Regional challenges for Women, peace and security in MENA

SoME Gavobevis 2023

27 October 2014

Women’s rights- and peace activists from Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Egypt, Turkey and Lebanon gathered October 15-18 in Istanbul to discuss the role of women in the current conflicts and how civil society organizations can enhance women’s impact on peace processes and peacebuilding. The meeting demonstrated that women’s knowledge about conflict and peacemaking has to influence the highest decisive level for international peace and security, as well as saturate the grassroots’ work for peace and security.

The conflicts in the region and their consequences for women and their opportunities to organize in politics vary substantially between the represented countries. The participants, however, agreed many aspects of their struggle unite them. Especially in the current situation of transnational and heavily armed conflicts in the region, is it important to share experiences and together define progressive ways forward. Throughout the region, women struggle against patriarchal oppression, religious extremism and conservative tribalism that exclude women from politics. Women’s groups advocate for the protection of women from political as well as domestic violence. Many participants share a personal experience of seeing women’s economic, personal and bodily security shattered, as one of the first pillars of society to fall during escalated armed conflict.

In the wake the ongoing wars, conflicts and occupation, follows a surge of conservatism. Women in the region risk complete exclusion from public life and politics under a pretext of their protection. At the same time, women’s lives and bodies are used as political baits while violence and threats against women’s right activists and female politicians are increasing. Women are especially vulnerable when armed extremists attack ethnical and religious minorities. Around half of the refugees in the region are women or girls, and due to the lack of legal ways into Europe and Sweden the flight is often perilous which causes women and children to stay in the refugee camps.

For years, Operation 1325 has facilitated regional meetings for women’s right activists, in order to share experiences and learn from each other’s efforts. At the meeting in Istanbul were Iraqi women who succeeded in convincing their government to adopt a national action plan to increase women’s security and participation in conflict resolution in Iraq. Today, 46 states around the world have adopted similar action plans for resolution 1325, with Iraq being the first in the Middle East. The Iraqi activists stated that the current challenge is to sustain international and local pressure to make sure that the plan is implemented. According to the plan, Iraqi security forces, police and military will receive mandatory training on human rights and women’s rights. The reality in present day Iraq is the opposite; serious violations on women are part of warfare and women are attacked to shatter communities and to spread fear and destruction. “Today the action plan risks becoming nothing more than ink on paper”, said one of the women who have been advocating for an Iraqi action plan on resolution 1325.

Palestinian organizations from Gaza and the West Bank, on the other hand, took the opportunity to learn from and be inspired by the Iraqi achievement.  The Palestinian civil society had intensified its efforts to pursue a Palestinian action plan on resolution1325, to define how resolution 1325 should be implemented on the West Bank and in Gaza. The situation for women in Gaza has been worsened by the recent Israeli aggressions, according to the network against violence against women in Gaza. The network now demands that women are invited to participate at every decision making level regarding the rebuilding of Gaza.

Syrian and Lebanese women shared the experience of noticing the consequences of the increase of weapons in their societies. “Everyone carries arms in Syria today. Not because they are actively fighting, but because they have to”, a Syrian women said, who coordinates an underground networks to inform women of their rights. She stated that trade of weapons has to be regulated, since more weapons in circulation increase insecurity and may increase lethal violence against women.

The meeting agreed upon a joint statement encouraging all actors to work in accordance with the UN resolution 1325, and to consider women’s knowledge and experience of conflict in every effort to facilitate peace in the Middle East and North Africa. An English version of the joint statement will shortly be published.

The regional meeting was part of Operation 1325’s support to women and peace organisations in the Middle East and North Africa, generously funded by the Folke Bernadotte Academy and the Swedish Institute.

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