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.”