Preparing a message to the UN and EU - start here !

25 March 2005
Dear Women Making a Difference friends,

I apologise for returning to you a day late with a summary of our discussion to send to the UN and the EU.  The fact is – there was so much to sift through that it took hours and hours to write.

I am going to post it in three different posts covering eleven different areas of your discussion! If you have time, please post your amendments – additions – objections - or grafitti in the comments spaces below the relevant post, and we will try to edit them in for Friday’s post.

If you have a new theme you want to outline and include – please propose this in a new post. The same applies to a major objection – if you want to scrap the whole thing and start again – please put this in a new post too, so that we can canvass some opinions.

We look forward to hearing from you,

Rosemary Bechler and Sarah Lindon

A message to the UN and the EU* from the Women Making a Difference blog of openDemocracy, on the occasion of the fifth anniversary of UN Resolution 1325 on Women,Peace and Security.

Dear colleagues involved in implementing UN Resolution 1325 and its supporting EU resolution,

This October, openDemocracy - the online magazine of politics and culture – has hosted a discussion on UN SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security.

This includes a series of articles, launched by Lesley Abdela, who recently reported for us on the real plight facing Iraqi women today, Sir Jeremy Greenstock, involved in the formulation of SCR 1325 during his time as UK Permanent Representative to the UN, and Maj Britt Theorin who secured the EU resolution calling for 40% representation of women participating in peacebuilding.

Alongside their assessments, the Women Making a Difference blog has brought together 32 women who have fought against violent conflict from Cambodia to Sierra Leone, to ask: How does SCR 1325 affect us?  Has it made any difference and what difference could it make?   

Our bloggers have been speaking in a personal capacity, drawing on their considerable experience, and that of the organisations to which they belong. There has been consensus on some issues, not on others, and a strong desire to communicate with the wider world… With this summary we would like to share some of their concerns and suggestions on the fifth anniversary of UN Resolution 1325.

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’

1.  UN SCR 1325 – and the UN! - needs to be better known and better understood
Many of our participants have made efforts to spread the message of SCR 1325, some very successful, some less so. As Kemi Ogunsanya writes: “Many civil society organisations and advocacy women groups…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.”

One of the challenges is to explain what a UN resolution is, and what it is not. Sanam Anderlini points out that the UN can only be as good as its member states, but Boitumelo Mofokeng who has not encountered 1325 at work in South Africa asks why a properly inclusive organization should need such a resolution: isn’t the UN already ‘robbing national governments of a good example and future generations of experienced women leaders?’ In rural workshops in Sri Lanka, Visaka Dharmadasa explains, “they do ask questions about the failure of the UN to bring peace to the world. We explain the UN system and the processes by which the Resolution becomes law in our country and we explain that we have to push for its implementation. As Sri Lanka votes for all these measures – that gives us the opportunity. We regularly use the guide lines that Sanam Anderlini prepared for us for disseminating 1325.”

The Toolkit produced by Sanam and others for International Alert and Women Waging Peace gives multiple examples of the different grass roots and civil society initiatives which are, as Maria Olson puts it, ‘the life and reality behind a piece of paper – a tool for women to legitimize their struggle’. Elisabeth Porter is impressed with ‘the scope of the resolution. That is, there is room in the resolution to include ALL the issues that are pressing on women with regard to peace and security. So it's really important to use the scope to adapt to each local context.’
Sam Cook emphasises that ‘what is important is that we find ways to make the resolution meaningful. Those bread and butter issues are what 1325 is aimed at. Yes it is all in UN language but we can change that. One way we can move towards this is if we take the success stories of women's movements (as in South Africa) and show how it is really just 1325 in action… 1325 is a tool to give our work added force and impact, not a replacement for that work. This is more effective than just sharing the stories because 1325 is an international law obligation and we know that sometimes it is useful to speak the language of governments to make them sit up and take notice.’

Nearly everyone thinks the resolution needs to be popularised – perhaps, Inge Relph suggests, in a short, accessible text. But there is concern that compared with CEDAW or the Beijing Platform which ‘rings a bell’ as Marren Akatsa-Bukachi puts it – 1325 is not so well-known among women world leaders and women’s networks, UN leaders, governments, politicians, grass roots, NGOs, policy-makers, academics, think tanks and, for Galia Golan, especially the media and male decision-makers.

2. UN SCR 1325 needs to be better enforced
Sanam believes “the challenge we face now is how do we hold governments and the UN accountable - hold their feet to the proverbial fire - in a way that combines the strength of different approaches. In other words we need to consider how to join the 'soft and cooperative' approach, with a more assertive 'naming and shaming' approach. Most important of all, we need to keep engaging and combining the call for change through support and collaboration with insiders and outsiders...”

Maura Stephens asks, “why should we need something that enforces what should be women’s inalienable rights, simply as members of the human species? 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… Like others on this blog, I am deeply distrustful of resolutions and wish there were a better way to enforce them. When “top gun” United States of America not only doesn’t live up to such resolutions and other international treaties, but actually scorns them openly, how can we expect other countries to consider them obligatory?’
Mu Sochua’s reports from Cambodia have injected much urgency into this discussion. “It is not enough to have a resolution passed unless there is a global campaign and mechanisms and means to spread the words and put into action what has been adopted. Our sisters in Africa, South America and everywhere else where conflicts have eaten up most of the nations' resources and left the communities in pools of blood and violence, are talking and sharing and crying for the same thing: action to stop violence.” She suggested a ‘scorecard’ should be kept comparing the progress of the countries in putting their words into action.

3.  The participation/representation of women must go beyond numbers
The importance of elections and of women’s representation on decision-making bodies of all kinds is one of 1325’s core themes. Women continue to be systemically excluded from political participation in much of the world. There were also positive initiatives to celebrate – the Inter Congolese Dialogue; the training of 5,000 women as commune leaders in Cambodia; 42% women ministers in the South African government; the bravery of women in Afghanistan and Iraq.

But Mu Sochua was also clear that in some countries where women might indeed get the vote for the first time, after the elections they could be sent straight back to ‘where their voices and decisions do not count. A few women elected as a show-case is not enough’, and discussion also revolved around what Lina Abifareh referred to as the old idea, that numbers do not in themselves ‘ensure equitable participation’.

Lina discusses Afghanistan and argues that women’s participation in the elections should be ‘for a purpose and not to appease international donors or to satisfy the aid community.’ Other bloggers agreed that, as Elisabeth Porter said, ‘formal equality and universal rights only make sense when there is actual, substantial, practical equality.’ For Inge Relph, ‘electoral democracy needs to be underpinned by the rule of law and respect for individual human rights.’ The limits of the electoral process was cited by Yanar Mohammed who felt that in the Iraqi referendum, women were being solicited for their votes in favour of ‘laws that would ensure women’s enslavement and degradation.’ For Jo Wilding also, equal access to unjust political structures was a poor deal, ‘A bit like getting ourselves into a spider web and then trying to restructure it from within.’ Helen O’Connell was clear that, ‘Representation is not enough without the transformation of the decision-making bodies.'
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