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When Important Voices Become #MissingVoices

11 March 2017

On Monday, 13 March 2017, the 61st Session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW61) begins in New York. Each year WILPF supports women from conflict-affected areas around the globe to participate in the annual session and bring attention of the international community to their experiences. But this year is different. Women from several countries will not be present at the CSW61 due to the US travel ban, and neither will WILPF.

The purpose of the CSW is to document the reality of women’s lives throughout the world, to promote women’s rights and to shape and affect global standards on gender equality and women’s empowerment. But this year, the very foundation and purpose of the CSW are being compromised and challenged due to the travel ban enforced by the US Administration.

The (latest) travel ban is directed towards citizens from Iran, Sudan, Libya, Somalia, Syria and Yemen. These are war-torn and conflict-affected countries, where peace, freedom and human rights are matters of uttermost importance. These are countries, where the voices of women and minorities need to be heard.

As time passes, it becomes clear that women from several other countries have been denied visas and thus been denied the opportunity to let their voices be heard at the CSW. This is in stark contrast to the whole purpose of the CSW. This limits the CSW’s legitimacy to document the realities of women’s lives worldwide and empower women.

This is why WILPF International is not attending the CSW this year. Women need to speak for themselves. None should be allowed to speak for them. By not formally engaging in the CSW, WILPF protests the absence of those women peace activists who have become victims of discriminatory immigration policies – and stands in solidarity with them.

Silencing women has consequences
In 2016, Rasha Jarhum, a Yemeni Social policy researcher and women’s rights advocate, visited the US four times to participate in discussions about bringing peace to Yemen. She talked about the devastating war in her country and the importance to include women in peacebuilding. She talked with to UN State Missions and university students, and met with fellows and peers who support her cause. Rasha Jarhum should have been part of the WILPF delegation to CSW61, but now the advocacy tour is cancelled due to the US travel ban. How is banning a person like Rasha Jarhum going to improve the security of the US?
In 2016, Rasha Jarhum, a Yemeni Social policy researcher and women’s rights advocate, visited the US four times to participate in discussions about bringing peace to Yemen. She talked about the devastating war in her country and the importance to include women in peacebuilding. She talked with to UN State Missions and university students, and met with fellows and peers who support her cause. Rasha Jarhum should have been part of the WILPF delegation to CSW61, but now the advocacy tour is cancelled due to the US travel ban. How is banning a person like Rasha Jarhum going to improve the security of the US? Photo: Nour Metwally

Rasha Jarhum from Yemen is just one woman out of many who are not welcome in the US due to the travel ban. She was supposed to attend the CSW61 as part of WILPF’s delegation. But as a Yemeni citizen she is now banned from entering the country. Asking Rasha Jarhum about what she had wanted to share with the UN, Member States and fellow activists, she explains that she intended to talk about the situation of women in Yemen, to share their suffering and illuminate why Yemeni women should not be marginalised and excluded from decision-making processes. Jarhum is convinced that her words at the CSW could have made a difference. She says:

“It could’ve shaped policies of development partners and donors towards focusing their funding on women instead of the arms trade. It could’ve improved the platforms for meaningful participation of women to have a say in their future and the future of their communities.”

Rasha Jarhum was part of the delegation of WILPF partners from Yemen, Libya and Syria going to the CSW61. The delegation was supposed to bring to the surface the security concerns and priorities of women in these countries and to launch the preliminary findings in a new, not yet released, study on women, peace and security in Yemen and Libya. The study is produced in partnership with WILPF and is based on local consultations with women leaders, activists, and internally displaced persons conducted by WILPF’s partner organisations. The planned and booked side event is now cancelled as most of the delegation, including Rasha Jarhum, can no longer enter the US.

Another member of the delegation was Milia Eidmouni, Regional Director of the Syrian Female Journalists Network. As a Syrian journalist, she was planning to enrich the discussion by bringing a Syrian perspective to the panel discussion. Additionally, she would also have been a panelist on a panel organised by another partner organisation of WILPF, the Lebanese organisation ABAAD. At the CSW61, ABAAD will launch the report: “Negative: Refugee Women from Syria in the Lebanese Media – A mapping study of the broadcast and print media coverage of refugee women’s issues from the lens of UNSCR 1325” also produced in partnership with WILPF.

It goes without saying that Milia Eidmouni will not be on that panel either. In a video interview with WILPF – see above – she explains that she was planning to use her work and expertise to foster the engagement of the international community to ensure that women are part of negotiation processes and that host countries implement their national plan on providing refugees with more security and protection.

Women’s participation is key ingredient in achieving peace

The travel ban is essentially discriminatory. But the fact that the US Administration’s travel ban predominantly targets citizens from conflict-affected areas might have severe consequences for the possibility of achieving peace in these countries. As Jarhum says, “a visa to the US opens a lot of doors because it is where global policy is made and shaped.” Being denied access to the US and thus the UN thereby means being denied access to these exact processes.

Such approach is totally illegitimate. Women’s participation is both relevant and important when it comes to achieving sustainable peace.

“Women’s meaningful participation is the most important and overlooked ingredient for sustainable peace, and it is essential to ensure that the UN decision-making processes fulfill their purpose,” writes WILPF Secretary General, Madeleine Rees, in her recent Huffington Post’s blog on “Women’s meaningful participation: The Missing Ingredient at the CSW61.”

The travel ban and visa restrictions for women from several countries thus contribute to silencing voices that need to be heard.

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Melissa Torres

VICE-PRESIDENT

Prior to being elected Vice-President, Melissa Torres was the WILPF US International Board Member from 2015 to 2018. Melissa joined WILPF in 2011 when she was selected as a Delegate to the Commission on the Status of Women as part of the WILPF US’ Practicum in Advocacy Programme at the United Nations, which she later led. She holds a PhD in Social Work and is a professor and Global Health Scholar at Baylor College of Medicine and research lead at BCM Anti-Human Trafficking Program. Of Mexican descent and a native of the US/Mexico border, Melissa is mostly concerned with the protection of displaced Latinxs in the Americas. Her work includes training, research, and service provision with the American Red Cross, the National Human Trafficking Training and Technical Assistance Centre, and refugee resettlement programs in the U.S. Some of her goals as Vice-President are to highlight intersectionality and increase diversity by fostering inclusive spaces for mentorship and leadership. She also contributes to WILPF’s emerging work on the topic of displacement and migration.

Jamila Afghani

VICE-PRESIDENT

Jamila Afghani is the President of WILPF Afghanistan which she started in 2015. She is also an active member and founder of several organisations including the Noor Educational and Capacity Development Organisation (NECDO). Elected in 2018 as South Asia Regional Representative to WILPF’s International Board, WILPF benefits from Jamila’s work experience in education, migration, gender, including gender-based violence and democratic governance in post-conflict and transitional countries.

Sylvie Jacqueline Ndongmo

PRESIDENT

Sylvie Jacqueline NDONGMO is a human rights and peace leader with over 27 years experience including ten within WILPF. She has a multi-disciplinary background with a track record of multiple socio-economic development projects implemented to improve policies, practices and peace-oriented actions. Sylvie is the founder of WILPF Cameroon and was the Section’s president until 2022. She co-coordinated the African Working Group before her election as Africa Representative to WILPF’s International Board in 2018. A teacher by profession and an African Union Trainer in peace support operations, Sylvie has extensive experience advocating for the political and social rights of women in Africa and worldwide.

WILPF Afghanistan

In response to the takeover of Afghanistan by the Taliban and its targeted attacks on civil society members, WILPF Afghanistan issued several statements calling on the international community to stand in solidarity with Afghan people and ensure that their rights be upheld, including access to aid. The Section also published 100 Untold Stories of War and Peace, a compilation of true stories that highlight the effects of war and militarisation on the region. 

IPB Congress Barcelona

WILPF Germany (+Young WILPF network), WILPF Spain and MENA Regional Representative

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Demilitarisation

WILPF uses feminist analysis to argue that militarisation is a counter-productive and ill-conceived response to establishing security in the world. The more society becomes militarised, the more violence and injustice are likely to grow locally and worldwide.

Sixteen states are believed to have supplied weapons to Afghanistan from 2001 to 2020 with the US supplying 74 % of weapons, followed by Russia. Much of this equipment was left behind by the US military and is being used to inflate Taliban’s arsenal. WILPF is calling for better oversight on arms movement, for compensating affected Afghan people and for an end to all militarised systems.

Militarised masculinity

Mobilising men and boys around feminist peace has been one way of deconstructing and redefining masculinities. WILPF shares a feminist analysis on the links between militarism, masculinities, peace and security. We explore opportunities for strengthening activists’ action to build equal partnerships among women and men for gender equality.

WILPF has been working on challenging the prevailing notion of masculinity based on men’s physical and social superiority to, and dominance of, women in Afghanistan. It recognizes that these notions are not representative of all Afghan men, contrary to the publicly prevailing notion.

Feminist peace​

In WILPF’s view, any process towards establishing peace that has not been partly designed by women remains deficient. Beyond bringing perspectives that encapsulate the views of half of the society and unlike the men only designed processes, women’s true and meaningful participation allows the situation to improve.

In Afghanistan, WILPF has been demanding that women occupy the front seats at the negotiating tables. The experience of the past 20 has shown that women’s presence produces more sustainable solutions when they are empowered and enabled to play a role.

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