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Women rights work get international recognition by the Nobel Peace Prize

rookellos Icon Posted by Rosemary Okello-Orlale

April 20th, 2012

When the Nobel Peace awarded Peace Prize to Ellen Johnson Sirleaf of Liberia, her compatriot Leymah Gbowee, and Tawakkul Karman of Yemen for their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women’s rights, the Nobel Committee gave recognition to women who have been demanding for years, the equal involvement of women in all peace, security and democracy decisions.
As stated by Thorbjorn Jagland who is the head of the Nobel committee saying, “We cannot achieve democracy and lasting peace in the world unless women obtain the same opportunities as men to influence developments at all levels of society”, indeed the work of women rights to ensure gender equality has been a kin to two steps forward and three steps backwards.
Considering that since its establishment in 1901, this is the first time that those who have been working on women’s rights have been recognised, therefore what the Nobel Peace has done is to communicate to the world that now, the 21st century, is the time for women’s full and equal participation at all levels of society.
Linda Lowen in her blog observes that, by choosing three female winners which is a first in the history of the Nobel Peace Prize, the Nobel Committee expressed the hope that this year’s prize “will help to bring an end to the suppression of women that still occurs in many countries, and to realise the great potential for democracy and peace that women can represent.”
The same sentiments has been echoed by the UN Women Executive Director Michelle Bachelet who said, women’s involvement is central for achieving lasting peace and stability and yet, too often, they are excluded from the negotiating table. And retaliated that the UN Women stand beside women around the world who are demanding that their voices be heard and they have equal participation in decision-making.
This year’s prize is unique in many ways in that it is a source of pride for women from all over the world who are facing numerous obstacles in the area of women’s peace and rights. But as observed by Bachelet, what the three extraordinary women have exemplified by overcoming the huge obstacles in their quest for peace and democracy is to give hope to women of the world.
“All over the world, women are demanding their rights and their equal participation in peace building, democracy and the development of their nations, and UN Women was created this year to be a champion for women around the world and is promoting women’s increased participation and leadership and equal involvement in all processes of peace-making, security, democratisation and reconstruction,” she said.
A report by UN Women indicates that since 1992 fewer than ten per cent of peace negotiators have been women. Typically less than six per cent of reconstruction budgets specifically provide for the needs of women and girls. Efforts to engage women in making and keeping peace have gained momentum through UN Security Council resolution 1325 on women, peace and security adopted in 2000.
In Africa women are the greatest victims of any conflict including wars. They have been used as weapons of war and have suffered gender based and sexual violence. While women could play a big role in conflict resolution as negotiators and mediators, they have been ignored on this front and have not been accorded space to participate in peace negotiations and discussions on security matters.
The Nobel awards therefore has given a new currency in the area of women peace and considering that the African Women’s Decade launched last year in Nairobi, Kenya, had already identified women, peace and security as one of its area of intervention for the next ten years; the Decade’s objective therefore is to work with the African Union Peace Security Department (PSD), Peace and Security Council (PSC) and the Panel of the Wise in relation to the United Nations Security Council Resolutions: 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889 with particular focus on violence against women, peace.
But a general observation on the status of women and peace in Africa indicates that women are worse off now in terms of conflict. A shadow report looking at 15 years later since Beijing conference by FEMNET indicated that several African countries have experienced internal conflict and some are still at war like the Democratic Republic of Congo and women in the region form the majority of Internally Displaced People (IDP).
Conflicts have left many countries deeply traumatised and this has resulted in violent societies, especially towards women. Wars and conflicts in Africa have made communities, especially women, more vulnerable to HIV and Aids, and this has increased the number of widows and orphans, as well as the feminisation of poverty. For example in Kenya during the post-election violence, at the beginning of 2008, women and girls fleeing their homes and those who sought sanctuary in the internally displaced person (IDP) camps were exposed to and experienced gender-based violence ranging from all forms of sexual abuse and exploitation to physical and domestic violence.
The findings of an inter-agency report, undertaken by the Gender-Based Violence (GBV) Sub-cluster, found that encamped women repeatedly expressed fears of sexual violence as a result of makeshift sleeping arrangements in the IDP camps where males and females (not of the same family) were forced to sleep together in one tent.
There were also concerns expressed over the lack of regulations and screening procedures at the camp that allowed men from outside to enter the camp without verification of their IDP status or posing as volunteers. Sexual exploitation was also a concern as women and girls were coerced into exchanging sex for basic resources such as food, sanitary supplies and transport.
In addition, in countries like Sudan and Angola and other parts of Africa, landmines and the illicit proliferation of small arms are a huge menace and threat to security, and have killed and maimed thousands. Impunity and crimes against humanity, especially women, have gone unpunished. There has also been a tragic problem of thousands of child soldiers.

And there is need for governments in Africa to domesticate and implement the UN Resolution 1325 which aims to increase the participation of women in conflict resolution at decision-making levels and protect women living in situations of armed and other conflicts or under foreign occupations. Currently, many countries have not implemented this.

In many regions reprisal, shame and social stigma are attached to certain types of violence against women, particularly rape. Fear of the consequences of reporting sexual violence, such as facing rejection, alienation, divorce, being declared unfit for marriage, and severe economic and social repercussions all discourage women from reporting the violence suffered.
Therefore the recognition of The Liberian president, Ellen Johnson Sirleaf , the first woman President in Africa who is known as a reformer and peacemaker; Leymah Gbowee, for her work for peace within Liberia who is former child soldiers after the First Liberian Civil War and Tawakul Karman, a young Yemeni activist, for organising protests within Yemen for freedom and human rights, using nonviolence to fuel the movement, can be captured in the words of the Foreign Secretary, William Hague, who described the three winners as “tireless advocates for peace” who had “unstintingly promoted the safety of women and women’s rights through non-violent struggle.” Adding, “The values of democracy and freedom demand equality for all. These three women are a clear example of what can be done to change the world for the better,” Hague said.

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