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UN wants more women peace builders

By Thalif Deen

UNITED NATIONS: As the world prepares to mark International Women's Day, the United Nations is warning that women continue to play little or no role in post-conflict peace building - be that in Afghanistan , Iraq, Northern Ireland, Liberia or Sierra Leone.

Their absence - and the exclusion from discussions of their concerns and needs - can spell the long-term failure of peace agreements, according to the world body and other experts.

"A review of peace agreements indicates that issues related to gender equality and positions of women within the post-conflict society are typically excluded from peace agreements," says UN Secretary-General Kofi Annan.

In a 20-page study to the UN Commission on the Status of Women, Annan says that while attention to gender equality is the responsibility of all sides involved, the absence of women from peace tables results in insufficient attention to and reflection of their concerns in eventual agreements.

"Furthermore, a peace process that fails to include women in agenda-setting, substantive talks and implementation raises questions about the democratic legitimacy of the process and lacks the inclusiveness to generate any sense of ownership among women," he adds.

"This can undermine the prospects for the durability of the agreement and sustainable peace," Annan warns.

The commission, which is holding a two-week session through Mar. 12, is discussing several gender-related issues, including "women's equal participation" in conflict prevention and post- conflict peace building.

The United Nations will commemorate its annual International Women's Day on March 8. One of the keynote speakers will be Queen Noor of Jordan.

In the study, Annan says the number of women participating in formal peace processes remains "very small". "Women are conspicuously absent from internationally sponsored peace processes, where negotiating teams are dominated by leaders of warring factions," adds the report.

The secretary-general also suggests that one reason why women are absent from the peace process is that they are not military leaders or combatants in war.

That is no justification for exclusion, Annan says, adding that gender equality is an important social goal in itself and a crucial factor for achieving sustainable peace.

"No Women, No Peace" is the slogan used by Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, an international coalition of activists.

"For an agreement to stick, women who are the glue that hold societies together must participate at the negotiating table so that they can also participate in the interpretation and implementation (of peace agreements)," Weiss told IPS.

A member also of the non-governmental organization (NGO) Working Group on Women, Peace and Security, Weiss said the peace agreement that has been most significantly influenced by the participation of women at the negotiating table is the Irish Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland.

In that peace process, "the two women (involved) kept returning the negotiators to human rights issues and made substantive contributions to the agreement," Weiss said. The Israeli civil society team for the recent Geneva Accords on Palestine included three women, she added.

Weiss pointed out that token participation of women is not an answer. "We believe that 'One Woman does not Women Make' - a phrase I use to demonstrate that we need a critical mass of women to make a difference."

In a report released on Thursday, a coalition of US women's groups said that despite pledges to include women in rebuilding Iraq, they have been absent from decision-making bodies controlled by the US-led Coalition Provisional Authority (CPA) in Baghdad.

"The 25-member Iraqi Governing Council appointed by the United States has only three women members. Only one woman is in the Iraqi cabinet, and there are no women among the 18 provincial governors," said the study, 'Global Women's Scorecard on the Bush Administration'.

The coalition, which includes the Feminist Majority, Women's Environment and Development Organization (WEDO), and the Centre for Health and Gender Equity, also complained that an all-male committee drafted the interim Iraqi constitution finalized last week but which still remains to be adopted.-Dawn/ The InterPress News Service.


How can we manifest peace on earth if we do not include everyone (all races, all nations, all religions, both sexes) in our vision of Peace?

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