On September 5, The Nation's front-page headline read "Asian Peace Council is born".
But looking at the picture of prominent former politicians and "statesmen", we might ask ourselves who gave birth to this council. There was a complete absence of women at the delivery.
The importance of women and women's organisations in peace, reconciliation and security has been well established. In 2000 the United Nations' Security Council passed resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which articulates the crucial role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, repatriation, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconciliation and reconstruction. The resolution particularly emphasises the importance of women's equal participation and full involvement in all peace and reconciliation efforts. It is disconcerting that this council has been established without thought to honouring these commitments.
The most common victims of war are now women and children comprising up to 80 per cent of all refugee and asylum seekers as a result of conflict. One of the UN's top peacekeepers, Major General Patrick Cammaert, declared, "It is now more dangerous to be a woman than to be a soldier in modern wars". He was particularly referring to the rates of sexual violence in conflict zones. Sexual violence has now been recognised as a war crime, and a further UN Security Council resolution, 1820, requires states to recognise sexual violence as a peace and security issue. All parties to conflict, including peace negotiators, must take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict.
Yet time and time again, women and women's rights are ignored in high level talks and agreements about peace and security. The United Nations researched 24 peace processes since the mid-1990s and found that women averaged fewer than 8 per cent of the members of negotiating delegations representing parties to a conflict. A study of 585 peace agreements concluded between 1990 and 2010 found that just 16 per cent contained any reference to women at all and just 3 per cent of these peace accords contained a reference to sexual or gender-based violence.
While the Asian Peace and Reconciliation Council is set to repeat the mistake, it is not necessarily the view of states emerging from conflict. Often those countries recognise the value of women's roles in avoiding and resolving conflicts. For example, Rwanda has the highest rate of women's representation in parliament. Similarly, in Asia, the two countries with the highest representation - East Timor and Nepal - are both post-conflict states.
The first agenda item for the new council should be to re-think its composition and invite women with specific expertise in conflict resolution, peace building and women's rights to take up 30-50 per cent of the seats at the table. These councillors need some sisters.
Asia Pacific Forum on Women, Law and Development