is gender hierarchies and notions of masculinity and femininity which motivate and facilitate such violence… The Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development has defined gender-based violence to be any act “involving use of force/coercion with an intent of perpetuation/ promotion of hierarchical gender-relations in all social structures.” This focuses on the intended effect of gender-based violence as being the perpetuation of gender hierarchies. This is an important move but this too fails to include a sense of such violence exploiting and relying for its effectiveness on current gender roles and hierarchies – that is, being based on gender. So we need to look at more than masculinity and femininity but also at how these operate in a society in relation to each other in a particular power context.”

5. Let’s share knowledge about how to change attitudes in our respective societies:

Visaka notes that ‘we have to work very hard to change the attitudes of our respective societies – the main obstacle to the implementation of 1325.’ What really does make change possible in our societies? Bloggers have found that all sorts of different approaches work. Here are a few examples – please add approaches you think have been important in these blog pages.

- The cost benefit argument, ‘Peacemaking and building is complex. You need all the help you can get. Women are agents of positive change – you should support their work.’
- The Organizacion Feminina Popular is a women’s organization leading a non-violent resistance against violence in Colombia. Despite the assassination of its leader by paramilitaries, the group offers training for work, in healthcare and arts courses to 1,200 women in safe houses across the region
- Films like Hotel Rwanda take people’s stories away from them and sanitise them. Rwandan survivors of genocide need to tell their own stories face-to face to international visitors. This is particularly important when women survivors have to face those who raped them and killed their families coming back into their communities. We must ask ourselves how we can support these women.
- Activism on 1325 is a way of overcoming fear and escaping from the position of the marginalized other. Global solidarity across borders and barriers also give alternative support to activists.
- Women prisoners brutally detained under the Uruguayan dictatorship for up to ten years, kept sane through their solidarity network. Now they work for democracy more energetically than anyone else, because they remember this ‘black page’ in their country’s history.
- Amongst the diversity of views, we have women who do wish to develop resistance using the parameters of their understanding of Islam, while others, who come from a very secular view point wish to do so from their own particular stance. One challenge is how to build up a coalition which respects this diversity and values the strength of collaborative working to achieve good outcomes for all.

Daily Links - 25 October


HIV/AIDS is a threat to a country’s stability. The 17th slice of the Toolkit focuses on showing how women are twice victims of the disease and its social consequences (by IA and WWP).

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Two of the founders of The Jerusalem Link, Terry Greenblatt and Maha Abu-Dayyeh Shamas talk about their project: an International Women's Committee on peace and justice in the Middle East. (zpluspartners.com, 09/09/05)

NY 1325 madness

Greetings from NY, where 1325 5 years on madness is in full swing… the NGO Working Group on Women, Peace and Security has brought women from different conflict contexts to UN Headquarters as part of our October Advocacy Program and so far things have been very exciting. Our participants are brilliant- and we have had 2 days of workshops and training to prepare them for speaking to the media- several of them have been interviewed already and have done a great job. Later today Sweeta Noori of Afghanistan will be speaking in the Security Council Arria Formula, as will Goretti Ndacayisaba of Dushirehamwe in Burundi. We know they will do well despite the difficulties of squeezing everything they want to say and recommend to the SC into a 10 minute speech…
Because I have written two long posts which I have lost and now have to run off to more meetings, I will be back with an update later on…

 

A question of credibility

I would like to take on board one of the key issues raised by Lina Abirafeh (in her blog of 21.10.05): the issue of credibility. For those of us who do work with and in communities, I think this is one of the most crucial ethical questions we have to address. As Lina points out - an ability to deliver effective programmes, to deliver on our word - goes some way to ensuring credibility. I think another important facet of the credibility criteria has to do with how grounded we are in the realities in which we work; for instance, how does a universal manifesto such as 1325 translate into our individual contexts? Are there times when it is, in its entirety, usable, or times when it is not, or times when it is usable only in parts? In a conflict situation, when is an appropriate time to speak of the requirements of a particular group of poeple (i.e. women)?

A view of 1325 from Serbia

Greetings all,
 
I’m happy to be joining the conversation, albeit a bit late. This is a view of 1325 from Serbia.
 
Instead of the expected changes, the period after 5 October 2000 has been marked with the missing of opportunities for our country to create a discontinuity with the politics of the Milosevic regime, to start down the path of democracy and reconciliation, towards the establishment of a just and lasting peace and integration into the international community. A number of chances have been missed for active inclusion in the international community, which is possible only with complete respect for international standards and conventions. One of those conventions is the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 devoted to women, peace, and security.

Daily Links - 24 October

Men and boys suffer from lack of sexual and reproductive rights through inadequate access to information, services and care, but women and young girls of childbearing age are more vulnerable to sexual assaults and reproductive ill-health.

Reproductive health issues, rights and services that affect populations in conflict and post conflict situations, are the focus of part 16 of the IA and WWP Toolkit.
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'The day the women went on strike' (Annadis Rudolfsdottir, Guardian UK, 18/10/05)

In Iceland, 24 October 1975 was a "day off" among women, known as "the long Friday" by men: 90% of Iceland's women refused to work, cook or look after children that day. "It was, in all seriousness, a quiet revolution," recalls one participant. This Monday, on the 30th anniversary, women have been encouraged to leave work at 2.08pm, the time by which they would have earned their pay if they were earning the same as men.

More about the anniversary protest here.
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'Women are the future of African politics'

News from Liberia's elections

On 11th October 2005 Liberia had their first free and fair multiparty elections in their 150 years of existence as an independent state. Since 1980 when President William Tolbert was murdered and his government overthrown, Liberia has seen has had very little peace. Two presidents have been murdered, each and every Liberian has one way or the other been displaced, hundreds of thousands, ending as refugees across West Africa, tens of thousands of young boys abducted, trained and turned into killings, then unleashed on their own people, hundreds of women abducted and ganged raped. It took Liberians 14 years of mayhem, 14 peace agreements, and the total destructions of the country’s entire infrastructures, 10,000 UN Peace agreements and the support of the entire international community for Liberia to cast their vote on their first free and fair elections.

In New York, a new UN body - but where are the women?

In New York these days there is a flurry of activity around the so-called Peacebuilding Commission (PBC). This proposed body will be a new addition to the UN family, the place where countries emerging from conflict, but not yet on the steady path to development, would be monitored. It is an attempt by the member states of the UN to address the pesky problem of countries slipping back into conflict. I have all sorts of issues with the way in which the international system generally deals with conflict affected countries, but in this particular instance, I want to draw attention to the fact that despite all the talk and activities around 1325 - the discussions of the PBC are again free of any mention of women.  The countries leading the pack, Denmark and Tanzania, are not unfriendly to the principles of 1325, yet they fail to ask the questions or bring up the issues when they invite senior UN officials to discuss peacebuilding priorities. And so, once again, the UN is moving headlong into promoting peace and development, leaving behind at least half the world's population.... what are the chances of success??

When women and power meet

In 1999, International Alert with the support of over 200 organisations worldwide, launched a global campaign – Women Building Peace: From the Village Council to the Negotiating Table – to raise international awareness and secure a resolution from the UN Security Council highlighting women’s peace-building roles and contributions. Through the joint efforts of NGOs, UNIFEM and supporting member states, the push for the adoption of UNSC Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security succeeded in October 2000. Rosemary Bechler talks to International Alert’s Senior Policy Advisor, Nicola Johnston-Coeterier.
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openDemocracy: Why is UN Resolution 1325 worth working on?

A serious proposal preceded by a long story

I spend so much of my time focused internationally and on a broader societal level, and so much time finding fault with the society in which I live and coming up with ways to improve it, that sometimes I forget to look right under my nose for some down-to-earth answers to large and troubling questions.

Much of what we are all working on centers on protecting or “empowering” women, and on assisting them after they and/or their children and families have been “victimised” by violations of their basic human rights.

Resolutions Are No Good Unless They're Enforceable

I absolutely understand Boitumelo Mofokeng’s frustration at the mere fact that we seem to need something like UNSCR 1325. Why should we need something that enforces what should be women’s inalienable rights, simply as members of the human species? Why should we need to codify women’s very existence on the planet?

Nevertheless, our framework here is to work within the existing system, flawed as it is. I happen to believe—contrary to what the current administration of my country believes—that the UN is worthy of our respect, attention, and efforts toward improving it; I believe that it can become a truly effective international body by reforming what is already there; much is good about the organisation, and again unlike my country’s government, I do not believe in destroying social programmes and allowing the free market and chosen  churches to take control of all societal welfare.

Politics as a Neuter

Thanks to Sarah Lindon for her posting 'Neutering Politics.' Her comments not only elaborate on Judith Butler's lecture 'On being beside oneself: on the limits of sexual autonomy'. They also weave together cultural politics and security politics with international human rights. In reading Sarah's comments, I was struck not only by her eloquent elaboration of ideas but initially by the title of her posting. As I read it (and correct me if I'm wrong, Sarah), the reference to 'Neutering Politics' implies a concern we seem to share, about how anxieties concerning difference 'license' not only what Sarah calls a neutering of fantasy and a rewriting of resistence into support of normality but also the material bodily deaths that provoked Butler to write her essay in the first place.

Democracy

What is the title of the documentary on women prisoners in Uruguay? it sounds so fascinating and for sure it needs to be distributed and made known as widely as possible.

I am taking a few days out of the country to come to another country (i can say where for my safety and that of my colleague, another woman). we are meeting and going through strategies to bring attention to the situatin in Cambodia where promiment leaders and human rights activists have been arested and MPs jailed and faced with no parliamentary immunity.

We discussed strategies to threaten the women's netaorks for democracy inside the country, how to help them keep their strength, how women workers and union leaders can be safe and how to stay out of jail.

Uruguayan women in Post-conflict

Dear bloggers, I have been so silence lately as I have moved to Montevideo, Uruguay. I was invited to watch a documentary about women in the jail Punta de Rieles during the dictatorship (1973-1985). As the co-producers explained there is not record in the newspapers about women prisoners. This documentary is trying to make visible the situation of hundreds of women unfair detained, some of them for ten years. The documentary is extremely moving. Through vivid testimonies of some of the women who survived death and insanity, the documentary pictures the solidarity networks created by them to resist and bring support each other. The documentary was followed by a forum with women from all around Latin America, including women from Brasil, Argentina and Chile, countries which passed a dictatorship as well. Many of the attendees agreed on the idea that those young and ordinary women detained over the dictatorship are now better prepared to contribute to democracy building in the current post-conflict period because they recognize this ¨black page¨ of the Uruguayan history, and from there they are contributing to the democracy building.

The Iraqi Constitution and The Trouble With Religion

In a village near Erbil, in Iraqi Kurdistan, my circus was invited to share lunch. the men were taken to tables on a shady veranda while I and Chnur were shown into a room where I was stared at for a couple of hours before one of the younger women eventually raised the courage to ask Chnur, "How can she be allowed to leave her country?" None of them were allowed to leave the courtyard, let alone the village.

The girls were removed from school at 9 years old into domestic drudgery punctuated only by a wedding ceremony. Boredom and misery were written on their faces even before they got around to telling me. They leaned longingly across an invisible line to wave us goodbye. The ‘liberation’ of Kurdistan, as that of Iraq, meant little to them: even when the grandfather-dictator / village sheikh died, he would be succeeded by a son who might or might not be more liberal.

Boitumelo Mofokeng, South Africa

Debate Around UN Resolution 1325

Had UN been inclusive from beginning and supposed to be progressive organisation, there wouldn't be a need for Resolution 1325 to govern anybody because it would have been a natural process and a norm.

If such high body lacks in gender balance and ignored, forgot, excluded women from roundatables, peace keeping missions, policy debate, it robbed national governments to set a good example.

It also robbed future generations of experienced women leaders who would have build a legacy of preventing wars that have de-humanised nations of the world whilst men debated "whether to intervene or not" - we wouldn't be having Rwanda, Burundi. Sierra Leon, DRC, Sudan.

Daily Links - 21 October

The impact of life in exile on women and girls is often paid little attention by assistance providers. The 15th chapter in the IA and WWP Toolkit looks at issues relating to refugees in conflict situations, in particular, the experiences of women and girls.

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UN conference on sexual violence in war and displacement (UNIFEM, 14/10/05)

Violence against women is not inevitable in conflict and disaster, and must be stopped - this UN conference specified how.
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Zimbabwe far from achieving gender balanced politics (Susan Chipanga, AllAfrica.com, 19/10/05)

Policies to increase women's participation in Zimbabwe have not so far improved women's lot - but education and organisation point the way forward.
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Peace Building Cyberdialogues on UNSCR 1325

On October 27, the International Women's Tribune Centre is convening a Women's Peace Building Cyber Dialogue that will connect women in 11 countries around the world in a "real time" discussion on women's role in peace building and reconstruction with an emphasis on implementation of SCR 1325. Find out more, and take part.

We need coalitions respecting diversity

Hi to all out there. I have been working around issues to do with Muslim women in particular. Though I cannot claim to represent this interest group, as it is as diverse and different as you might expect, with many perspectives -  I can talk about my own experience.
 
I feel that the contribution of women in the creation of stronger communities is essential. Women's work needs to be recognised as valuable, like the cement used to build structures. This work may not always be recognised: it may be done in the background. Often we see women as the backbone to voluntary contributions: but men may front the initiative.

Lessons... learned?

Apologies for the silence! For those of us working in conflict/post-conflict countries, the day-to-day tends to take precedence over the longer-term strategic thinking and reflection (the stuff that this blog is filled with!). It's hard to pick "one thing" that is important when talking about women in conflict. I sometimes get discouraged when I notice that we KNOW what we should and shouldn't do, but we often are unable to do it. Policy preferences, funding shortages, conflicting priorities... the excuses can go on. I am in the fortunate position of wearing many hats at once - I work "in the field" as a practitioner and try to observe/learn from my work as a PhD candidate. My research is centered on the effects of gender-focused international aid on women and men in post-conflict contexts, with Afghanistan as my case study. I recently had the opportunity to do a little bit of thinking along those lines for my recently-published report (http://www.fes.org.af/AFGHANISTAN0905ABIRAFEHGENDER.pdf). I have a few lessons to share from the experiences - lessons we all know and generally agree on, but none we have succeeded in applying or "learning", as we say! It is clear that conflict brings both opportunities and vulnerabilities to women. A gender analysis is essential, along with a contextualized understanding of the country/conflict in order to sustain gains. Recognizing the need between practical needs and strategic interests is crucial. It is dangerous to make strategic promises (such as the "liberation" and "empowerment" rhetoric that was used in Afghanistan) and expect these promises to be met with practical solutions. A tailoring program is not necessarily the path to social change. These promises raise expectations. Failing to deliver makes the situation worse for women, and also destroys our own credibility. Building trust in communities takes performance. If we are unable to deliver on what we promise, we cannot expect to be welcome in communities, nor can we expect to support advances in women's rights and social change. We could create greater resistance to our "advancement" agendas. In Afghanistan, we were guilty of reducing women to symbols and stereotypes, denying their agency and their diverse identities. Women in Afghanistan are more than just the bourka. And, the bourka is not the barometer for social change. I could go on about the bourka... but I will save that for another posting! Another lesson we have failed to learn is the use of the term "gender". We tend to operate with a narrow understanding of this word, and a near-denial of the fact that gender actually includes men along with women. If we are working with gender programming, let's use a robust definition of the term. And let's recognize that "gender" is contextualized and means different things in different contexts. In conflict/post-conflict, I believe that both gender and women's programming is effective. Finally, one lesson that is close to my heart is the idea that there are (negative) externalities of development interventions. It is possible to do more damage than good, in fact. Poorly designed development programs could generate a backlash and could make things worse for women. There are signs of this for some women in Afghanistan. I would love to hear more about your experiences in this regard. What do you think??

You have read them - now meet them


Well – we have a real treat today thanks to Women Waging Peace who have an amazing collection of video clips.

Go to the About section - you can meet Kemi, Boitumelo, Zainab, Amneh and Sanam.

We shall all have to get together, face to face, one day! Thanks too to the openDemocracy team who made it possible.

Women among paper tigers

Five years ago, two important events occurred. The UN Security Council adopted resolution 1325, demanding that member states increase the representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional and international institutions and mechanisms for the prevention, management and resolution of conflict.

UN Resolution

I apologize for not communicating with al of you for a while, although I read what is posted everyday.

I have been very involved in the recent political development in Cambodia as the prime minister is filing law suits against trade union activists, teacher leader, a radio owner, and the social secretary of th eformer King, for criticizing him. Sound familiar? Many of my friends are in hiding inside or outside the country and the one in jail is a very close friend. 

The UN invested close to 2 billion dolars in Cambodia for the preparation and holding of the first election after the war. And this is what we get?  Comes to show that women were surely not siting at the peace negotiation, after the Peace Accords was signed.

The importance of global solidarity networks in supporting women's activism in conflict and post-conflict areas

Dearest Women Making a Difference Bloggers,
 
This is my first post to Women Making a Difference Blogg. I was prevented to write before due to the fieldwork I had to carry out with restricted access to computer!!!
 
Let me first greet you all and share with you my experience from the last International Conference of Women in Black that was held in Jerusalem this August. Also I would like to draw your attention to some of the discussions I had there in regards to how different solidarity networks and/or groups as well as solidarity work of individual feminists helped activists working in conflict and post-conflict areas to “survive” and continue with their activism. 

Media coverage - the way it sometimes works

An UNPFA-backed workshop in Bucharest the day before yesterday, called for gender-awareness to be retained and incorporated into military and political thinking so that recent lessons from many war-ravaged communities were not lost. This was picked up by Lesley Abdela at Shevolution – but received no major coverage.

On the other hand, a report by Sarah Martin and the Washington-based advocacy group, Refugees International to the effect that sexual abuse persists in being committed by UN peacekeepers or ‘blue helmets’ where a ‘hyper-masculine culture’ has created ‘tolerance of extreme behaviour’ was covered the next day in the New York Times, the Los Angeles Times, and the Sydney Morning Herald – see our Daily Links today for the report and some coverage.

The timing on the peacekeeper abuse report is intriguing and it will be interesting to see how the story runs over the next few days as a powerful disincentive for anyone to look to the UN on matters of Women, Peace and Security. Of course it is important that this abuse gets coverage, but one good example of how such a story can be misused may be found on a website which I came across as a result of a 20-second google. This was the website of Aim – to quote their mission statement:

‘Accuracy In Media is a non-profit, grassroots citizens watchdog of the news media that critiques botched and bungled news stories and sets the record straight on important issues that have received slanted coverage.’

The article in question was by Cliff Kincaid – editor of something called the AiM Report.

If you have any doubts about his article’s accuracy, you probably will not be reassured by some aspects of Kincaid’s biography on the website’s front page – freedom of information is a wonderful thing...

Kincaid, we are told:

I agree - qualitative participation is what we need

UN1325 and Women in Southern Africa

There has been a major call for the implementation of the laudable articles entrenched in UN Resolution 1325, and should not be mere words for display. Many civil society organisations and advocacy women groups have articulated collaborative approaches with UN departments and supportive member states regionally and internationally, towards the advancement and implementation of Resolution 1325. These groups and individuals have pooled their efforts, networks and expertise to sensitise masses on the positive tenets and international commitments enshrined in the Security Council Resolution 1325, and are determined to ensure these commitments are fully implemented at all levels of decision-making.

UN1325 is yet to prove successful in the participation of women in decision-making in southern Africa, only Mozambique, South Africa and Seychelles have reached the 30 per cent mark required by SADC Declaration for Gender Equity by 2005. Rwanda has set the landmark with 49 per cent representation of women at all levels of decision-making, the highest in the world, only Sweden has recorded such high representation of women in governance of around 44 per cent. This has led to a call for 50 per cent representation of women at all levels of decision-making at the last SADC Summit held in August 2005. The continent has been privileged to record 3 women deputy presidents in Uganda (1997), Zimbabwe (2004) and now South Africa (2005). The continent is yet to have an elected female president, but has been privileged to have a plethora of female presidential candidates in Sierra Leone, Tanzania and recently in Liberia to mention a few! Ruth Sando Perry was appointed as the first African female president in Liberia’s Interim National Government after the brutal civil war ended from 1996-97(national elections brought Charles Taylor to power).

Despite these classic opportunities resonating the positive outcomes of UN Resolution 1325, political inclusivity is still marginal in many of the southern African countries, with a request to member states to amend constitutions and electoral laws to accommodate the full participation of women in political processes. Furthermore, requesting the qualitative participation of women in deference to quantitative participation of women in decision making. In Uganda the least qualification required for women to participate in governance is a University degree or its equivalent. Women need to be innovative and be effective as parliamentarians, by understanding legislative structures and the functions of governance, towards advancing the goals and aspirations of women’s interests particularly in a masculine dominated system of government. Women’s experiences in peace and security are invaluable and should be systematically incorporated as part of early warning mechanisms and documented regularly through research publications and websites such as this!

Daily Links - 20 October

How can the reconstruction of “civil society” in war-torn countries open the door for women to get more involved?
Women can create an autonomous political space here argues the 14th part of the Toolkit (by IA and WWP).

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“Must Boys Be Boys? Ending Sexual Exploitation & Abuse in UN Peacekeeping Missions” (refugeesinternational.org, 18/10/05). UN peacekeeping missions recklessly step down on 1325 shows Refugees International report.

Neutering politics

I promised Cindy I would elaborate on Judith Butler’s lecture “On being beside oneself: on the limits of sexual autonomy”, and why I think it is relevant to her post about the cultural sphere. (The lecture is published in this book.)

To recap: she was concerned with how gendered and sexualised people outside the mainstream challenge mainstream understandings of women, peace and security, and how film and web interventions break past conventional understandings of where politics occurs. She also raised the issue of “what women stand for”. (I think the idea of how a woman “looks presidential” on TV is interesting here, how a fictional TV show might impinge on real politics, in fact how “reality TV” affects lived realities…)

More than numbers

Sorry, I have not written a word yet, not from lack of interest, but too many priorities. I hope to be more active from now.

I enjoyed reading the many contributions specifically on Resolution 1325, but also on the broader issue of women and democracy which is a really our focus at One World Action.  We believe strongly that sustainable development and the elimination of discrimination and poverty can only come about through the strengthening of democracy.  Democracy as promoted by the west, meaning elections every few years, is not what we mean.  Important though elections are, we are talking about democracy at every level from family, to workplace, to international bodies, with the right to information, transparency and accountability at the core.  We describe this as sustainable democracy. 

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