Where are the peace women?

August 09, 2011


IS peace in Karachi on the mend? Quite likely. The political reconciliation that is in the air will hopefully lower the level of violence. But for how long?

A positive development has been the belated involvement of civil society in peacemaking in the city. At a press conference on Saturday, Nargis Rahman, an activist for women’s rights and peace, announced the convening of the Karachi Concerned Citizens Forum (KCCF) comprising 65 NGOs. Rahman emphatically stated “it was not just the government’s job but also the duty of the citizens” to work for peace in the city.  The KCCF presented seven demands to the government designed to lower the heat. Some of these call for active participation of civil society as well. There is the call for a complete ban on the display of weapons by political party workers who should not be allowed to commit random or targeted killings. All political parties have been asked to identify miscreants/militants within their ranks and expose them for appropriate punitive action under the law of the land.

As a response is formulated to these demands, which are really the minimum to bring about a semblance of peace, it is important that women should get more involved in this daunting task before the citizens of Karachi.

It is heartening these developments spell the emergence of the female voice in support of peace, and Nargis Rahman has done well to take the initiative. It so transpired that she had been agonising over the killings in the city for several days and with friends, Naushaba Burney and Ameena Saiyid, had been debating the strategy to be adopted. Thus emerged the action plan presented on Saturday by Karamat Ali of Pakistan Institute of Labour Education and Research.

One hopes that this phase of peace in Karachi is not to be another transient one as has been the case in the past when Karachi has been seized with violence. If this time it has to be different then there is need to change strategies. What should they be? I found the answer to this question at the poster exhibition organised by PeaceWomen Across the Globe (PWAG) that I visited at the Human Security Conference in Caux in July.

Designed to commemorate the work of the 1,000 women who were (unsuccessfully) nominated collectively by this organisation for the Nobel Peace Prize in 2005 — 29 from Pakistan — it was a powerful reminder that women’s role in peacemaking has not received a fair chance.

PWAG, a Swiss-based agency, believes that the absence of war does not necessarily translate into peace. Although the number of wars has declined today, the level of violence has gone up. It believes that without women’s involvement there can be no permanent peace as they are the ones who come up with solutions that reduce conflicts, strengthen civil society and heal wounds.

This was acknowledged by the UN Security Council more than 10 years ago when it adopted resolution 1325 which requires the participation of women in all peace negotiations. This goal has yet to be achieved.

The co-president of WPAW , Ruth-Gaby Vermot-Mangold, who is a former member of the Swiss parliament, disclosed in her inaugural address that from 1992 to 2004 nearly 22 peace negotiations took place globally. Women comprised only 2.5 per cent of the signatories and 7.6 per cent of the members of negotiating teams were women.

Why has more room not been created for women to participate in the sensitive process of peacemaking which is infinitely more difficult to sustain? WPAW very categorically states, “It is a proven fact that peace negotiations that do not include women are unsuccessful. Peace processes that only consider the needs and concerns of warring factions or conflict parties are doomed to fail. Post-conflict reconstruction processes that exclude women are unable to fulfil the needs of the local population and consequently sow the seeds of new conflict.”

This invisibility of women can be traced to centuries-old patriarchal structures that determine every activity including diplomacy and governance. Considering that human lives are at stake, the failure of women to make it to the forefront in peace negotiations should not be acceptable today. Women will have to assert themselves and assume their responsibility.

In Karachi, the role of female civil society activists as in the formation of KCCF is commendable. But where were the women from the political parties that are held responsible for the killings in the city when Karachi was burning? All the parties have high-profile articulate women members, but unfortunately, we have not heard much from them on this issue. They should join hands to demand peace in Karachi and should work together, transcending party lines.

It is their duty to play the role expected of them in three ways. First, they should bring pressure on the government and their own parties that have been engaged in a turf war in this metropolis to submit to de-weaponisation and other suggested measures.

Second, recognising the sanctity of human life which they give birth to, they should refuse to participate in the blame game their party leaders indulge in.

Third, they must insist on peace committees (with at least a third of the members being women from all sides of the political spectrum) being established in every locality at the grass-root level. After all, when violence erupts, women are the worst sufferers. They lose their breadwinners and their sons.