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Women at the Peace Table
Published on Tuesday, November 5, 2002 by the Boston Globe
Women at the Peace Table
by Swanee Hunt

TWO YEARS AGO the UN Security Council took an unprecedented step towards creating global peace, a cause more urgent - and elusive - now than ever. The Security Council unanimously passed Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security, which insists on the full inclusion of women in peace processes.

The mandate of 1325 is echoed in similar positions taken over the last two years by the European Union, the Group of Eight foreign ministers, and the Organization for Security and Cooperation in Europe. All have essentially agreed that women should be included in all phases of conflict resolution - preventing, stopping, and recovering from war - and at all levels, from grass roots to the highest government offices.

Why women? Around the world, they're already ''waging peace,'' to borrow a phrase from the newest Nobel Peace laureate, Jimmy Carter. Examples abound:

In the Middle East, a coordinating body of two independent women's centers, one Israeli and one Palestinian, has bridged a seemingly bottomless chasm and recently issued a joint statement setting forth concrete steps toward peace.

Northern Irish women have helped calm the often deadly annual ''marching season'' by mediating between Protestant unionists and Catholic nationalists, including going into the prisons to work with political prisoners.

A young Colombian human rights law professor organizes busloads of thousands of women to converge on the capital to demand an end to the kidnapping and massacres.

Rwandan women are using drama and song to prepare citizens for the reintegration of hundreds of thousands of perpetrators of genocide into their decimated communities.

In Southeast Europe, more than 20 women in Kosovo's new Assembly have banded together across seven party lines in a women's caucus, the only nonpartisan effort in that traumatized community.

An Afghan woman has traveled the desolate countryside on behalf of the UN, encouraging local women to risk their lives and family honor to travel to Kabul to participate in the Loya Jirga, the national assembly.

A prize-winning Russian reporter has been repeatedly apprehended by security forces as she investigates military abuses in President Putin's ''war on terrorism'' in Chechnya, making her way through checkpoints disguised as a peasant.

Despite these and hundreds more examples of women's innovative work in intractable conflicts, in the two years since the passage of Resolution 1325 little progress has been made towards translating word into action. A memorable failure to comply with their own resolution was the international fact-finding mission to the Middle East led by former US senator George Mitchell in November 2000, shortly after the second intifadah and the passage of the council resolution. There wasn't a single woman included in the mission, nor were any women's groups consulted by the delegation during its visit to Israel and the Palestinian territories, an act mandated by 1325.

A similar scene was repeated in Kosovo, where complaints of troops and contractors under the aegis of the UN frequenting brothels with sexually trafficked women were brushed aside by the secretary general's special representative, who refused to support ''the sexual repression of 10,000 men.'' That attitude is no great surprise given that there have only been five female special representatives of the secretary general in UN history.

Prospects for a more secure world are growing dimmer by the day. Indeed, if those in positions of power were doing all they could to ensure peace, there would be reason for despair. Happily, we have more options. Among the most promising tools available to creating a safer world are the talents of the many women around the globe who are qualified and ready to work inside formal peace processes instead of only outside.

A coalition of forces is building: On Oct. 16, Secretary General Kofi Annan released a strong statement insisting on the necessity of bringing women into the peace process. Meanwhile, the primary UN women's organization, UNIFEM, has come up with its own study on the difference women can make in war areas. And this week, some 120 policy makers will convene at Harvard's Kennedy School of Government to meet with 40 women from more than 20 conflicts to learn how they are bringing new energy to the weary work of ending war.

These women are waging peace outside the system. It's time to bring them to the table.

Swanee Hunt, a former US ambassador to Austria, is director of the Kennedy School's Women and Public Policy Program and founder and chair of Women Waging Peace.

© Copyright 2002 Globe Newspaper Company


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