Bringing Women to the Table: Identifying Strategies for Enhancing the Role of Women in Peace Processes Around the World
This roundtable was co-sponsored by the Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues at the U.S. State Department, the Middle East and Conflict Prevention Projects of the Woodrow Wilson Center and Women Waging Peace. Anita Sharma, the Deputy Director of the Conflict Prevention Project, gave opening remarks and called the forum part of a "continuing discussion of women in conflict prevention," that followed the September conference at the Woodrow Wilson Center entitled: "More than Victims: The Role of Women in Conflict Prevention." Carla Koppell, of Women Waging Peace, moderated the meeting, which focused on lessons learned by women during conflict, peace processes and democratization.
Hattie Babbitt, Senior Vice President, Hunt Alternatives, Haleh Esfandiari, Consulting Director, Middle East Project and Charlotte Ponticelli, Deputy Director, Office of the Senior Coordinator for International Women's Issues at the U.S. State Department gave introductory remarks to facilitate the roundtable nature of the event. Ms. Babbitt expressed a "deep understanding that women have a right to be involved in the formal and informal peace processes" and "underscore[d] the foolishness of leaving women out of the process." In her remarks Ms. Esfandiari focused on the importance of understanding gender issues and stated that she "could not have a Middle East program without devoting a lot of time to gender issues in the Middle East." Ms. Ponticelli spoke of the stand-alone status of the State Department's International Women's Issues office. Recently other offices have been incorporated into one of the U.S. State Department's Bureaus but the International Women's Office has remained independent since its establishment in 1994. To Ms. Ponticelli, this demonstrates the commitment of the Administration to women's issues.
Having just participated in the Women Waging Peace Colloquium at Harvard University (for more information see 2002 Colloquium) the speakers were ripe to identify concrete strategies to enhance the role of women in peace processes. The featured speakers were women from the front lines of peace processes in India, Afghanistan, Burundi and South Africa. Ms. Koppell asked the women to speak on different aspects relating to their backgrounds to ensure that all gained the benefit of their experiences.
Rita Manchanda, Senior Program Executive for the South Asian Forum for Human Rights (SAFHR) in India, encouraged academics to engage in rigorous research to prove the positive effects of women in conflict situations. Again and again, in her experience, women have shown their leadership capacity on the front lines and in peace processes only to have their efforts "marginalized" when the processes are formalized. Manchanda suggested economic incentives as a way for women to be allowed to extend their informal participation into authority while also emphasizing the need for a larger economic plan that does not box women into micro credit loans. The international community, according to Manchanda, could increase the stability of the peace processes by encouraging the incorporation of multiple stakeholders (i.e. women) in the formalized process.
Sabine Sabimbona, a Member of Parliament in Burundi, spoke of the problem of representation. In Burundi, during the conflict in 1993, women were the first to organize peace marches and conferences for peace. The women of Burundi face a great challenge in gaining meaningful representation because their ethnicity is determined through their husband (whether they are Hutu or Tutsis). In times of ethnic conflict women became vulnerable to violence due to their ambiguous ethnic identities. Sabimbona insisted that we "cannot solve the situation unless we take it into account" and realize the magnitude of under representation in Burundi. Sabimbona spoke of creating associations and learning exchanges to encourage participation in political parties and lobbying efforts.
Thandi Moses, Chair of the Portfolio Committee on Defense and the Joint Standing Committee on Defense in the Parliament of South Africa recounted that although women have been members of the African National Committee (ANC) since the 1940s and 1950s there was a debate whether women should have special representative status during the first ANC conference. The ANC did not want to convey a special status upon its women members. The women left the conference, in protest, and reminded the ANC that women were the majority in South Africa. In less than two weeks the ANC had changed its mind and granted women special status, requiring that 1/3 of its Parliament be women. Though their representation is ensured, recruiting women to fill these positions and retaining a focus on women's issues is a challenge. Moses spoke of the lobbying effort in South Africa to change the definition of security in order to increase the positive elements of peace. Only once the positive elements of peace are in place such as low (or no) poverty and healthy children will South Africa truly be at peace. To Moses, the gains in South Africa should be transferred to other countries in an effort to tie together peace and democracy.
Farida Azizi, the Senior Advisor for the Afghan Women's Program with the Vital Voices Global Partnership stressed that all Afghan's, especially women, are suffering from insecurity. Women have the ability to enhance Afghanistan's security but they lack the resources and require capacity development to learn new techniques and new technology. Azizi recommended increasing literacy and equalizing the balance between men and women in the existing governmental structures.
During the discussion Donald Steinberg, Deputy Director, Office of Policy and Planning U.S. Department of State asked, "How many more peace processes have to blow up before we ask the women?" His question was rooted in his experience recovering land mines. In the recovery process they quickly learned to consult not military maps but local women to discover mines. While maps supplied by the military were often less than adequate, the women who had to travel the treacherous minefield knew the location of the mines.
In conclusion meeting participants agreed that greater networking and information was needed. Furthermore, future meetings will continue the dialogue on women, conflict and peace-building