Peace is a Human Right: Give Us Women Who Get It

Peace is a Human Right: Give Us Women Who Get It

by Cora Weiss

In my years of peace and gender activism, I developed a stock of one-liners about the role of women.

Often I was heard to say, “Women, women everywhere and not enough in power.” Or, “Women count if you count the women.” Or, holding up a news item – almost any one will do, but I was especially fond of the famous UN Millennium photo of heads of state, “Look at this photo: where are the women?” Or, “One woman does not women make.”

Now I have changed my tune.

We have seen increasing numbers of women in developed western countries, and especially in our own USA, gain power, and enter the realm of politics. Among them are a startling number of women who would cut Medicare and Medicaid, deport illegal immigrants, handcuff unruly children taken to police stations, deprive poor women of abortions, deprive all women of abortions, bring prayer back into schools and generally take us back in time. And, most surprising, women who are quite willing to drop bombs and send young women and men into battle.

Inculcating values
of respect,
equality and

I think it’s probably still fair to say that women in developing countries who have shared experiences of poverty, violence, war and injustice, would be quite good, even much better, at the peace table than many of their male detractors. So, in Liberia, Cote d’ Ivoire, Kenya, Burma and elsewhere, I would certainly, and with great faith, campaign for women to be at every table where the fate of humanity is at stake (as the activist and politician Bella Abzug used to say). I would support these women to be prime ministers and deputy ministers, to be chairs of committees, and assume generally as much leadership as men. The full participation of women in decision-making is a mandate of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women and Peace and Security. Security Council resolutions are international law, and under Article 25 of the United Nations Charter, all member states are required to “accept and carry out the decisions of the Security Council.”

But where we have seen women follow men up the testosterone ladder to success, where women still feel they need to be as manly as the men against whom they are competing for positions of power, that’s where I have come to believe that it takes more than ovaries.

It takes principles.

I am convinced more than ever that we need to find women who support values of peace, justice, human rights and gender equality. We need women who understand the need to control and reduce guns, to support disarmament measures, to abolish nuclear weapons and reduce military budgets. We need women who will harness the power of the sun, wind and sea to produce energy. We need women who support the United Nations, who understand and support the Bill of Rights, who understand international law. We need women who recognize that we have accumulated so much knowledge about conflict prevention and conflict resolution that it should be automatic that we agree to become exhausted from exhausting non-violent methods to resolve issues before invoking force. We need women who will uphold the force of law, not the law of force.

We need women who understand that Peace is a Human Right.

I am not an ideological pacifist, not a Gandhian, although in light of all the blood being shed around the world maybe a few Gandhi-ish types wouldn’t be a bad idea. But, I think we can do something about inculcating values of respect, equality and decency in future generations. We can introduce peace education in schools of education for young teachers so they can bring the methods of participation, reflection and critical inquiry into classrooms and teach about and for human rights, gender equality, disarmament, non violence, social and economic justice, and traditional peace practices. We can look for role models among women and men to offer young people to study. Start with most of the women Nobel Peace Prize laureates.

Grasping the War Linkage

Then we can all look at the relationship between climate change and violence; between human rights abuse and environmental destruction and war; between economic injustice and military budgets; between rape and small arms and rape and war.

This little planet called Earth is too beautiful, has been too bountiful, is too full of promise to let it be destroyed by the hands of human beings, our greed and our industrial innovations. We are well educated, we have brilliant scientists, we know so much about conservation and preservation. We know how to prevent disease and to cure it. We can dream and if we dream together it can become reality, as Archbishop (Recife, Brazil) Dom Helder Camara once said. Eleanor Roosevelt, the mother of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights told us that, “The future belongs to those who believe in the beauty of their dreams.”

We don’t want
to make war
safe for women

Women gathered at the Hague Appeal for Peace Conference in May 1999 and agreed to call on the Security Council of the United Nations to mandate the participation of women at all levels of governance and at peace making tables. After a month of deliberations and compromises, women from civil society organizations, together with UNIFEM, then the women’s branch of the UN, drafted a resolution. The resolution was adopted unanimously by the Security Council in October 2000 on Women and Peace and Security. Its number is Security Council Resolution 1325, or simply SC Res 1325. It calls for the inclusion of gender perspectives in peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, peacekeeping operations, post-conflict peacebuilding and governance.

Security Council Resolution 1325 seeks to provide women with full participation in governing bodies and decision making, to protect women and girls from sexual and gender-based violence during violent conflict, and to make every effort to prevent violence. It has been translated into over 100 languages, is monitored for its implementation, and a number of countries have adopted National Action Plans to assure compliance.

Most importantly, SC Res 1325 is foundational and historic. It is virtually the first time that the Security Council has mentioned women and the resolution comes from civil society. It was vetted by women around the world. We are eager to see that it is not only implemented, but that all resolutions that affect women reflect the mandates of 1325. New resolutions, whether to try to prevent abuse of women during violent conflict or to punish those guilty of abuse, should invoke 1325.

Most recently, violence against women is getting a lot of attention, deservedly so. None of us can ignore the news of massive numbers of rape coming from reports of wars and violent conflicts in the Ivory Coast, Democratic Republic of the Congo, Burma, and from women arrested and abused in Iran, Libya and Bahrain. Actually, wherever there is violent conflict, there is rape. The response from women’s organizations has been outstanding. Campaigns for Days Against Violence call for medical and psychological support for women victims of these horrific tragedies.

But the wars go on. As long as the wars are not interrupted, stopped and prevented, then rape — the warrior’s cheapest weapon — will continue. Of course we need to punish the rapists and heal the victims, but if we reduced and controlled guns, if 1325 were fully implemented with more women who participate in the decision-making and promote peace as a human right, we would see less rape. We certainly don’t want to make war safe for women.

We can’t pluck rape out of war and let the war go on, we need to prevent and stop wars and that will help prevent rape. If the energy put into stopping and preventing rape would also go into stopping and preventing the war that makes the rape possible, that would be a winner. It is “Time to Stop Rape” and it is “Time to Stop War.”

Cora Weiss is the UN representative of the International Peace Bureau and President of Hague Appeal for Peace. She was among the drafters of Security Council Resolution 1325.

Also see A Feminist Looks at Masculine Rage and the Haditha Massacre by Kathleen Barry in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

See War Resisters Inject Truth into Military Recruitment by Eleanor J. Bader in this edition of On The Issues Magazine.

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