We are appalled that the United States has objected to the appointment of a UN special envoy based purely on the candidate’s nationality. The UN Secretary-General’s is right in his pledge to “recruit qualified individuals, respecting regional diversity”, to which we would add the need to reflect gender, ethnic and cultural diversity.
There are many legitimate questions about the credibility of the process for appointing mediators and envoys at the United Nations. It is however plainly wrong for a candidate to be disqualified based on irrelevant and politically-motivated matters.
The issues that desperately need to be addressed in the special envoy appointment process are the complete lack of transparency and accountability. It is crucial that parties engaged with mediation processes have confidence in UN envoys and missions. But decisions on the appointment of representatives – from special envoy level down – continue to be taken behind closed doors, without consultation with the parties involved.
This has led to a succession of men appointed as special envoys, and disproportionately white, European men. The recent Global Study on UNSCR 1325 made a clear recommendation that there should be more women appointed to these roles. We believe that transparent appointments based on principles of quality and equality would yield greater diversity, as well as more confidence in mediation processes.
The UN currently has special envoys and political missions focused on three Arab countries, Libya, Syria and Yemen. We should be in a position where these envoys and missions have the trust, respect and support of all parties throughout their mandates. Appointments need to be made with far wider consultation than is currently the case. As women in the Arab region, there should be nothing about us without us.
– The Arab Regional Network on Women, Peace and Security
Women from across Syrian society met in Beirut this week to discuss the role women must play in building a peaceful future for Syria. The event was organised by the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace, which brought the group of 22 women from different political, religious and social backgrounds together for the two-day workshop.
The event took Martin Luther King’s iconic “I have a dream” speech as its inspiration, asking participants to consider their own hopes and aspirations for the future of their country. All the women taking part have been deeply affected by the ongoing conflict in Syria, with representatives coming from Damascus, Aleppo, Latakia, Deir ez-Zor and Hasaka. The group used a variety of interactive methods, including role playing and storytelling, to exchange experiences and build a picture of how women can be better prepared for greater participation in public life.
While the destruction the war has caused across Syria has been well-publicised, the workshop highlighted the damage it has done more deeply to Syrian society. Despite these divisions, the participants hoped that the workshop would send a positive message that women from across Syria’s political, religious and ethnic divides could still come together to unify their vision for the future of Syria.
The participants were particularly keen to discuss how women could become more involved not just in politics, but in public life more generally. While the group did include politically and socially active participants and NGO leaders, it was also attended by professionals, academics and representatives from the private sector who were not politically aligned or involved in community leadership. The whole group discussed what was necessary for Syrian politics and public life to become more inclusive and gender-sensitive.
Facilitated by Dr Mouna Ghanem and Dr Hisham Kiyat and supported by regional NGO Karama, the discussion was also concerned with how politics could be more inclusive of the marginalised and harder to reach sections of Syrian society. Participants agreed that that there was much needed to follow-up on from the workshop, with capacity-building and training sessions high on the agenda.
Dr Mouna Ghanem, founder of the Syrian Women’s Forum for Peace and co-facilitator of the workshop, said:
“If we are to build a peaceful future for Syria, women will need to play a leading role. This workshop has provided us with an opportunity to understand how that can happen. The war has not only devastated our country, but it has debased our political discourse. Fixing this will be no easier than rebuilding our cities, but as the workshop shows, dialogue is still possible across political, religious and social lines. We are still all Syrian women, we want a Syrian agenda for women’s participation.
“Our discussions have shown how that might be possible. Central to this will be building a critical mass of women’s participation across Syrian society. Women’s empowerment will not come through women being represented here and there, but through women in leadership roles across the board.”
Hibaaq Osman, CEO and founder of Karama, which supported the workshop said:
“This workshop demonstrates that women experiencing the appalling conflict can come together for a better Syria. These women have seen the devastating effect of the war. The women and children of Syria are paying the highest price for this conflict. They have come together from different religious backgrounds, different communities, across the political spectrum to talk about their hopes and aspirations for Syria. That should serve as an inspiration for the powers within Syria and the international community to come together to bring about peace in the country. These women and many more within and without Syria need the support of the international community now more than ever.”
Leading Middle East and North Africa women’s rights NGO Karama has announced the launch of their European branch. Based in Cairo, the Karama network is the main platform for women’s rights organisations in the Arab region, from Libya, Yemen, Syria, Iraq, Palestine, Sudan to Morocco, it operates across thirteen countries. Karama Europe will be headed by Elisabeth van der Steenhoven, formerly the director of Europe’s largest network of women’s rights groups.
Karama Europe is based in Brussels and supports Karama’s core aims of greater participation of women in the Arab region, and providing support for women facing conflict. The European office will function as a regional hub, liaising with the EU, its member states, institutions as well as activists across the Europe.
Hibaaq Osman, CEO of Karama said:
“We are delighted to announce the launch of Karama Europe, and there is no one better suited to leading it than Elisabeth van der Steenhoven. Elisabeth has worked with us very closely for 5 years, through extraordinary times for women in the Arab region. During this time, Karama and Elisabeth have have helped women working on the ground in Libya, Syria, Tunisia, Yemen and many other countries secure positive change. The only way to build sustainable and resilient change is by working at a grassroots level, Elisabeth has a proven track record in the Arab region and Karama Europe is the next step in this relationship.”
Elisabeth van der Steenhoven has worked closely with women’s networks in the Arab region and across the world throughout her career, most recently as director of WO=MEN Dutch Gender Platform. Under her guidance the platforms’s membership doubled it and co-cordinated the Dutch National Action Plan on Women Peace and Security. The platform launched innovative links with a broad array of actors, varying from development NGOs to entrepreneurs, academics, peace activists, military, migrants, police and human rights networks. By the same token, the network successfully supported the first Parliamentary Multi-Party Initiative on women’s rights; uniting as many as nine political parties from right to left.
Elisabeth van der Steenhoven said:
“I am very honoured to join the Karama network and lead the European hub. We have witnessed the decentralization of western NGOs and institutions, seeing them move from North to South, it is very exciting to pioneer the other way round. Women in the Arab region play a crucial role in the struggle for democracy and stability, let’s make sure their voices are being heard”.
Zahra’ Langhi, co-founder of the Libyan Women’s Platform for Peace and an advisor to the Preparatory Committee of the National Dialogue in Libya, said:
“I’m very happy to hear of the launch of Karama Europe, which will be led by Elisabeth van der Steenhoven. Elisabeth is known for her passion and genuine belief in the causes for which she advocates. Having worked closely with Elisabeth on several projects, I observed her relentless determination to bring voice and visibility to women in our region. Her nuanced understanding of the challenges facing women on the frontline renders her an invaluable expertise.”
Mouna Ghanem, Vice President of the Syrian political movement Building the Syrian State and a member of the Women’s Advisory Board to the UN Special Envoy on Syria, said:
“Elisabeth is someone who can transform activists into strong politicians, support them and even protect them if necessary. I’m lucky to know Elisabeth and to have worked with her; she and Karama have already done a great deal for women, and between us we can make the politics of the world a gender sensitive politics, and have a more peaceful world.”
The first ministerial meeting of the League of Arab States on women, peace and security represents an important step, women leaders from the Arab region have said. Government ministers, representatives of international institutions and activists met in Cairo between 4-5 September to discuss how women could play a greater role in bringing peace to the Arab region.
The two-day conference was attended by leading regional and international figures, and was opened by Ahmed Aboul Gheit, Secretary-General of the League of Arab States.
The meeting’s civil society partner, Cairo-based NGO Karama, brought a range of speakers from across the Arab region to discuss the role that women’s groups and activists play in protecting women affected by conflict, and promoting their increased participation in peace talks and public life. These delegates brought with them first-hand experience of conflict resolution, political negotiations and the struggle for National Action Plans in Libya, Yemen, Somalia, Sudan, Palestine and Jordan.
The conference comes just over 15 years since the formalisation of the women, peace and security agenda under UN Security Council Resolution 1325. The resolution underlines the particular risks that women face from conflict, political violence and instability. It also underlines the fact that women should play an active role in peace negotiations. Amongst other things, the League of Arab States conference sought to develop a road map for Member States to meet their international obligations on women, peace and security. So far only two countries in the region – Iraq and Palestine – have formalised their obligations into National Action Plans for women, peace and security.
The delegates from civil society organisations all identified a lack of political will and resources as being the greatest obstacles to increased protection of women in conflict and women’s participation in conflict resolution and political processes.
Commenting on the conference Hibaaq Osman, CEO and Founder of Karama, said:
“From civil wars to political instability to occupation, the Arab region is currently facing some of the world’s worst and most intractable violence and conflict. Women in the region not only have to the deal with the consequences of this violence, they must also face the indignity of exclusion from the processes seeking to bring peace and stability to the region. Without women, there will be no lasting peace in the Arab world.
“This conference provided an essential opportunity to discuss how women in the region have been affected by conflict and violence, and the courage they have shown in campaigning for their rights. But the lesson of last 15 years of the women, peace and security agenda has been that support must start at the highest level of government in order for women to be protected and for them to participate meaningfully.
“The work that ministers, experts and activists have carried out in Cairo has been an important step – but it is just a first step. It must be followed by actions from governments, international institutions and donors. We need to see policies like increased and guaranteed quotas for women in peace negotiations and in national parliaments, and increased support for civil society organisations carrying out vital work in the region, from supporting refugees and victims of sexual violence, to ensuring women’s voices are heard at all levels of decision-making, civil society organisations in the Arab region are leading the way on women, peace and security; they must be given more support.
“We thank the Ministers who participated in this conference, and we hope that the commitment they have shown will encourage ministers in all member states to start taking the women, peace and security agenda with the same seriousness.”
Jamila Ali Rajaa, former member of Yemen’s National Dialogue Conference and a senior researcher, mediator and expert on gender, media and peacebuilding, said:
“In the matter of peace and security the importance of partnership between the Arab governments and civil society should be inevitable. This partnership should include women. I hope this meeting is only a beginning for a long lasting understanding of the perils that lie ahead if this partnership is not secured.
“In the case of Yemen, I hope the fighting recedes and all parties return to the negotiating table so as to achieve an inclusive and just peace. The high price of war should instigate a peaceful solution which should not exclude women throughout its process.”
Lily Feidy, CEO of the Palestinian Initiative for the Promotion of Global Dialogue and Democracy (MIFTAH), said:
“The region has already witnessed the strength and infliuence that civil society can exert. Civil Society Organizations in Palestine spearheaded the work on UN Security Council Resolution 1325; the government followed suit. Empowered women will empower the whole nation. “Peace and Security will be realized in the Arab World when women will assume their role as agents of change.”
Arab women leaders told a conference in The Hague that militarization is a serious threat to peace in the Middle East and North Africa. Hibaaq Osman, founder and chief executive of Karama, used her keynote speech at the Women on the Frontlines conference to say that easy access to weapons in conflict-affected states puts at risk not only the lives and safety of women, but the long-term prospects for women’s participation in peace-building.
Ms Osman told the conference that the flow of weapons into the region had led directly to the escalation of conflicts and the militarization of societies. When measured per head of population, military spending by Arab governments is 65 per cent higher than the global average. At the same time, the region bears witness to a disproportionate amount of the world’s violence; in 2014 7 out of ten conflict-related deaths occurred in the Arab region.
The conference heard that women in conflict-affected countries already face exclusion from conflict resolution and political processes, and that women are increasingly being targeted by political violence and assassinations. This violence creates a climate of fear and insecurity that pushes women to the sidelines.
Ms Osman used her keynote to highlight the contradiction between developed nations calling for greater respect for women’s rights while at the same time profiting from the sale of weapons to regions like the Middle East and North Africa.
Addressing the conference, Hibaaq Osman said:
“The trade in weapons has perhaps done more to damage women’s advancement in the Arab region than any other single factor. The flood of weapons has lead directly to the escalation of conflicts, and the militarization of societies.
“The ease with which men can access arms has brought the front lines from the battlefields into the very homes of women.”
On the issue of the arms trade, Ms Osman said:
“It is not simply a contradiction to call for greater women’s participation when you are at the same time profiting from the sale of weapons.
“The proliferation of arms is actively reducing the space available for women’s participation, empowering the forces of repression and – fundamentally – it is killing women.”
October 28 – Women leaders from the Arab Regional Network on Women, Peace, and Security (ARNWPS) lobbied for women’s participation, inclusion and protection at high-level discussions on the impact of conflict of women worldwide at the United Nations in New York. They concluded that fifteen years after adopting Security Council Resolution 1325 (SCR1325) on women, peace and security, critical gaps are still preventing achievement of sustainable peace in the Arab region.
In meetings with senior figures at the UN and a side event, the ARNWPS delegates set out the group’s four practical recommendations for the women, peace and security agenda:
Efforts to increase women’s political and diplomatic participation need to be strengthened by the introduction of enforceable quotas.
Women human rights defenders too often become the targets of violence; courageous women like Salwa Bughaighis and Fariha Al-Berkawi in Libya have been assassinated. The Security Council and international bodies must treat such targeted violence against women as a crime against humanity.
International bodies should provide greater support and partnership at the community level.
The global trade in arms fuels conflict and violence against women; the flow of weapons needs to be stemmed.
“Governments lack the political will to implement SCR1325 and women are dying as a result,” said Karama Founder and CEO, Hibaaq Osman. “If all the resolutions on women, peace and security were implemented, we would not be seeing the violence that is currently devastating women’s lives across the Arab region. The ARNWPS has presented recommendations that can have a positive impact on women’s lives.”
While SCR1325 has been a pivotal document in acknowledging the integral role of women in peace and reconciliation processes, its aims have not been fulfilled through action. The delegation met with international policymakers and media in New York in order to raise awareness of the situation for women living in conflict and under occupation and to build support for its four main recommendations.
“Sustainable peace requires us to address the root causes of conflict. Women have proven to be best at dealing with these issues and providing solutions,” said Jetteke Van Der Schatte Olivier, Manager of the Women on the Frontline Programme. “The international community should make women’s rights part and parcel of their foreign and security policies, ensuring women are no longer overlooked, nor sidelined.”