Magazine article Newsweek International

Keepers of the Peace; Countries Ravaged by War Are Turning to Female Leaders as the Key to Healing. They Are Far More Likely to Build Bridges Than to Tear Them Down

Magazine article Newsweek International

Keepers of the Peace; Countries Ravaged by War Are Turning to Female Leaders as the Key to Healing. They Are Far More Likely to Build Bridges Than to Tear Them Down

Article excerpt

Byline: Emily Flynn Vencat

At the age of 14, Nesreen Barwari was thrown into one of Saddam Hussein's political prisons. At 24, she was a Kurdish refugee, struggling for survival on Iraq's Turkish border. A decade later, in 2003, she became the only woman to hold a cabinet post in Iraq's first post-Saddam government. Unlike the typical Middle Eastern leader's ascent to power, Barwari's journey reads like the life of a charity worker. The Harvard-educated minister headed up the United Nations' Rebuilding Iraq project after the Gulf War; later she led the Kurdistan Regional Government's reconstruction of 3,000 destroyed villages. When she became minister of Municipalities and Public Works, she set out to convince the Governing Council of the vital role women should play in rebuilding the country. "At first they were against it," she says. "They would say, 'We don't have enough qualified women,' and I would say right in their face: 'We are all building the new Iraq!' "

Nowhere are women leaders more essential than in countries devastated by war. Studies from the World Economic Forum and Harvard-based nonprofit the Initiative for Inclusive Security show that women are better at creating and keeping the peace in post-conflict societies because women are--generally--less violent than their male counterparts. Increasingly, citizens in such societies are recognizing that and turning to women for help. In Rwanda's most recent election, women won 49 percent of the seats in Parliament--the highest proportion in the world. The Iraqi Constitution, passed by referendum last month, guarantees women 25 percent of the seats in Parliament. Liberians hoping to secure peace after decades of civil war could become the first African country with a woman president if they elect Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf in the final round of balloting on Nov. 8.

Perhaps the greatest hope is that increasing the ranks of women in government will help prevent future wars. Swanee Hunt, head of The Initiative for Inclusive Security, a multimillion-dollar nonprofit supporting the work of women in conflict zones, says: "During the [Bosnian] war, I asked the prime minister of Bosnia, Haris Silajdzic, 'If half of the people around the table at the very beginning had been women, would there have been a war?' And he said, 'No. Women think long and hard before they send their children out to kill other peoples' children'."

Are women actually more peaceful than men? Looking at Cameroon, Bolivia and Malaysia, a recent World Economic Forum study found that when women have a greater say in spending priorities, they spend less on the military. …

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