Women activist for peace – WILPF Centennial

“We women, in International Congress assembled, protest against the madness and the horror of war, involving as it does a reckless sacrifice of human life and the destruction of so much that humanity has laboured through centuries to build up.” That is how the declaration of the first conference of the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom in 1915 in The Hague.

The painful part is that their statement is still so relevant. But the resolutions are also inspiringly relevant and up to date. What to think of:  “This  International  Congress  of  Women  declares  it  to  be  essential,  both  nationally  and    internationally  to  put   into  practice  the  principle  that  women  should  share  all  civil    and  political  rights  and  responsibilities  on  the  same  terms  as  men.”  Over the last 15 years the UN Security Council has reaffirmed so many times that women have to be involved in peace negotiations but with less than 4% women at the negotiation tables they remain sidelined, see also the facts and figures on women and peace and security

Our foremothers saw private profits as an important hindrance to disarmament: “The  International  Congress  of  Women,  advocating  universal  disarmament  and   realizing  that  it  can  only  be  secured  by  international  agreement,  urges,  as  a  step  to   this  end,  that  all  countries  should,  by  such  an  international  agreement,  take  over  the   manufacture  of  arms  and  munitions  of  war  and  should  control  all  international   traffic  in  the  same.    It  sees  in  the  private  profits  accruing  from  the  great  armament   factories  a  powerful  hindrance  to  the  abolition  of  war.”

While (further) nationalization of arms production does not seem a viable nor sufficient solution to achieve progress in disarmament these days, it is clear that the political economy of the production of arms continues leads to ever growing volume of deadly weapons being traded. And the developed countries of the North (including Russia) are the top producers (and exporters) as evidenced in the data from SIPRI 

Tomorrow, one hundred years after Aletta Jacobs and her sisters met in The Hague, a new conference, the WILPF Centennial Conference will start. I am truly excited (and honored) to be part of it.

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Indicators of Political Leadership: 1325 contd.

The Socialists+Democrats in the European Parliament organized an event 14-15 April on women in the peace process. On the panel of 14 April,  Kristalina Georgieva, the Commissioner for Humanitarian Assistance spoke as well as Kyung-wha Kang, UN Deputy Human Rights commissioner and  Veronique Arnault, Director of Multilateral Relations and Human Rights in DG RELEX.  They talked about assessments currently undertaken, indicators of progress – which all agreed was there, but but not enough – and the need for leadership and coherent approaches.

After them Denis Mukwege from Congo DRC and  Chekeba Hachimi from Afghanistan spoke. They stressed they felt there was a disconcerting gap between their realities and the  interventions they had just heard.   All the talk about indicators, assessments, leadership seems surreal while rape continues to be used as a “weapon of mass destruction” in Congo, as Mukwege convincingly illustrated. It destroys women, families and entire communities.  According to Mukwege, the EU had not shown a strong enough political will to seriously influence the main actors to end conflict and impunity in Congo. Worse, under the “peace” agreement mass-rapist were recruited into the army, as he could confirm.  Chekeba Hachimi concluded in a similar way that the EU was about to release funds and endorses a reconciliation process in Afghanistan in which women will have no voice whatsoever.  She claimed that the international presence in Afghanistan over the last 9 years has had no significant positive influence on the situation of women in Afghanistan. Women continue to enjoy a legal status of semi-servitude, and mass illiteracy among women and girls and the total lack of voice of women means change will be slow.  A law limiting women’s rights has been recently approved and nobody has even commented.  Hachemi was very concerned that the “reconciliation” between Kharzai c.s. and the Taliban would further worsen the situation of women in her country,  particularly she expected that opportunities for girls to get an education and learn about their rights as women would be further limited.

Marcus Schulz leader of the S+D group dropped by half-way the panel. He made a strong statement that the Parliament – given the changes under the Lisbon Treaty – would have a much stronger influence and could make sure that Human Rights (and women’s rights) issues are included in future treaties between the EU and others.  He stressed the importance to include practical measures and mechanisms to verify compliance and sanctions for lack of such compliance.   On the subject of women and conflict, Schulz seemed to be pleasantly surprised that resolution 1325 was translated in 100+ languages, suggesting it has a large constituency.

It is a pity Schulz did not hear the contributions of Mukwege and Hachimi.  It seems that aside of future treaties,  the EP and the member states of the European Union have more urgent things to do!  They could use the translation of 1325 into Pashtun. Besides Pashtun the website maintained by the International League of Women for Peace and Freedom on Resolution 1325,  also includes French, English, three ethnic languages spoken in DRC as well as Kinyarwanda.   The words are there, in any imaginable language. Time for those in charge to act.

SCR 1325 on Women, Peace and Security 10 years old this year

This year it will be ten years ago that the Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Will it be a happy birthday?  Two think tanks in Brussels – Security Defense Agenda and Friend of Europe – organized a brief conference today, 27 January to reflect on what has been achieved and what needs to be done in terms of realizing the challenges embodied in 1325.

Yes, when working on peace and conflict we do pay more attention to gender and women’s issues but women are far from being systematically included in peace negotiation processes  or in developing post-conflict plans and reconstruction strategies.  Yes, there are more women involved in peacekeeping missions – including as gender advisors – but they tend to occupy rather low positions in the military hierarchies.  And, yes, there has been a lot of attention for gender based violence but it seems that rape and violence against women continues to be a war tactic that goes unpunished. Elisabeth Rehn reported some slow progress is being made to get gender based violence on the agenda of peace mediators but also heard no women were present at recent meetings on the conflicts in South Sudan.

María Teresa Fernández de la Vega, Vice-President of the Spanish Governement and member of the panel noted that to date only 20 countries actually developed some sort of plan of action to carry out resolution 1325.  She explained that the Spanish Presidency will promote further exchange of experience,  action planning for implementation and evaluation of what was achieved in terms of implementing 1325.

It is certainly good news that Spain as EU President has taken up this issue of Women, Peace and Security. If only because the European Union has quite some work ahead.   Among the European Union Special Envoys for conflict countries there are currently no women.  And none of the 27 member countries has a female Ministers of Foreign Affairs.  That makes Catherine Ashton a perfect example of what Rosabeth Moss Kanter called a token of diversity[1].  Do not blame her if nothing happens. To actually change things, we will need a broad alliance of men and women who are in a position of power.

Anders Foch Rasmussen, Secretary General of NATO member of the panel at today’s meeting could be a member of that alliance. He stated he does not think quota to make sure more women join the military are feasible nor desirable. On the other hand he said he was ready to work with NATO members on what they call capability targets for implementing 1325.  Among NATO members the lowest participation ratio of women in the armed forces is 3%, at the other end, 18% is the highest .

Linda Johansson, Captain in the Swedish Army, has been gender advisor in Mazar El Sharif,  Afghanistan.  In her contribution to the conference she perfectly illustrated – once again – that diversity can really make operations more effective. According to standing procedures, security patrols have to engage in conversations with women. Johansson could not find any records of such conversations when she started work in Mazar. She was told that in Mazar the soldiers on patrol actually never met women.  Mapping the patrols on the city map it became rapidly clear why. They only patrolled the main roads. In Mazar, women tend not to be around those main roads.  When they shifted their patrols and included minor streets things immediately changed. Conversations with women generated for example information about an upcoming mass wedding that could be expected to generate important logistical and security issues.  Being male-biased, regular channels of intelligence had not captured that information. This confirms that diverse groups perform better: diversity does trump ability?

Another representative of the Swedish Armed Forces present at the conference stressed the importance of examples set by the leadership, for example by participating in training and coaching on gender matters. I did not get his name, but what he said was interesting, if only for the wording: “Someone has to be tough enough to acknowledge these soft issues are in reality tough issues”

But there is more to peace and security than the military. Madeline Allbright, also a member of today’s panel,  stressed the important role of NGO’s and civil society organizations. And indeed NGO’s monitor for example what governments and international institutions are doing like ISIS- Europe.   Also at community level all over the world women organize themselves and work on security and conflict.  No other Security Council resolution is quoted more often by civil society organizations.   The fact that when you google  “1325” you end up on the website of WILPF – Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom underlines this involvement of civil society. The WILPF network translated 1325 into hundred languages from Karen via Tajik to Wolof and Lingali, which helped making it into a tool that women use all over the world.

Myria Vassiliadou of the European Women’s Lobby emphasized at today’s meeting that the non-military elements in 1325 deserve more attention (and funding).  The Women’s Lobby recently issued a position paper with a series of recommendations to governments and international organizations but it also emphasizes that it is important to invest in women’s organizations and NGO’s and civil society organizations support them as critical actors in ensuring women’s active involvement in securing sustainable peace.

In his contribution to the conference, Moez Doraid, Deputy Director of UNIFEM explained that UNIFEM is working to develop a set of 20 indicators – out of the hundreds of indicators that are currently being used – to monitor the implementation of the resolution 1325.

To me that sounds like a solid initiative that could turn out to be critical. After  so many years of talking and (action) planning, UNIFEM’s initiative could provide us with an important means to really hold governments and international organizations accountable, giving Security Council Resolution 1325 renewed strength.  This issue of indicators and accountability may be too complicated for the Spanish EU presidency to get results on before the summer, but it is certainly something that the Belgium EU Presidency later this year could focus on. Wouldn’t it  be a lovely birthday present for “1325”: the EU adopting  a simple set of indicators on the mainstreaming of women in issues of peace and security, against which it can set targets and wants to be held accountable?


[1] Kanter, Rosabeth M. Men and Women of the Corporation. New York, 1977.