UNITED STATES: Women's Voices Essential to Lasting Peace

Friday, September 21, 2012
The Commercial Appeal
North America
United States of America
PeaceWomen Consolidated Themes: 
General Women, Peace and Security

"Blessed are the peacemakers, for they shall be called the children of God."

Matthew 5:9 is one of my favorite Bible verses, and as our world sees so much international turmoil on a daily basis, it is never far from my mind. I spent most of my adult life serving in the military, so I appreciate the value of peacetime. I fully support our nation leading the way to make lasting peace real in our time.

The United Nations passed a resolution in 1981 designating Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace, devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples.

Today, we still strive for peace in a violent world. America is at war in Afghanistan. Other raging conflicts mar world aspirations for peace. We know from experience that peace doesn't happen because official combat stops and troops depart. Peace happens when people have access to education, jobs, health care, political participation and civil rights.

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As we celebrate the International Day of Peace this year, Congress should do its part to promote peace and real security in Afghanistan, and worldwide, by pledging support for the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2012 (WPS Act).

This legislation is designed to support the implementation of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (NAP), launched by executive order last December when America joined more than 30 countries in developing our National Action Plan to promote the essential role of women in securing peace.

The bipartisan WPS Act recognizes that women's voices are essential in any brokerage of peace. Those efforts that do not include women's voices will simply be less effective.

We have seen dismal failure when it comes to peace agreements in the past. Women made up only 2.4 percent of all signatories to the 21 major peace agreements established over the past 20 years, and more than half fell apart within the first 10 years. What's missing? Women; uniquely effective agents for securing lasting and just peace.

Said Secretary of State Hillary Clinton: "When women participate in peace processes, they focus discussion on issues like human rights, justice, national reconciliation, and economic renewal … They build coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines, and they speak up for other marginalized groups. They act as mediators and help to foster compromise."

As a woman and a state legislator, I know that my women colleagues often bring unique perspectives and plans otherwise not presented. In Tennessee's legislature, we have formed a bipartisan Women's Legislative Caucus to promote discussion and offer solutions to the problems we face, not as politicians, but as women leaders.

Globally, women continually offer innovative solutions that have improved peace outcomes. In Northern Ireland, women negotiators of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement secured involvement of youth and victims in the reconciliation process and accelerated the release and reintegration of political prisoners. In 2006, Ugandan women participants in peace talks secured compensation for victims of gender-based violence, and ensured that health and education for former combatants were explicitly addressed in Uganda's recovery efforts.

Recently, huge gains have been made by Afghan women, including trained midwives supporting infant and maternal health, girls' education and seats for women in Parliament. Women must be at the table and engaged in civil society as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan, to further this progress and build sustainable peace.

With the WPS Act, Congress can participate in recognizing and promoting the invaluable role women play in preventing, mediating and resolving violent conflict and building peaceful communities. We can be a part of fostering a U.S. approach that will build sustainable peace and enhance our national security.

The International Day of Peace is the perfect opportunity for our U.S. senators, Lamar Alexander and Bob Corker, and U.S. Rep. Steve Cohen to take a significant step toward actualizing global peace by co-sponsoring the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2012.