Peace Process & Women’s Issues

“Let us use this century to be the century when we said we started the mission to end the violence and oppression of women… Let us never, ever let our children become the abusers to our women that we permitted in our lifetime.”

– Henry Belafonte

Centuries past have failed women. For too long, we have allowed governments and societies to ignore, marginalize, and flat out exclude women. It’s difficult to make progress when over half the population is disadvantaged. As we move toward a more integrated and involved world community, though, women’s issues are coming to the forefront of global discussions.

Last year brought many issues to light. 2013 saw MalalaSteubenville, the Delhi gang rapes, and Beatriz. Media outlets were using the words “rape,” “domestic violence,” “female education,” and “child brides” when discussing government reforms and global agendas. Feminism was thrown everywhere and strong female leaders, such as Sheryl Sandberg and Wendy Davis, were making waves on primetime news headlines. In short, 2013 was an unofficial Year of the Woman and our worldwide struggles were talked about with fervor.

As we move into 2014, I hope that this is a year of action. We have become aware of female issues and familiar with basic international gender terminologies, and it is time that we put last year’s discussions into practice. Already, there appears to be urgency among global institutions and state governments to promote girls and women. There are almost daily reports from major nongovernmental organizations about a conflict’s impact on women, and this issue is quickly rising to the top of crises agendas. It seems that thus far, 2014 has put women’s issues into peacemaking discussions.

Such is the case for Syria. This horrific, enduring civil conflict has ravaged the country and affected its neighboring countries. Refugee camps are overwhelmed, and violence is spilling over its borders. Hundreds of thousands have been killed and injured, and millions have been displaced. As in most episodes of warfare, death tolls for men outnumber women, but women are the overwhelming subjects of sexualized violence.

In the past several months, there has been very important reporting on sexualized violence against Syrian women, specifically by the Women Under Siege Project. These reports and analyses have propelled the issue to the forefront of the peace negotiations. Alarmingly, women have been left out of key discussions regarding the Syrian conflict, its resolution, and possible avenues for aid. But this is changing. Female Syrian activists and female empowerment agencies have launched social media campaigns in response that push for female involvement in these conversations and developments. UN Women even hosted a two-day conference on and for women civil society members in Syria. The organization’s Executive Director stated of the conference: “Women have a critical role to play in creating the foundations for a sustainable peace and a pluralistic Syria based on democracy and respect for human rights.” It seems that for first time in this conflict (and one of the first times in general), women are identified as victims and the solution.

Afghanistan is another unique case in gendered peace building. As NATO troops exit the country, its government is weakening and Taliban-esque restrictions are being imposed on women. This is a stark change from recent years where Afghan women experienced greater access to education, government, and protections. Afghanistan even outnumbered the U.S. in women representatives in government. President Karzai has quickly backtracked on these proactive steps, and he has called for the reinstatement of stoning and lashes for extramarital affairs. Furthermore, 2013 saw a massive increase of violence against womenin the country. Women’s rights, which were incorporated into state building and maintenance under NATO influence, have waned as strategic interest in the country lessens.

This has not been ignored, though. Organizations, activists, and government officials have called for action on the part of international bodies to make Afghan women’s rights a priority. In many ways, it seems that a country’s commitment to local and global women’s issues is becoming indicative of its commitment to democracy, peace efforts, and its women at home. In the case of Afghanistan, the question posed is: Will you still care about us when you’re gone? Aid, cooperation, and campaigns on behalf of Afghan women are important in the coming years, and efforts to establish long-lasting women’s rights within the government should be encouraged and instituted. The peace process for Afghanistan has moved to include women as a factor of the state’s security and progress.

So far, the conversations that were started in 2013 appear to have influenced the course of action for women in 2014. We are being recognized as disadvantaged, but we are also considered necessary. Our value and contributions are being noted beyond the household, economics, and academics. We are finally making the way towards being a priority for the peace process, and the drivers of the conversation. We are victims, but we are not helpless. We are marginalized, but we are not voiceless. We suffer from war, and we can bring peace. Women throughout the world should feel emboldened by these first steps within the global community. This year may be our year.

Disclaimer: I would hate to exclude the issues women face in countries without civil conflict (because their struggles are pressing and real), but for the purposes of this short article, I chose two ongoing crises and global response to them. Because my academic expertise is on the Middle East & North Africa (MENA) region, the conflict occurring in these countries is of particular interest to me.

– N.B.

This post was originally published on 01/22/14 on our original blogsite Homegrown & Global

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