Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

More Women to the Peace Table

Newspaper article The Christian Science Monitor

More Women to the Peace Table

Article excerpt

Allowing men who plan wars to plan peace is a bad habit. But international negotiators and policymakers can break that habit by including peace promoters, not just warriors, at the negotiating table. More often than not, those peace promoters are women. While most men come to the negotiating table directly from the war room and the battlefield, women usually arrive straight out of civil activism and - take a deep breath - family care.

Yet, traditional thinking about war and peace either ignores women or regards them only as victims. This oversight costs the world dearly. The wars of the past decade have gripped the public conscience largely because civilians were not merely caught in the crossfire; they were targeted, deliberately and brutally, by military strategists. Just as warfare has become "inclusive" - with civilian deaths often more common than soldiers' - so too must our approach toward ending conflict. Today, the goal is not simply the absence of war, but the creation of sustainable peace by fostering fundamental societal changes. Women are crucial in fostering such changes, since they are often at the center of nongovernmental organizations, popular protests, electoral referendums, and other citizen-empowering movements whose influences have grown with the global spread of democracy.

Women have been able to bridge the divide even in situations where leaders have deemed conflict resolution futile in the face of so-called intractable ethnic hatreds. Striking examples of women making the impossible possible come from Sudan, a country splintered by decades of civil war. In the south, women working together in the New Sudan Council of Churches conducted their own version of shuttle diplomacy and organized the Wunlit tribal summit in February 1999 to bring an end to bloody hostilities between the Dinka and Nuer peoples. The platform of Jerusalem Link, a federation of Palestinian and Israeli women's groups, served as a blueprint for negotiations over the final status of Jerusalem during the Oslo process. Former President Clinton, the week of the failed Camp David talks in July 2000, remarked simply, "If we'd had women at Camp David, we'd have an agreement."

Women in Northern Ireland are showing how diligently they must still work, not only to ensure a place at the negotiating table, but also to sustain peace by reaching critical mass in political office. In 1996, peace activists Monica McWilliams and May Blood created a new political party (the Northern Ireland Women's Coalition, or NIWC) so that they could participate in the peace talks. Their efforts paid off. The women drafted key clauses of the Good Friday Agreement regarding the importance of mixed (Catholic and Protestant) housing, the particular difficulties of young people, and the need for resources to address these problems. …

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