Women's Organizations Working for Human Rights and Peace. (Women of the World)

By Reardon, Betty A. | Social Education, January-February 2003 | Go to article overview

Women's Organizations Working for Human Rights and Peace. (Women of the World)


Reardon, Betty A., Social Education


In October 2000, when a dozen women from various international nongovernmental organizations sat in the observers' section of the United Nations Security Council chamber, they became witnesses to a landmark event that they had conceived, initiated, and successfully advocated. The women's groups had prepared the draft text, guided the discussion, and secured the adoption by acclamation of Security Council Resolution 1325 (SC/1325), (1) which called on member states to include women in all discussions and activities related to peace and security. "Women, Peace and Security," generally referred to as SC/1325, was the first major step toward transformation of the very center of global patriarchy, the international security system.

These women, representatives of some of the same organizations that have influenced other UN peace initiatives, were carrying on a long tradition of women's efforts to assert citizens' influence over issues of war and peace. One might consider them the political daughters of, among many other distinguished foremothers, Bertha yon Sutner, Jane Addams, Jeannette Rankin, and Eleanor Roosevelt, or sisters of Jodie Williams, Mairead Corrigan Maguire, and Barbara Lee, individuals whose names, words, and accomplishments should be part of any gender-balanced education for citizenship. Their work in international women's peace movements has been a major source of energy in the growing force of global civil society. These movements have been the main arena for the advancement of women's human rights and women's perspectives on peace.

This article focuses primarily on women's international work for human rights and peace, and gives some emphasis to the role of American women in these movements. All of these international efforts, however, originate from the actions of local women's groups around the world. Especially influential in the world movement are the peace initiatives of women in conflict areas in Africa and Asia, as well as the struggle for human rights waged by women living under repressive regimes. The consensus of the movement is (1) that the protection and realization of women's human rights are essential to human security; and (2) that the integral relationship between women's equal participation in public policy-making and the possibilities for peace should be recognized and should affect the composition of all international peace negotiations. These agreements are reflected in SC/1325.

Teaching about the evolution of events such as the adoption of this landmark resolution can help illuminate contemporary political history, illustrating the possibilities for constructive change that lie in informed political activism. This and other such achievements provide the basis for effective curricula on topics such as the structure and function of the UN, contemporary forms of armed conflict and their consequences, U.S. foreign policy, gender and social issues, and the growth in influence of international civil society on world politics. Each topic can be taught through particular campaigns waged and changes brought about by women's actions for peace.

One way to teach about the United Nations and SC/1325 could be to introduce the UN charter with special reference to the functions and responsibilities assigned to the Security Council. Such study can demonstrate to students that effective political activism requires well-informed activists and that principled political action can be effective. These two points are important in order to increase the capacities for peacemaking; social educators must also illustrate, with actual examples, that informed and committed citizens such as these women are a vital essential element of democracy.

Many of the initiatives of women's organizations are, in fact, exercises in responsible citizenship directed toward the achievement of another fundamental premise of democracy, equality among citizens. SC/1325 builds on the call for women's full participation in policy-making, identified in the Beijing Platform for Action (A/52/ 231) (2) issued by the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995. …

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