March 8:International Day of Women: Women as Peacemakers
It is only when women start to organize in large numbers that we become a political force, and begin to move towards the possibility of a truly democratic society in which every human being can be brave, responsible, thinking and diligent in the struggle to live at once freely and unselfishly
March 8 is the International Day of Women and thus a time to analyse the specific role of women in bringing peace to areas of conflict. In this article, I set out some of the general areas to consider
Lysistrata, immortalized by Aristophanes, mobilized women on both sides of the Athenian-Spartan War for a sexual strike in order to force men to end hostilities and avert mutual annihilation. In this, Lysistrata and her co-strikers were forerunners of the American humanistic psychologist Abraham Maslow who proposed a hierarchy of needs: water, food, shelter, and sexual relations being the foundation. (See Abraham Maslow The Farther Reaches of Human Nature) Maslow is important for conflict resolution work because he stresses dealing directly with identifiable needs in ways that are clearly understood by all parties and with which they are willing to deal at the same time.
Addressing each person’s underlying needs means you move toward solutions that acknowledge and value those needs rather than denying them. To probe below the surface requires redirecting the energy towards asking ‘what are your real needs here? What interests need to be serviced in this situation?’ The answers to such questions significantly alter the agenda and provide a real point of entry into the negotiation process.
It is always difficult to find a point of entry into a conflict, that is, a subject on which people are willing to discuss because they sense the importance of the subject and all sides feel that ‘the time is ripe’ to deal with the issue. The art of conflict resolution is highly dependent on the ability to get to the right depth of understanding and intervention into the conflict. All conflicts have many layers. If one starts off too deeply, one can get bogged down in philosophical discussions about the meaning of life. However, one can also get thrown off track by focusing on too superficial an issue on which there is relatively quick agreement. When such relatively quick agreement is followed by blockage on more essential questions, there can be a feeling of betrayal.
Since Lysistrata, women, individually and in groups, have played a critical role in the struggle for justice and peace in all societies. However, when real negotiations begin, women are often relegated to the sidelines. However a gender perspective on peace, disarmament, and conflict resolution entails a conscious and open process of examining how women and men participate in and are affected by conflict differently. It requires ensuring that the perspectives, experiences and needs of both women and men are addressed and met in peace-building activities. Today, conflicts reach everywhere. How do these conflicts affect people in the society — women and men, girls and boys, the elderly and the young, the rich and poor, the urban and the rural?
I would stress three elements which seem to me to be the ‘gender’ contribution to conflict transformation efforts:
1) The first is in the domain of analysis, the contribution of the knowledge of gender relations as indicators of power. Uncovering gender differences in a given society will lead to an understanding of power relations in general in that society, and to the illumination of contradictions and injustices inherent in those relations.
2) The second contribution is to make us more fully aware of the role of women in specific conflict situations. Women should not only be seen as victims of war: they are often significantly involved in taking initiatives to promote peace. Some writers have stressed that there is an essential link between women, motherhood and non-violence, arguing that those engaged in mothering work have distinct motives for rejecting war which run in tandem with their ability to resolve conflicts non-violently. Others reject this position of a gender bias toward peace and stress rather that the same continuum of non-violence to violence is found among women as among men. In practice, it is never all women nor all men who are involved in peace-making efforts. Sometimes, it is only a few, especially at the start of peace-making efforts. The basic question is how best to use the talents, energies, and networks of both women and men for efforts at conflict resolution.
3) The third contribution of a gender approach with its emphasis on the social construction of roles is to draw our attention to a detailed analysis of the socialization process in a given society. Transforming gender relations requires an understanding of the socialization process of boys and girls, of the constraints and motivations which create gender relations. Thus, there is a need to look at patterns of socialization, potential incitements to violence in childhood training patterns, and socially-approved ways of dealing with violence.
Awareness that there can be ‘blind spots’ in men’s visions is slowly dawning in high government circles. The U.N. Security Council, at the strong urging of non-governmental organizations (NGOs), on October 31, 2000 issued Resolution 1325 which calls for full and equal participation of women in conflict prevention, peace processes, and peace-building, thus creating opportunities for women to become fully involved in governance and leadership. This historic Security Council resolution 1325 provides a mandate to incorporate gender perspectives in all areas of peace support. Its adoption is part of a process within the UN system through its World Conferences on Women in Mexico City (1975), in Copenhagen (1980), in Nairobi (1985), in Beijing (1995), and at a special session of the U.N. General Assembly to study progress five years after Beijing (2000).
There is growing recognition that it is important to have women in politics, in decision-making processes and in leadership positions. The strategies women have adapted to get to the negotiating table are testimony to their ingenuity, patience and determination. Solidarity and organization are crucial elements. March 8: International Day of women is a reminder of the steps taken and the distance yet to be covered.
Rene Wadlow, Representative to the United Nations, Geneva, Association of World Citizens