The Equal power – Lasting Peace conference gathered more than 100 participants, EU and NATO officials and politicians, as well as civil society representatives – in the audience and among the panelists.
The opinions and discussions at the conference were many, all of them though sharing a common stand: something has to be done to increase women's participation in peace negotiations. The question is how and by whom.
– Women's political participation and decision-making are the key issues, underlined Ms. Helga Schmid, Deputy Secretary General for Political Affairs at European External Action Service (EEAS).
At her opening speech she mentioned Egypt, where the draft of the Constitution does not make any provisions for gender equality and where there are only six female MPs.
– We focus our assistance in the EU neighborhood to civil society and women's issues, in particularly legal rights and equal access to decision making and to the power structures. Gender cannot be an excluding factor in the political processes from an early stage of mediation in the process and onwards, said Ms. Helga Schmid.
To ensure that gender equality is guaranteed from the very beginning when designing a peace agreement has proven to be a crucial factor for the sustainability of the peace. How bad a gender-blind peace agreement can turn out Alexandra Petric, Programme Director of United Women Banja Luka, BiH, testified on.
– Bosnia and Herzegovina has gone eight years without any women ministers, 17 years without any women members of the BiH Joint Presidency, and 17 years without any women in negotiations about crucial political issues that affect lives of women and men citizens of BiH, such as security sector and constitutional reforms, says Alexandra Petric.
“EU should lead by example”, The Kvinna till kvinna Foundation's Secretary General Lena Ag highlighted in her introduction. While the European Union have adopted a comprehensive approach on UNSC resolutions 1325 and 1820 on women, peace and security, the reality reflected by statistics leaves very much to be desired. EU's CSDP operations (operations under the EU's common security and defense policy) are led exclusively by men, and only two of EU:s ten special representatives are women, just to name a few examples.
This statistics, says Mr. Olof Skoog, Chair of the Political and Security Committee at EEAS, was a lesson from the day:
– Not a single woman leads our missions. We are choosing the best of the best, but the problem is that member-states are not nominating any women. What we can do is to explicitly ask them to nominate more female candidates, says Mr. Skoog.
To give room to the voices of women from conflict-affected regions was discussed by many of the panelists as well as in questions raised by the audience. Finding the authentic grass-root organizations can be a challenge when a lot of GONGOs (government organized NGOs) are entering the scene, but still is crucial to get a comprehensive understanding of the situation in a region:
– When EU officials are visiting a region, they would really need to seek contact with and talk to real civil society organizations, including women organizations, not those who will tell the convenient things that the officials want to hear, says one of the panelists Gulnara Shahinian from an Armenian organization Democracy today.
Slander, violence, corruption and unequal laws are some of the obstacles that keep women from participating on equal terms with men in peace processes, the report shows.
The role of the women's organizations and women activists in peace processes was stressed by many panelists through the conference. Monica McWilliams, one of the signatories of Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland held a presentation at the conference as well as Teresita Quintos-Deles, currently Philippines President advisor on the peace process, who sent her greetings as she is herself was occupied by the coming peace agreement. Both women provide striking evidence for the importance of women's empowerment.
A long-term strategic approach and continuity are what women activists Alexandra Petric and Gulnara Shahinian would like to see from the EU:
– The EU needs to develop strong and coherent strategies to address women's human rights and gender equality in Bosnia and Herzegovina to address both direct and indirect support of perpetuating ignorance toward these issues by BiH authorities. This requires the EU's commitment to a long-term support of women- and gender equality – specific programs that would focus on the prevention and fighting of gender-based violence of women and advance women's NGOs position as watch-dogs and partners to BiH government institutions. This would advance women's human rights in practice and enhance NGO's work on empowering women, says Alexandra Petric.
– We would really appreciate sustainable and strategic involvement from the EU's side. What we see now is that EU finances short projects where partnership with civil society has a formal character, says Gulnara Shahinian.