Isis-Women’s International Cross-Cultural Exchange (Isis-WICCE) contributed to the myriad of thought-provoking discourses on women’s states in conflict-ridden areas at the recently concluded 58th session of the Commission on the Status of Women (CSW) by spearheading an NGO parallel event called Supporting Urgent Human Rights Interventions in Conflict Settings: Women Defenders share their field experiences held last 19 March 2014.
The event began with opening remarks by Jenna Capeci, the director of the Civil and Political Rights Dept. of the American Jewish World Service. The panellists included Tatiana Cordero, the executive director of Urgent Action Fund – Latin America; Helen Kezie Nwoha, programme manager of Isis-WICCE in Uganda; human rights activist Justine Masika Bihamba from Congo; women’s rights activist Ezabir Ali from India; Nepali activist Astha Sharma Pokharel; and lawyer Ms. Maria Adelaida Palacio of HUMANAS in Colombia. Monica Aleman of the Ford Foundation’s East Africa office served as the moderator.
The panellists surfaced issues that still beset women in countries where conflict situations are still on-going. Regardless of humanitarian efforts and human rights-based approaches in peace processes, they say some structures still need to be refined as the continuing conflicts tend to produce newer concerns that affect women anew, rendering previous efforts as lacking, out-dated or invalid. But the bottom line still remains: as long as there is a war fuelled by the search for wealth and the accumulation of natural resources, conflict will remain, and women will bear the brunt of it. There is also a call to end war in general.
In countries where there should already be peace negotiations, it’s a different situation if women are left out of the table. This is a reason why women’s situations remain the same in these areas, as women’s concerns are not specifically addressed. There is also some backsliding to commitments. For example, in Colombia, there is no repatriation for women and their efforts or work is not recognised. While states may say that they support women's rights, the actual behaviour does not reflect it in practice. This is more frustrating for women who experience first-hand harassment and opposition for the peace work they do. This is why economic development remains shaky in such countries since the men in power do not include the connections of women’s lives, affected livelihood and growing poverty, continued displacement and removed access from education of children in the overall peace negotiations or talks.
This is also why, for women human rights defenders, the common issues still prevail. There is still unfair impunity and criminalisation, life risks for women human rights defenders are growing, and their families are targeted in persecution of their work as defenders. Sexual and gender-based violence are still being inflicted upon these women, as the war uses women’s bodies as secondary battlegrounds. Research shows, for instance, that in Nicaragua and Colombia, abuses are done by paralegal groups and police who want to instil fear among activists. Even the state perpetuates violence, so how can real peace be installed?
Thus, further strategies and recommendations were forwarded by the panel, as everyone agreed that support for human rights defenders is also very important to seek and apply. There is a need to promote women human rights leaders as thought leaders. Inequality in services, especially for victims, should also be addressed. For women human rights defenders to be able to help further, strategies were identified as possible steps to take in their work. It was again stressed that women need to be included in the peace negotiations. Women organisations need to develop peace platforms for women to talk and participate in the peace processes. Effective advocacy strategies need to be drawn up, as well as having strategic litigation and far-reaching communication campaigns to address information dissemination regarding the magnitude of the situation in several areas. Training of authorities was also recommended.
And in order to sharpen such strategies, a feminist framework was recommended to be used. Helen of Isis WICCE, in particular, mentioned that there should be a response to the needs of women that comes from feminist principles. Citing examples of their work with Congolese refugees in Uganda, little is known about what happens to women when they flee. With help from Urgent Fund, they were able to quickly make an assessment and produces helpful findings. Further, she recommends a review of refugee-related United Nations (UN) instruments for these have the tendency to be gender-blind.
Ruth of Isis WICCE further stressed that women need their own platform in this situation. She urged everyone on “how we, as progressives, use alternatives for peace.” She further recommended to “break the silence and come back as feminists.” Noting that efforts of reconstruction of peace and security are wrong, where men are coming from a different alternative of peace and security, there is a need to dismantle the ideas of peace and security from a women's centre.
Amidst these continuing struggles, peace and hope still fuel more women into achieving their goals. A crucial point summarises this hope as “the hope to be able to reposition the world in which we are living.” And for all women human rights defenders, this is achievable if women are included more in each and every step of the way.
Parallel thoughts, insights and input were somehow reflected in the outcomes document of the CSW58 covering similar themes and other relevant themes as well. The agreed conclusions could be read at the UN Women site here.
For more information on the extent of Isis International’s participation at the recently concluded CSW58, visit our Isis International’s website (isiswomen.org) or follow the social media account on Facebook (www.facebook.com/IsisInternationalOrg). For more up-to-date information, follow Isis International’s Twitter account (@IsisIntl).