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Women Out in the Cold at Peace Talks

Thalif Deen

 by Inter Press Service

UNITED NATIONS - As the United Nations continues its two-week long discussions on the status of women worldwide, there is one nagging fact hovering around the conference rooms in the Secretariat: peacemaking is still largely in the hands of "men in suits, puffing on cigars".

This is primarily male-dominated territory, says Gina Torry, coordinator of the non-governmental Working Group on Women, Peace and Security.

As an example, she points out that there is no gender adviser to the ongoing peace talks on Darfur, Sudan, where women and children are the most victimized in what the United States calls "genocide".

"That was troubling because such experts could help women face challenges and overcome divisions," Torry adds.

Getting women's voices heard in the conference rooms would be a start, she adds, "but getting them to (positions of authority at the negotiating) table will show real progress."

However, that is still mostly in the realm of political fantasy, says the U.N. Fund for the Development of Women (UNIFEM)

A Security Council resolution (1325) adopted in 2000 called for equal participation by both men and women in maintaining and promoting peace and security. But that resolution "was a long way from being adequately implemented", says Anne Marie Goetz, UNIFEM's chief adviser on Governance, Peace and Security.

She told the U.N. Commission on the Status of Women -- which concludes its two-week session Friday -- that very few women participated in peace talks as official negotiators or observers.

"Disarmament, demobilization and re-integration processes still rarely addressed the needs of women associated with fighting forces, and post-conflict planning and financing for women's recovery, remained weak," she added.

Goetz called for a gender-sensitive perspective on conflict resolution, peacemaking and rehabilitation.

On the positive side, UNIFEM has recently supported capacity-building of women's groups in Darfur and national peace consultations with women, while facilitating women's access to institutions involved in the peace process.

In northern Uganda, UNIFEM has joined hands with the Department of Political Affairs to appoint a gender adviser to the peace talks. At the same time, it has supported efforts to improve military and police tactics to prevent sexual gender-based violence in conflicts.

Assistant Secretary-General Carolyn McAskie, head of the U.N. Peacebuilding Support Office, points out that despite much rhetoric about women's roles in peacebuilding, women's contributions had rarely been fully recognised.

But both her office and UNIFEM have actively promoted women's groups to participate in the peacebuilding processes in two countries: Sierra Leone and Burundi.

The government of Sierra Leone and the U.N. Peacebuilding Commission have adopted a Peacebuilding Cooperation Framework that recognizes gender equality as a cross-cutting peacebuilding issue with specific commitments to advance that goal.

These commitments include family support units, capacity-building of national gender institutions and implementing laws relating to domestic violence, inheritance and property rights.

In Burundi, McAskie said, women have participated in the peace process, integrating gender equality into democratic governance and the peacebuilding framework.

As a result of quotas spelled out in the peace agreement and Burundi's new constitution, women were now better represented in government, holding 30 percent of parliamentary seats and seven ministerial posts.

"Despite those significant achievements, much more must be done," McAskie told the Commission on the Status of Women last week.

"We have learned that our ability to affect real change in gender equality through peacebuilding greatly depends on how the international community establishes its priorities and uses its resources," she declared.

McAskie also said the much publicized Security Council resolution 1325 of eight years ago should be used as political leverage to ensure the presence of gender advisers in the planning stages of U.N. peacekeeping missions.

She said the Security Council should also ensure that Secretariat briefings include "gender impacts" on conflict situations.

At the same time, there should be more women in senior level decision-making positions who could raise the relevant issues.

"We all need to be speaking the same language," she added.

© 2021 Inter Press Service

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