By BETTY REARDON, Founder Emeritus, International Institute on Peace Education
For those who have been striving for the realization of the human rights of women, the first week of March – the 8th day of which is International Women’s Day – is a time of in-gathering of the international women’s movements with the convening of the annual session of the United Nations Commission on the Status of Women (CSW). This year, the 56th CSW session brings women (and a few but increasing number of men) from all over the world, some of them representing the member states that sit on the Commission, charged with advancing UN policy statements adopted over the past half century to “reaffirm…the equal rights of men and women….” in such documents as the Convention on the Elimination of all forms of Discrimination against Women, the Beijing Platform for Action, and Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security.
By far the largest numbers of those who pour into New York for CSW are the approximately one to two thousand civil society activists, representing NGOs associated with the UN. While the “progress reports” of the member states and their discussions on a concluding statement will have some, if varying, significance to the lives of women on the ground, the “real action” of the Commission emerges from the civil society networking and strategizing that takes place around the NGO “parallel events” that occur outside the UN headquarters and the few “side events” collaboratively organized by NGOs and missions of the member states and/or UN agencies held within headquarters. This collaboration, while perhaps less vigorous than it was a decade ago, is an important ground on which the interstate system and civil society have direct interaction. Some important advances in the affirming of women’s equal rights have been seeded in this ground.
By far the most fertile ground, however, is that trod by women who may never enter a headquarters building, but whose quotidian work in their own communities and the common strategizing made possible by parallel events at CSW and other UN conferences have grown the parent plants that produce the seeds planted in the shared UN/NGO ground.
There are many examples, but that most relevant to peace education is Security Council Resolution 1325 that grew from the concerns of women directly and severely affected by armed conflict, their plight recognized in other UN documents such as the Nairobi Forward Looking Strategies and the Beijing Platform for Action. However, prior to 1325, member states gave no official attention to the fact that women had virtually no voice in when and under what rationales war is waged, although women were profoundly affected in the most devastating ways by warfare. This right of women to participate in security policy making was carried by NGOs from women on the ground into the UN system, by lobbying UN agencies and member state missions, persuading them to call an open session of the Security Council on the topic. The rest may indeed be history, but the consequences continue to be a primary realm of women’s struggle for equality in that political arena where the life and death questions of war and peace are raised and responded to. Women’s responses can profoundly change the outcomes.
1325 opens new possibilities for movement toward peace and security. These possibilities pertain in all realms of society and all the ways in which women function in society. CSW 56 focused on the lives and futures of rural women and girls seems to have only minimally observed these possibilities. Despite the fact that rural women, their agrarian livelihoods, their very bodies are ravaged by armed conflict, neither these circumstances nor 1325 are referenced in the draft conclusion presented for discussion by the Commission members. This is a moment for “marshalling the forces” of the women’s peace groups who initiated the 1325 process. Is there any realm of women’s lives that is not affected by issues of peace and security? Is there any arena in which these concerns should not be raised?
These questions along with the text of 1325, the subsequent supporting resolutions and the National Action Plans some member states are adopting to implement them are primary substance for peace education. What better way to observe International Women’s Day than by launching such an inquiry in our classrooms and communities? Let’s dispense with the flowers and the other sweet tributes to traditional womanhood and instead take a stand for women’s full enfranchisement with the implementation and application of 1325 throughout the public sphere.