Yesterday’s CEDAW session on Women Living in Conflict/Post-conflict in Francophone Africa revolved around a discussion on the rights women should have.
While we heard more and more about the issues plaguing women in conflict/post-conflict situations, we heard very little about any durable solutions to these issues.
There was an emphasis on making women agents of peace, rather than victims, but limited discussion on how this can occur. While a few representatives brought up that there are indeed issues around coordinating efforts and long-term solutions, most were merely pointing out the problem rather than suggesting solutions. There were, however, a few notable exceptions.
The representative from Australia outlined partnerships her country has built with nearby island nations in training women in mediation, and explained how they have seen some success in these efforts.
One individual on the panel also brought up the benefits of training women in mediation. He also pointed to the need to consider transitional justice, which focuses on the needs of the victim, as an alternative to traditional systems focusing on the punishing of perpetrators.
Participants pointed to countries like Burundi, and Rwanda as examples of societies using these approaches in integrating women into the peace process. However, the question must be asked: does this approach actually address the root causes of sexual violence and how to end it?
Comments from the civil society representatives did start to move in that direction: pointing out that while we can continue to discuss the tragedy of sexual and gender violence, without resources and a practical plan of action little can be done.
The representative from Haiti outlined the many treaties and agreements the country has signed onto in support of women’s rights, but noted the limited progress because of lack of access to resources.
The panelist from Mali provided an unsettling overview of the horrors perpetrated against women, but most importantly drew attention to the fact that women experience lack of agency when they do not have active roles in the government and do not have access to education.
A Change of Focus
It seems that while the root causes were alluded to in this discussion, the actual focus is still off track. If progress is to be made, a new direction must be taken. First, we must stop placing countries in neat boxes of “peaceful”, “conflict” and “post-conflict”. More than anything there is a cycle and continuum to violence. Violence perpetuates itself.
While women may be particularly vulnerable in times of “conflict”, if fundamental rights are not addressed vulnerability and rights abuses are maintained even during times of post-conflict and relative peace.
The encouragement to get women’s voices heard and become involved in mediation, is promising, but is unlikely to happen without a shift of focus to securing education, economic, and physical security. Which will only occur as we move to real gender equality.
As we learned in the meeting on masculinities, men that go to even two years of secondary school are significantly less likely to abuse women. Furthermore, men who did not grow up in an environment of violence are less likely to be violent themselves.
Of course, there must be a focus on educating girls equally. Women cannot effectively participate in their government if they have not had the opportunity to become literate and learn the skills necessary to push their way into government.
The key to women becoming active agents in peace is rooted in the political economy. It is about access and enjoyment of rights so as to be able to negotiate and redefine power relations, which are so highly gendered. It is about seriously redefining priorities. If we just repeat the same mantras on each high level panel then that re-definition will take far too long.