The EU must ensure a gender balanced approach as it spearheads talks between Kosovo and Serbia, writes Lena Ag.
EU high representative, Catherine Ashton, is showing great courage in taking on the task of facilitating dialogue between Kosovo and Serbia. The ongoing talks have opened up new possibilities to normalise the frosty relations between the two countries.
The dialogue is also a prerequisite for the negotiations regarding EU-membership for Serbia. However, the lack of discourse on both a women and civil society perspective is surprising. Why aren't there any references to EU policies on women, peace and security in these EU led talks?
In December, the European council adopted conclusions about Serbia and Kosovo, as well as on the whole 'enlargement package'. And coming up on 21 January is the start of the accession negotiations between EU and Serbia.
The talks between Kosovo and Serbia and the accession negotiations are golden opportunities for the EU and Catherine Ashton to show a commitment to UN security council resolution 1325, reinforced recently by resolution 2122, on women, peace and security. These resolutions recognise women's right to participate in peace negotiations and call for inclusion of a gender perspective during repatriation and resettlement, rehabilitation, reintegration and post-conflict reconstruction.
According to the EU's comprehensive approach to UNHCR 1325 and 1820, Europe shall promote women's equal participation in peace building through its political and human rights dialogues with partner countries. In particular, in countries affected by armed conflict, yet women and women's organisations from Kosovo and Serbia are neither consulted nor included in these talks
Firstly, the potential of women and women's organisations as peace agents is left untapped. The dialogue and the legitimacy of the agreements reached would benefit greatly from partnering with women. Our partner organisations, the Kosovo women's network and the Mitrovica women's association for human rights in Kosovo, and women in black in Serbia know the conditions for the women who are affected by the outcomes of the negotiations and could provide much useful information.
Secondly, women's priorities, such as the issues of missing persons and survivors of sexual and gender based violence that took place during the conflict, have not been addressed.
Thirdly, issues like education, health and economic and social rights at large, that greatly affect women on an everyday basis, should include input from women's rights groups.
This is not only a question of implementing EU policies and fulfilling international obligations. It is also a question of making the dialogue inclusive and legitimate, which facilitates the necessary process of achieving support for the talks among the citizens of both countries.
I acknowledge the fact that Kosovo and Serbia carry the main responsibility for including women from civil society and women's perspectives in the negotiations. Even more so as Serbia is about to start negotiations on EU membership, and Kosovo is a potential candidate country.
I also strongly believe that the EU, which is brokering the talks, has a unique opportunity, as well as an obligation, to implement its own and UN principles on women's participation and human rights in the negotiation process.
Catherine Ashton should use this opportunity to uphold EU commitments on women, peace and security. This can be done by ensuring that principles of the right to information, participation, and non-discrimination, are observed in the dialogue.
I also urge the governments of Kosovo and Serbia to adopt and implement national action plans on 1325 and, in consultation with women groups, update the plans with goals and indicators that specifically refer to the dialogue. Involving women in the dialogue is not only the right thing to do; it is the smart thing to do if the achievements reached in the dialogue are to be sustainable.
Lena Ag is secretary general at the Kvinna till Kvinna foundation in Sweden