Such a meeting was organised, at the council itself, attended by
almost a dozen women and men. There was criticism: the overwhelming
majority of speakers on panels and in groups were men; out of some
42 representatives sent by branches to the 1992 Council, less than
a dozen were women.
These and other recommendations were taken on board by the 1992 Council. The IFOR secretariat was given the task of investigating possible ways to support IFOR women working on peace and justice issues. The results of a questionnaire sent to all IFOR branches, groups and affiliates indicated overwhelming support for the idea of an IFOR program for women and in particular specific empowerment training for women.
The 1993 questionnaire also revealed that, unknown to many, some branches and groups were already involved in women's programming: income generation for slum women in the Philippines; counselling and emergency housing for battered women and their children in India; stopping rape on university campuses in the USA; support for AIDS orphans in Tanzania.
The challenge became how IFOR could systematically support and encourage women in such work; how women's perspectives and experiences of war, of reconstruction and reconciliation, could be mobilised and utilised; how women's solutions and ideas could be disseminated to a wider audience.
Spurred on by the 1995 United Nations Fourth World Conference on Women (see Fellowship, November/December 1995, "Our Governments are At War. We Are Not": the UN Conference on Women") and its very concrete recommendations regarding women in conflict situations, IFOR began to develop a program to bring an awareness of gender into all its work. The Women Peacemakers Program (WPP) was born, and launched in June 1997.
Why a Women's Program?This century has seen a change from soldiers being the primary casualties in war to the bulk of victims being civilians. This fact alone means that women's and girls' lives are being affected by armed conflict as never before. Conflicts can impact on women and girls in very specific ways, ways which have too often been ignored or unrecognised: as primary caretakers of children and the elderly, as victims of war rape, as refugees, increasingly as armed combatants themselves.
War is a very gendered activity, and activists dedicated to eliminating war must incorporate a gender perspective in their work.
Incorporating a gender perspective--looking at the power relationships between men and women, and at how women and men may be affected differently by the same event--raises some very problematic issues. It involves expanding the definition of peace work, to include development issues, such as income generation.
During the last decade development agencies--and their funders--have realised the close links between development and peace, and the key role women play in both. Without peace, development is impossible--and without women, neither sustainable peace nor development can take place.
Another problematic issue is the definition of peace itself. What is the exact difference between "peace time" and "war time" to a woman being beaten by her male partner or a girl being sold into prostitution? According to a study commissioned by the World Health Organization, some 40 to 60 percent of women and girls in any given culture will experience rape, domestic abuse and/or incest. How does this "private" violence against half of humanity differ from the "public" violence of armed conflict?
Yet another issue is the crucial question of increasing women's access to political power and political decision making. Women are not just victims. Groups like the Liberian Women's Initiative and Sudanese Women's Voice for Peace; the experiences of women UN election monitors in South Africa; the role of church women in ending Bougainville's brutal war--all of these cases and more show that women are leaders in peace and reconciliation efforts.
Yet without access to political decision-making, women's solutions go ignored. The challenge for women peacemakers is both to gain political power--and to transform political structures and processes into more democratic and egalitarian forms. This is linked to yet another issue. When does capitalising on women's strengths in peacemaking--good listening and communication skills, the flexibility to compromise, caring for people above abstract principles--become perpetuating traditional sex role stereotypes that rationalise domination and inequality?
The WPPWomen Peacemakers Program grapples with all these issues. It helps to organise trainings for women's groups in active nonviolence which may emphasise nonviolent responses to violence against women, or incorporate leadership training and teaching fundraising skills; works to build sustainable women's organizations by linking groups with resources, including organizations that can provide technical and financial support for income-generating projects; holds regional consultations with women from different sides of communities in conflict, where women are encouraged to look at obstacles to peace and strategize about solutions; and documents, through reports and videos/DVDs, exactly what women are doing for peace.
Since 1997, we keep being reaffirmed that women's approaches to peace are myriad, yet do seem to have some commonalties, in particular a concern with how children are traumatised and/or prepared for future wars. Women see the links between human rights education and the need to build more democratic governments, especially the need to education women about our human rights; the connection between violence in private life and public acceptance of war; and the need to build a sound economic base for sustainable peace.
Most of all, the WPP has seen how with support in the form of trainings, solidarity actions, and finances, women will lead the way to peace.