Put women at the peace table

The United Nations Security Council made history last month by calling for the inclusion of more women in peacemaking negotiations and peacekeeping forces worldwide, and within the UN peace-building system.

It's about time, given the violent setbacks in the Middle East peace process and the clear lack of progress in the dialogue for peace in other conflict areas.

Bangladesh was instrumental in pioneering the first statement by the Security Council on women's efforts for peace during its presidency of the council this year. The Oct. 31 resolution endorses the idea of finally bringing the missing half of the world's population to the tables where peace is sought. It calls on Secretary-General Kofi Annan to use women as chief envoys in pursuing peace talks and heading peace missions.

Women from war-torn countries told members of the Security Council: Bring more women into the talks, into global peacekeeping and reconstruction, and into your own operations, and you will see those results for which the world yearns.

The argument is compelling.

In Northern Ireland, women's groups spent a decade building the trust between Protestants and Roman Catholics that was the foundation for the ultimate agreements. In Latin America, mothers, wives, and sisters dared to question the military juntas about "disappeared" relatives.

In Bosnia, women cross ethnic lines to rebuild working coalitions in Parliament.

In Sudan and in the Middle East, women from both sides of the conflict have long warned of excluding any sector from the peace process, and they have proposed new avenues that merit exploration, if only negotiators will listen.

Yet, despite their effectiveness on the ground, women are largely absent from high-level peace negotiations.

Only two of the 126 delegates to the Arusha peace talks in Burundi are women, although women are seeking peace within their communities there.

Only two women serve on the 15-member National Council of Timorese Resistance in East Timor, although women sparked that resistance.

And only five women are in leadership positions in the enormous UN mission in Kosovo, although women have forged the way for most of the groups that cross ethnic barriers daily to rebuild their communities.

The Security Council resolution will offer a new method and procedure - and an attitude, if you will, that would implement much of the UN rhetoric to include women in peace efforts.

Under it, more women - including indigenous women - would be named as special representatives to conflict regions, as cease-fire and peace negotiators, and as advisers in reconstruction and evaluation.

Women's rights to equal treatment, and involvement in peace-finding and peacekeeping would be spelled out in every UN document and monitored in every report.

UN staff would be trained everywhere to notice women's lives and women's roles - and women's groups in every conflict region would be consulted in peace processes.

Inclusion of women in peace processes could also further peace efforts in Kosovo, East Timor, Sierra Leone, Central Africa, and other regions where violence continues to take too many lives.

The bottom line would be a new approach to seeking and preserving peace, one that brings the neglected energies of half the world's population to bear on the problem that the other half has not quite succeeded in solving.

Let the women help, the Security Council is saying. What have we got to lose?

H.E. Sheikh Hasina is prime minister of Bangladesh.

(c) Copyright 2000. The Christian Science Publishing Society

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