SHE TALKS PEACE: Women, Peace, and Security

QUEZON CITY (MindaNews / 10 April) — Have you been following the developments in Ukraine?  If so, you must be feeling horror, disbelief, amazement, and hope – all at the same time.  Those emotions described our state of mind as Dina Zaman (co-founder of Malaysian think-tank IMAN Research), and I talked about Russian President Putin’s unprovoked war on Ukraine.  

Horror, as the news reveal new atrocities each day – the bombing of hospitals and homes; the massacre of civilians in the towns of Bucha, Borodyanka and Trostyanets; the rape of young girls and of mothers in front of their children; the wanton execution of civilians.  And most recently, the bombing of the Kramatorsk train station where thousands of civilians waited to board the train to evacuate their town.  A missile part was found with the words “for children” painted on it.  

Disbelief at the continuous denials of the Russian government over what’s happening in Ukraine.   The Russian government and media keep repeating the message that their soldiers have not committed any atrocity but are liberators, that the conflict in Ukraine is not a war but a special military operation to liberate the Ukrainians from the fascist President Zelensky. The fact that Vlodymir Zelensky is a Jew whose parents suffered under the fascist rule of Hitler is conveniently absent from Russian news. Disbelief that majority of the Russian people actually swallow this.  

Perceptions about what’s going on in Ukraine are shaped by state-controlled media reporting, even going so far as to state that pictures of butchered civilians lining the streets of Bucha are fake, staged by actors.  Russian media even reported that the bombing of the train station was done by the Ukrainian government to elicit more support from the world.  Disbelief, as Russian media report that Putin’s popularity has risen.  Of course, Putin has banned independent media outlets. But with internet and access that people have to the outside world, how can so many Russians believe that garbage? And how can millions in the USA (and even Malaysia, as Dina has said), where they don’t have controlled media, believe?  Disbelief!!  Dina thinks people believe what they want to believe, to support their own world view.  Or, perhaps, are too intimidated to say out loud what they really believe.  This may be the case in Russia.

Amazement and hope at the resolve of the Ukrainians.  Amazement at how a lawyer turned comedian/actor was elected President of Ukraine with an overwhelming majority and is now the world’s icon for democracy and portrait of a modern-day David fighting the Russian Goliath.  

We watched ordinary Ukrainian citizens returning to fight for their country; musicians perform in devastated areas and in underground shelters to lift the spirits of their fellow Ukrainians; a little girl sings “Let It Go” from the movie “Frozen” to a crowded bunker and the warm applause she received; grandmothers screaming at Russian soldiers to leave them in peace; women members of parliament eloquently and convincingly stating the case for immediate support for Ukraine’s defense; defiant First Lady Olena Zolensky who refuses to leave Ukraine, whose message to Putin was “only two simple words: STOP WAR.”  

Ukraine and Russia have been engaged in negotiations. How this will resolve the horrors of the war is uncertain.  Ukraine is unwilling to part with territory illegally occupied by Russia and Russia is unwilling to give it up.  Dina and I wonder if the machismo that is so apparent at the negotiating table might be part of the problem.  We wonder if the situation would be improved if women were at the table. 

On October 31, 2000, the United Nations Security Council unanimously passed UNSC Resolution 1325 supporting the Women, Peace, and Security (WPS) agenda.  Pushed by a strong global constituency of women civil society organizations for decades and supported by diverse coalition of UN member states who saw the value women bring to the peace process, the UNSC finally saw the light and passed the resolution.  UNSCR 1325 looked at impact of conflict on women and women’s contribution to conflict resolution and sustainable peace. The UNSC would never have passed it if women all over the world did not lobby and show the UN and governments that women are not victims but are actually good at peacebuilding. 

There have been so many studies showing that when women are active participants in peace negotiations with rebel groups, the peace agreement that’s signed is more sustainable.  Still, many governments continue to think of women merely as beneficiaries and victims. They still don’t see the important role women can play in securing the sovereignty of their country, the security of their nation, of sustaining peace. I don’t understand why something that seems so logical is not yet completely supported by the governments.  So why are there no women at the Ukraine-Russia negotiating table? Considering the stalemate of the negotiations, isn’t it time to bring in negotiators who have an innate ability to peacefully resolve conflict and arrive at a just and lasting peace?

This is why I’m so excited by the initiative that ASEAN has started, proposing for a regional plan to implement the Women, Peace, and Security agenda (#WPSASEAN).  The ASEAN press statement last January said: “Recognising the transformative roles that women fulfill in building, maintaining, and fostering peace and security in the region, ASEAN is currently developing the Regional Plan of Action on Women, Peace, and Security in ASEAN (ASEAN RPA on WPS).  This initiative moves forward the implementation of the Joint Statement on Promoting Women, Peace and Security in ASEAN that was adopted by the ASEAN Leaders in 2017.”

The development of this regional plan engages multiple ASEAN Sectoral Bodies: regional cooperation on gender equality and women empowerment, defence, transnational crime, human rights, disaster management and humanitarian assistance. The ASEAN Committee on Women (ACW) and the ASEAN Commission on the Promotion and Protection of the Rights of Women and Children (ACWC) will coordinate the initiative.  Cambodia chairs the ACW and ASEAN and has included the Women, Peace and Security agenda as one of the priorities for their Chairmanship of ASEAN in 2022. Last November, Cambodia hosted the first Asia-Europe Forum on Women, Peace and Security, as a side event of the 13th Asia-Europe Summit.

Ambassador Ekkaphab Phanthavong of Laos,  the Deputy Secretary-General (DSG) of ASEAN for Socio-Cultural Community (ASCC), stated last January during the ACW meeting: “The core tenets of the women, peace and security agenda are even more relevant now than before.”  This was months before `Putin’s war on Ukraine.  Ambassador Phanthavong was prescient.  Now, more than ever, we need women to actively participate in securing our communities, strengthening peace in our nations, and building stronger bonds of friendship in our region – all goals of ASEAN.  

Wish Ukrainian and Russian leaders could clear their minds of the fogs of war for a minute and let the women sit at the table.  

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(MindaViews is the opinion section of MindaNews. Amina Rasul is the President of the Philippine Center for Islam and Democracy, an advocate for Mindanao and the Bangsamoro, peace, human rights, and democracy).