What Can Women Do? / by Sophie Schor

Since my return from my summer trip to home and family in North America, it has been a blur of re-adjusting to the time zone, cultural challenges, language gaps, and humidity. As I settle back into the rhythm of the work week and proofreading the upcoming journal, I find all my free hours being filled with conversations about women and peace.

I am applying for a PhD next fall pursuing the research I've begun here on the role of women in Israeli and Palestininan societies in the peace process and what agency they have in a conflict zone. My head is swirling from hours spent investigating academic departments and funding and reading abstracts of potential future supervisors' research. Each day, a new school is added to, or crossed off from, the list; a new checkbox added to the to-do list of applications leads to calculating postage of transcripts and panic over having forgotten high-school algebra for the GRE.

Yet, I am constantly encountering things here that seems to reinforce the feeling that this is the work I want to be doing, that these are the questions that we need to be asking. Earlier this week, I attended a conference hosted by IPCRI (Israeli-Palestinian Creative Regional Initiatives) that focused on the current role of women in the peace process and UN Security Council Resolution 1325. In 2000, the UN Security Council adopted the resolution which, 

"reaffirms the important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction and stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Resolution 1325 urges all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all United Nations peace and security efforts. It also calls on all parties to conflict to take special measures to protect women and girls from gender-based violence, particularly rape and other forms of sexual abuse, in situations of armed conflict." 

This resolution is the cornerstone of the women and peace thesis which claims that women have inherent and important contributions to add to peace processes, based on their gender and based on the facts that historically they have been excluded from national and international conversations and decisions on peace and security.

I had a bumper sticker on my car from high-school from when I worked with The White House Project (an organization that supports women running for public office in the States). It said, "Add Women, Change Everything." While I fear that this saying and the notions behind these resolutions simplifies matters and portrays women in an overly simplified light as being inherently peaceful, I think it also captures a very real discourse that is unfolding around us globally and locally. In cases of violent, protracted conflicts which have been led mainly by men, what would happen if women were involved in the process? Julia Bacha of Just Vision spoke about women's power to transform conflict in Palestine in this phenomenal and highly recommended TedTalk. She highlights that the role of women in the public life and in a movement leads to the adoption of nonviolence as a tenet of resistance. She also remarks on how in many different historical moments, women were present but were invisible in the public sphere or media or narrative.  Just Vision is producing a new film about women in the First Intifada, and I cannot wait to see it.

All of this is just a small example of the research that is being done which reiterates again and again that including women in negotiations, decision making, and post-conflict plans results in more successful and long-lasting peace agreements. This summer's resolution of the brutal conflict in Colombia between the government and FARC was notable for its inclusion of women at the negotiations and for the provisions of gender equality and protection of women in the resulting agreement. The resolution to Liberia's civil war was also paramount in it's inclusion of women's perspectives. For more research on these concepts see the UN's Report on Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations (2012) and the Global Study on the Implementation of Resolution 1325.

Theory is one thing, but how does this apply in real life? The conversation at the IPCRI conference began to ask those questions. There were Palestinian women there from the Jerusalem Women's Center, there were Israeli women from grassroots movements, local organizations, an Israeli Member of the Knesset, and international representation by the Swedish, Norwegian, Dutch, and Finnish Embassies. Topics were raised about the importance of creating equality for women in all spheres in Israeli and Palestinian societies in order to empower them to participate in the public and political spheres. Opportunities were discussed, and experiences were shared. The energy in the room felt effervescent, there was so much more that wanted to be said, discussed, asked, and strategized. As the evening drew to an end, and everyone began exchanging business cards and handshakes, I watched as networks were being formed before my eyes.

The next day, I joined one of the directors of IPCRI to attend a forum in Hebrew that was hosted by an Israeli organization (Itaach-Maaki) which is taking the lead in implementing the resolution in Israel. The room was filled--over 40 women and 3 men-- and representatives from many different organizations, experiences, lent their perspectives to the larger questions of how to use UNSCR 1325 as a tool, and how to work together. Representatives from Women Wage Peace, WIPS, Dafna Fund, Minds of Peace, Mahsom Watch, Combatants for Peace, and Forum for Regional Thinking were all present.

The conversation began with the basic questions of Why, What, and How:

Why are women being called upon to participate in peace processes? Why is this important?

What do they have to offer? What work exists, what work needs to be done?

How do we actually take the recommendations of the resolution and implement them in our own lives, work, and societies?

The responses were varied, were challenging, were thoughtful. The 4 hour meeting ended with, yet again, the feeling that the conversation is just beginning.

Later this week, I will be attending the third meeting of the women of Combatants for Peace--a side-project of the organization, and I've been invited to participate. A group of Israeli women and Palestinian women, all members of Combatants for Peace, are meeting to discuss how to insert women's voices into the larger conversations in the organization as a whole and how to create protest actions that more women would be enticed and able to participate in. The conversations are authentic and are questioning how to accommodate a gendered perspective in the very important dialogue work and on the ground activism of Combatants for Peace. Our first meeting was invigorating, and this one should be equally exciting.

Today is international peace day. But, I dedicate this week to women: the rabble rousers, the ground-shakers, the wagers of conflict, and the peace makers.