Women are half of the community, why are they not half of the solution? Progress of the World 's Women 2002, Vol.1: Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and the Role of Women in Peace-Building

Tuesday, January 1, 2002
United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM)

Women have sacrificed their lives for peace. They have challenged militarism and urged reconciliation over retribution.They have opposed the development, testing and proliferation of nuclear weapons, other weapons of mass destruction and the small arms trade.They have contributed to peacebuilding as activists, as community leaders,as survivors of the most cataclysmic horrors of war. They have transformed peace processes on every continent by organizing across political, religious, and ethnic affiliations. But they are rarely supported or rewarded. “Women are half of the community, why then are they not half of the solution?” asked Dr. Theo-Ben Gurirab, Namibia 's Minister of Foreign Affairs when, as President of the Security Council, he supported the passage of Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. Despite their peace-building efforts,women are rarely present at the peace table. It takes fierce determination and intense lobbying for them to be included as participants in transitional governments.Political parties that are building democracy rarely turn to them.

Women 's leadership role is most visible in their communities;it is here that they organize to end conflict and develop the skills necessary for peace-building and reconstruction. “The role of women in the overthrow of the regime was extremely important,” Stasa Zajovic, from the Serbian peace group Women in Black, told the Independent Experts.Women in Black is part of an international network. For years,Women in Black members stood in silence outside government offices holding placards calling for peace and denouncing the government of Slobodan Milosevic. Stones were thrown at them, they were spat upon, beaten, arrested,yet every week they returned and stood in silent witness. Women 's organizing at the grassroots level often lays the groundwork for organizing across borders –in sub-regions and internationally. The Mano River Union Women's Network for Peace, which has members from Sierra Leone, Guinea, and Liberia, brings together high-level women from established political networks as well as grassroots women, all searching for a way to end the fighting that has debilitated their three countries.

“Women 's networks have been pivotal in the resolution of the conflict in Sierra Leone, and in getting negotiations started between the Mano River countries,” Isha Dyfan,an activist from Sierra Leone, told the Independent Experts.Dyfan is a former member of the Women's Forum,which was created long before the war started in Sierra Leone in 1991. She is now a Programme Director at the International Women's Tribune Center in New York City.

Because the Forum had already brought women together,“we were able to raise our voices and opinions to the highest level. Our national network helped us to reach out regionally and internationally,” said Dyfan. Eventually the Sierra Leonean women became involved in the regional Mano River Union Women 's Network for Peace and the continent- wide Federation of African Women's Peace Networks (FERFAP), which was created with support from UNIFEM.

Tradition and cultural practices can present formidable obstacles to the inclusion of women in peace processes or post-war governance unless a formal mechanism is in place. To date, quotas are among the most successful ways to ensure a minimum percentage of women in negotiations as well as in government positions.

Quotas ensured Somali women 's participation in their Transitional National Assembly. In Mozambique, the Organizacao da Mulher Mocambicana,created in 1973,recruits women for decision-making positions,and women now make up 30 per cent of Mozambique 's legislative bodies. Similarly, in South Africa, the African National Congress 's commitment to a party quota resulted in 29 per cent representation of women in the nation 's first parliamentary elections in 1994.

“History will acknowledge the crucial role of women human rights defenders in building up sane and safe societies...Which values are we betraying when exposing crimes committed in our name by our own governments?

“Certainly not the values that are enshrined in each and everyone of our constitutions –values that our governments and armies so often trample. Rather than ‘traitors ', we are the very guardians of these values.” -- Marieme Helie-Lucas, Founder, Women Living Under Muslim Laws

“The emergence of women as a political force was a significant factor in achieving the [Northern Ireland ]agreement. Women were among the first to express their weariness of the conflict...The two women that made it to the [negotiating ] table had a tough time at first. They were treated quite rudely by some of the male politicians...

“Through their own perseverance and talent, by the end of the process they were valued contributors.

“When the agreement included the creation of a new Northern Ireland Assembly, women got elected there too. Overall, in achieving the level of stability now enjoyed, women's involvement at all levels was a very important factor.” -- Former U.S.Senator George Mitchell, Special Adviser to the Northern Ireland peace talks