Saturday, October 29, 2011

Women must play greater role in conflict prevention, peacebuilding - UN Security Council

28 October 2011 – The Security Council today welcomed efforts by countries to implement a landmark resolution calling for strengthening women’s participation in peacebuilding, peacekeeping, conflict prevention and mediation process, but voiced concern over continuing gaps in implementing the resolution.

Several senior UN officials – including Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon and Michelle Bachelet, the Executive Director of UN Women – and representatives more than 50 countries addressed a day-long debate at the Council on progress since resolution 1325 was unanimously adopted in 2000.

Women from Um Dersay IDP Camp (North Darfur) participate
in a gender awareness training, United Nations

The resolution calls for action to reverse the egregious and inhumane treatment of women and girls during conflicts, the denial of their human rights and their exclusion from decision-making in situations of armed conflict, in peacemaking and peacebuilding.

In a presidential statement the 15-member Council commended the countries that have formulated or updated their national action plans and strategies to increase the participation of women in peacebuilding and conflict resolution.

“The Security Council, however, remains concerned about the persistence of gaps and challenges that seriously hinder the implementation of [the] resolution, including the continued low numbers of women in formal institutions of conflict prevention and resolution, particularly in preventive diplomacy and mediation efforts,” the statement said.

It also noted that the fight against impunity for the most serious crimes committed against women and girls has been strengthened through the work of the International Criminal Court (ICC) and other tribunals. It also reiterated its intention to enhance efforts to fight impunity and uphold accountability for serious crimes against women.

“The Security Council continues to encourage Member States to deploy greater numbers of female military and police personnel to United Nations peacekeeping operations and reiterates that all military and police personnel should be provided with adequate training to carry out their responsibilities,” the statement added.

Earlier, Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon called for the greater involvement of women in conflict prevention and mediation, the essential building blocks in reinforcing democracy.

“Women’s participation remains low, both in official and observer roles. This has to change,” he said, pledging that the UN would lead by example, and noting that the number of women leading UN peacekeeping, political and peacebuilding missions had gone up over the past year to six out of 28 missions.

He said the Department of Political Affairs (DPA) had increased the proportion of female candidates in its roster of senior mediators, team members and thematic experts to 35 per cent. In the field, UN teams are supporting women so they can engage in peacebuilding and conflict prevention, management and reconciliation, he added.

The Council received Mr. Ban’s latest report on the women and peace and security, presented by UN Women’s Executive Director Michelle Bachelet, in which he voiced concern that implementation had been so uneven.

“Proactive steps must be taken to accelerate implementation of key elements of this agenda, such as strengthening women’s engagement in conflict resolution and deterring widespread and systematic abuses of women’s rights during conflict,” he wrote.

The report covers findings in five areas of the women, peace and security agenda – prevention, participation, protection, relief and recovery, and coordination and accountability for results – noting that there is growing recognition of women’s roles in peace and security, and highlighting an increasing number of innovative measures and good practices.

“Member State participants in contact groups supporting specific peace processes should offer negotiating parties various incentives, such as training, logistics support or adding a negotiating seat, in order to ensure women’s inclusion on delegations,” he wrote.

Introducing the Secretary-General’s report, Ms. Bachelet stressed that women’s participation in resolving and preventing conflict is not an optional, but an essential ingredient of peacebuilding.

“As we go forward, we need determined leadership – by all of us – the Security Council, Member States, civil society, and the United Nations, to fully engage women in mediation and conflict prevention. This will advance peace and security and deepen democracy around the world,” she said.

Ms. Bachelet pointed out that the UN system was working to increase post-conflict spending on women’s empowerment and gender equality to a minimum of 15 per cent of overall post-conflict financing within a few years.

The President of the Economic and Social Council (ECOSOC), Lazarous Kapambwe, emphasized women must be fully incorporated in efforts to rebuild societies through playing key roles in negotiating peace agreements, national reconciliation and economic recovery.

Published by UN News Centre on 28 October 2011:

Friday, October 28, 2011

What does the future hold for Yemeni women? An Interview with Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief of Yemen Times

Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief at Yemen Times
Dr. Edit Schlaffer recently conducted an interview with Nadia Al-Saakaf, Editor in Chief of Yemen Times, who is closely following the turbulent developments in Sana'a. On the 26th of October, Yemeni women defiantly burned their veils and headscarves in protest of President Ali Abdullah Saleh’s brutal crackdown on protesters that has lasted almost 8 whole months. Nadia expressed her concern over the current situation in her country, and stressed on the fact that Yemeni women continue to be excluded from the current transitional talks, despite their active involvement in the uprising.

1. How does the Yemeni regime officially deal with the ongoing unrest? And how do people deal with the socioeconomic challenges?

Women protesting in the streets of Sanaa-Reuters
Until now, and despite UN resolution 2024, the Yemeni regime does not seem to get it. On Tuesday, a truce was announced between the regime and armed opposition but we are not sure how long it will last. There are huge trust issues at the moment, and so unless the regime decides it is over, we are bound for a civil war of which we are already witnessing signs here and there.

As for the economy, it is the last thing on the minds both the regime and the opposition, and it is a time bomb that will explode soon. There is however a group of respected Yemeni economists who have come up with an economic proposal for the priorities of the country during and after the transition stage. They are in direct communication with the donor community and helping them support Yemen's economic recovery.

2. What is the role of women in the current crisis in Yemen? Will they eventually (or have they already) change the fate of Yemen´s patriarchal society?

So far, unfortunately, women are only seen as lobbyists and campaigners. Despite the fact that Tawakul Karaman won the Nobel Peace Prize, the issue of involving women in the new regime, or instituting a quota for women, remains to be discussed. During a discussion with UN Envoy Jamal Benomar, he personally told me that none of the official delegations from both sides had included a woman, and that the issue of women was not brought up when as they were discussing politics.

During my interview with the Islah leader, I asked him about women and the possibility of a quota, he said: ‘we will think about that later!’ The only positive response I ever got was from the head of the opposition's national coalition who mentioned the possibility of a 20% quota, but there was no concrete action plan so I simply took it as lip service.

The tragedy is not there, it is rather that none of the women's movements or leaders on the ground are campaigning or demanding their share. Eventually, this is going to blow up in our face after the regime falls.

Yemeni women burning their veils in protest-Reuters
3. In Egypt there are no reservations for women. Islamists are supported widely in Tunisia. What are Yemen´s prospects? Are you worried of a possible intervention like what happened in Bahrain?

Yemeni women will not allow to be taken back centuries and they will not let go of the rights they acquired over years of struggle (I know I won't). I think the same goes for Tunisia and Egypt and Bahrain. The good news is that the Islamists are playing it political not ideological. And to ensure the rebuilding of Yemen, we need the support of the international community who will ensure that women are represented and free.

But the point is that the drive for women's equality is not coming from within, it is coming from outside pressures, which is neither healthy nor sustainable. My fear is that the Yemeni women's place in the new system will only be for show and not for real.

Friday, October 21, 2011

ETA publicly renounces violence

Members of the Basque separatist group ETA have publicly declared the "definitive cessation of armed activity" in a video message released to the media today (BBC News). The news of the end of the 40 year conflict was welcomed by Spain's Prime Minister Jose Luis Rodriguez Zapatero, who said it was a 'victory over terror'.

ETA has publicly declared ceasefires on numerous occasions in the past, however, many believe that this time the decision is much more serious, as ETA members have officially called for a transition to peaceful methods.

Over the years, ETA has organized many terrorist attacks in Spain and France, which claimed the lives of nearly 800 people. Zapatero hoped that this declaration would bring some peace to the victims' families.

It remains unclear why the Basque group decided to cease its armed activities after so many years. Nonetheless, ETA members declared in a public statement that they faced "a historic opportunity to obtain a just and democratic solution to the age-old political conflict" (BBC News).

Masked ETA members declare their permanent ceasefire - Reuters

SAVE Reaches Out to Libyan Women

Col. Muammar Gaddfi's death was confirmed today as pictures of the ex-Libyan leader circulated the media. "It's time to start a new Libya, a united Libya. One people, one future" declared Prime Minister Mahmoud Jibril as the Libyan people rejoiced in the streets (Reuters).

The doors are now open for a new Libya, and the country's women are bound to play a crucial role in this long awaited democratic transition. SAVE will closely observe the country's developments, and is already reaching out to women activists on the ground to discuss gender-inclusive strategies for a new democracy.

We truly hope that the Libyan women's issues, which were largely ignored in the past, will finally be given the international attention they need. This will in turn facilitate the flow of support and advice crucial to the building of a better future for the country and its women in particular. 

Women's demonstration in Tripoli back in September 2011-Reuters

With New Hope, Women Activists Keep Focus on Libya, By Thanassis Cambanis

Libyan exile Shahrazad Kablan was teaching school in Cincinnati when the uprising against Col. Muammar el-Qaddafi began in her hometown, Benghazi. She put her house on the market and within weeks had moved to Qatar, where she hosted a taboo-busting show on the pro-rebel Libya TV.

On Wednesday night she was in Manhattan, drumming up support among women’s rights activists for the long slog ahead as Libya rebuilds.

“We need help,” Ms. Kablan said. “I want people to remember that Libya is a story of hope, but we need the international community to play its part.”

Ms. Kablan had joined another Libyan diaspora activist, Sara Maziq, and New York Times reporter Anne Barnard (who is married to the author of this blog post) to discuss the role of Libyan women after Colonel Qaddafi’s ouster. During the uprising, women used their clandestine nongovernmental organization networks to smuggle weapons to rebel fighters and pass intelligence. Ms. Barnard’s reporting on Libyan women activists drew the attention of advocates in the United States, who organized Wednesday’s symposium in New York.

“The idea is to connect people who can bring attention to the cause and offer technical help,” said Jill Iscol, the philanthropist who hosted the meeting in her Fifth Avenue apartment. Ms. Iscol, a longtime patron of women’s causes, is the author of “Hearts on Fire,” a book scheduled to be published in November about social activism.

During the uprising, Ms. Kablan used her show to openly probe topics that normally went unmentioned in public forums, like systematic rape by Qaddafi fighters. Since then, she has been advising Libya’s National Transitional Council on education reform. Her small, mostly self-funded nonprofit already has recruited dozens of American teachers willing to spend next summer in Libya working with special needs children.

Ms. Maziq, a former investment banker, quit her job in Dubai to devote herself full-time to Colonel Qaddafi’s overthrow. She helped supply communications equipment to fighters in Misurata, her home city, and since the liberation of Tripoli her Libyan Civil Society Organization has been working to open women’s centers around the country.

“Most of us dug deep in our pockets. Now we’re tapped out,” Ms. Maziq said.

Ms. Iscol’s meeting, organized in tandem with the Vital Voices Global Partnership, a nonprofit organization that promotes women leaders around the world, sparked some immediate connections.

An officer at a New York foundation volunteered to connect Ms. Maziq and Ms. Kablan with women judges and legal experts who could provide advice to Libyans drafting a new constitution; they agreed to meet the following day. A former prosecutor and a foundation head both offered support for programs helping victims of sexual violence. An official at the American mission to the United Nations invited the Libyans to give a presentation. A Dutch diplomat said his government had money available for women’s activists in Libya.

Ms. Kablan and Ms. Maziq are headed to Libya again in the next month. If they can raise enough funds, both hope to expand the fledgling nonprofits they currently run with support from friends and family.

“Libya has no infrastructure,” Ms. Maziq said. “People tell me, ‘We’ve done what we know how to do. Now, you need to come back and rebuild our country.’”

Thursday morning Ms. Kablan was woken up by a text message from a friend in Libya: Colonel Qaddafi, according to early reports, finally had been captured.

Still in her nightgown, Ms. Kablan smiled and restrained a shout of joy.

“We really needed this,” Ms. Kablan said as she read the latest news on her laptop. “This is a great boost for us.”

Published in the New York Times on 21 October 2011:

Wednesday, October 19, 2011

Former Palestinian prisoners, future peacemakers? By Robi Damelin

Tel Aviv - The whole country is talking about it: over 1,000 Palestinian prisoners, many of whom were involved in suicide attacks in which lives were lost, will be freed in exchange for the kidnapped Israeli solider Gilad Shalit who had been held in captivity in Gaza for over five years. Today the prisoner's swap dominated world news when Gilad was freed at the same time as 477 of the 1,027 Palestinian prisoners. While it’s clear that everyone in Israel is happy to see Gilad reunited with his family, among bereaved parents there are some who feel that those responsible for the death of their loved ones should never walk free.

I lost my son David in a shooting incident in the West Bank in 2002. Initially, I was told that my son’s killer would be released this week. Now it is not clear whether or not has or will be freed as part of the deal. But when it seemed likely that he would, I took some time out to search deep inside myself to see what I honestly feel. Do I really mean the things that I have been saying all these years about the need for reconciliation between our two peoples? About the need to understand both the pain of the Jewish mother and the pain of a Palestinian mother? How do I really feel about the fact that David’s killer could be freed?

The answer I came up with is that the life of Gilad, and peace for his family is worth everything. Besides, what petty satisfaction and revenge would I feel if the man who killed David stayed in jail for the rest of his life? That wouldn’t fill the void which is always in my heart. There is no revenge for a lost loved one. I too would have released the whole world in order to get David back.

I belong to a group of Palestinians and Israelis called the Parents Circle - Families Forum. We are more than 600 families who have lost an immediate family member to the conflict. Our long-term vision is to create a framework for reconciliation process that would be an integral part of future political agreements.

When it was first disclosed that David’s killer may be walking free I received phone calls from my Palestinian friends, also members of the Parents Circle - Families Forum. They had listened carefully to the names of the prisoners released and when they had heard that David’s killer might be amongst them, they were in great turmoil. They wanted to come to my house, some from the West Bank, to be with me. They said they were proud of my reaction and that they also understood how painful it is.

I think of the pain of the Palestinian mothers in our group. Their pain is the same as mine and the tears are the same colour. Some of the men in our group had served jail sentences and today they are tireless campaigners for reconciliation.

I have been influenced by my meetings with ex-prisoners in South Africa and Ireland who have at least as much blood on their hands as some of the prisoners here. But they have turned around and have become central to the reconciliation process in their countries. Perhaps we too should be exploring the path of restorative justice?

In South Africa I met a bereaved white mother who set up an organisation to help ex-combatants together with the man who had been responsible for the death of her daughter. This is part of understanding how to overcome the state of being a victim.

I don’t want to be anyone’s victim. I won’t be the victim of the young man who killed my son. I will try to understand why he did what he did. It was very painful for me but at one point I went to see his lawyer to find out who this young man is. The road to reconciliation passes through understanding.

I think of my beloved son David. If he had not been killed by a sniper, he probably would have been at the tent supporting the Shalit family. He would have understood the value of human life. He would have understood that in the conflict in Ireland and in South Africa, prisoners with blood on their hands were freed so that an impetus for negotiations could be created. Some of the greatest peacemakers in those two countries came out of dark cells.

Reconciliation is all-inclusive. Prisoners and all sectors of Israeli and Palestinian society should come to the peacemaking table and take part in forging a peaceful future. We must find a way to reconciliation. Let us allow the Shalit family some dignity, grace and solace. Let us hope that the Palestinian prisoners, who after so many years are now being embraced into their families, will have a non-violent and peaceful future.

* Robi Damelin is a member of the Parents Circle - Families Forum, Bereaved Palestinian and Israeli Families for Reconciliation. This article was written for the Common Ground News Service (CGNews).

Source: Common Ground News Service (CGNews), 18 October 2011,

Saturday, October 15, 2011

The Cairo Revolution is Far from Over: the Egyptian Women's Revolution has Only Just Begun - By Evita Mouawad

Shahira Amin at the Amerikahaus
By Evita Mouawad, Program and Communications Officer for MENA at Women without Borders/SAVE

Contrary to popular belief, the revolution in Egypt is far from over. In fact, the military's repression of Coptic protests in Cairo last Sunday can be described as the most violent incident since the overthrow of the Mubarak regime last February. Twenty five died and more than 300 were injured as soldiers drove their vehicles into crowds of protesters demanding to know the truth about the attack on a church in Aswan last month.

The Coptic Christians are not the only ones still fighting for their rights in the country, Egyptian women are also struggling to be treated as equals to their male counterparts. Issues such as the continuation of the Egyptian revolution and the role of women in post-revolution Egypt were discussed on Thursday by renowned Egyptian journalist Shahira Amin. The event entitled 'Post-revolution Egypt: Inclusive Democracy in the Making, A Journalist's View' was organized by the international advocacy group Women without Borders and their Sisters Against Violent Extremism (SAVE) initiative, in cooperation with the American Embassy in Austria.

In February 2011, at the height of the Egyptian revolution, Amin's face was seen on television screens around the world, as she resigned from her post of senior correspondent for state-run Nile TV on live television. While supporters of the Mubarak regime stormed Tahrir Square and began attacking protesters, Amin was given a script to read that made no mention of what was happening that very moment outside her studio, and so, she simply walked out.

Today, Amin has become a symbol of the continuing fight for freedom of the press in her country. "I find it tragic that in post-revolution Egypt civilians would get killed for simply expressing their demands which are very legitimate. Their church had been torched and they were calling for the protection of their places of worship" said Amin, referring to the recent Coptic protests.

As for the role of women in her country, Amin stated that, while female political participation remains considerably low, it is undeniable that Egyptian women played a major role in the revolution that ousted Mubarak's 30 year old regime after just 18 days of protests. "Let's not forget that it was young female activists, like Israa Abdel Fattah and Asmaa Mahfouz, who instigated the mass uprising, by posting videos of police brutality on Facebook." she said.

Nonetheless, shortly after the ousting of Mubarak, women activists realized that their fight was far form over. After the interim government formed what Amin dubbed a 'committee of so-called wise men' to draft the first constitutional amendments, not a single woman was invited to take part. As for today, there is only one woman minister in Egypt.

Furthermore, women who were celebrating Women's Day in Tahrir Square on the 8th of March were physically assaulted. Amin said the women "were humiliated by what we were led to believe were conservative bearded men who shouted 'go home where you belong'." But the journalist believes that in reality these men were 'thugs' hired by the remnance of the old regime to 'scare' women away from the political scene.

The journalist also denounced the 'virginity tests' that were conducted by the military on seventeen female protesters who were arrested in Tahrir Square in March. Amin interviewed one of the generals of the Supreme Council of the Armed Forces two months after these tests allegedly occurred, and when asked if the rumours were true, the general claimed the military had done it in self defense, so that the  imprisoned women could not later claim they were sexually assaulted by the army. "As if this wasn't sexual assault already" said Amin.    

Amin also urged the West to adopt a more ‘balanced’ attitude towards the region as other revolutions that have occurred in countries like Bahrain, Saudi Arabia and of course Syria have been more or less ignored.

Women whitout Borders founder Edit Schlaffer & Shahira Amin
Despite the post-revolution setbacks, Amin applauded the fact that female candidate Bouthayna Kamel is running for president in Egypt. "She knows she may not win, because society is simply not ready for a female president yet. But at least Bouthayna has shattered the glass ceiling for all women who wish to run for president in the future" she said, making it clear that the Egyptian women are certainly not planning on giving up the fight.

Tuesday, October 11, 2011

Fatima Bhutto and India-Pakistan Relations, by Mehru Jaffer

Pakistani writer Fatima Bhutto warmed Indian hearts when she said that “you are like me.”
The 29-year-old Bhutto was the star attraction at the recently concluded Kovalam Literary Festival in Kerala, where she delivered the sixth KC john Memorial Lecture on India and Pakistan: Road to Peace.
Dressed in a flowing sari which belonged to her grandmother and similar to those worn commonly by Indian women, this was Fatima’s first trip to the southernmost tip of the Indian sub-continent.
The granddaughter of slain Pakistan Prime Minister Zulfiqar Ali Bhutto and niece of Benazir Bhutto, the country's first female prime minister, who was killed in 2007, Fatima's father Murtaza Bhutto was gunned down in a political battle in 1996.
Fatima was a teenager at that time, and ever since, she has condemned violent extremism. The Karachi-based writer believes that the road to peace between India and Pakistan will have to be mapped by building on the shared heritage and the common social malaise confronting the two nations. And the onus of the task lies with the youth.
"We the people of India and Pakistan are the same. You are like me. We need more people-to-people contact to promote peace. Our destinies as countries are inextricably linked as our past were... Justice is within the borders and not outside it.
Despite being separated at birth and with a shared heritage, India and Pakistan have created an enormous gulf between their people. They cannot visit each other's country without going through enormous official procedure.
India and Pakistan over the centuries have shared something hopeful, peaceful - a joint heritage that modern day hostilities could not erase.
But there is lack of coordination. We could develop policies together. But we don't do that - instead we feed the world when the hungry in our country starve.
India and Pakistan have the largest migration history in the world with the biggest displacement... When we parted, the world shook.
The freedom movement was iconic but the only problem was that we quickly turned on ourselves. What Pakistan did to India, Bangladesh did to Pakistan. Punjab was almost a holocaust.
Trade between India and Pakistan is a fraction of the trade that we do with strangers. Trade between the two countries was much larger and we should be giving 40 billion dollars in trade. Many other arch rivals have better trade ties,” concludes Fatima convinced that young Indians and Pakistanis can counter violent extremism in South Asia.

Flash Points: Edit Schlaffer presents SAVE on CBS