May 1, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: "Children Ask the World of Us"

By Senator Lena C Taylor

My son, Isaiah, is my first priority and my greatest joy.  When I was young, my mother guided me, protected me, and taught me to make peace out of conflict.  My mother shaped my life.  In fact, I remember when my mother decided it was time for me to go to college -- not the Marines like I wanted.  She chose my college, my major, my classes, my dorm, and my furniture.  Then she dropped me off for my first day.  I want to shape my son’s life just as my mother shaped me.  I’ve learned that women have the power to do that. 

We are not moving fast enough to realize an urgent and pressing truth: Women can shape the world into a better, safer place.  We have witnessed women succeed as decision makers, thrive in high-capacity leadership roles, and prosper when invested in community activities.  

Over a century ago, Julia Ward Howe recognized the power of women to influence communities with political and civil action. She appealed to women throughout the world to unite for peace for their children. And how magnificently women have followed her creed.

For over a decade, mothers and grandmothers have convened in Argentina to display the names of children on white headscarves who ‘disappeared’ from a military dictatorship thirty years ago. Liberian women organized en masse to support the peaceful and successful end to the 14-year civil war. Even here in Milwaukee, the Sojourner Family Peace Center has been working to make peace in violent family situations.  They have been leaders in helping families torn apart by violence find peace and safety. 

Yet we continue to disregard the importance of women in resolving conflict, in building democracies, and in creating long-term sustainable solutions to urgent problems. The participation and successes of women should not be glorious exceptions in the resolution of conflict, but should be systematically incorporated as part of the standard peace-building process.

The Women, Peace, and Security Act will be introduced into Congress around this year’s Mother’s Day, and I cannot think of a more fitting time. The WPS Act is an important step in integrating women into these negotiation processes. It empowers women to act as leaders and contribute their voices to achieving peace.

In December 2011, President Obama introduced the United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (U.S. NAP) through an Executive Order. This momentous declaration mandated that federal agencies, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among others, devise plans to ensure the meaningful participation of women in advancing U.S. national security interests within their respective agencies.

While the U.S. NAP recognizes women’s role in matters of peace and security, its lifespan only equates to the term of this current administration. The WPS Act will make the U.S. NAP law and ensure that its benefits last long after this Administration.

The WPS Act is a step toward expanding our definition of security. We will move from a militarized definition, categorized by the expanse of our missile stockpiles or the number of tanks we can purchase, to an understanding of human security, where access to healthcare, education, food security, sustainable environmental conditions, and job stability become paramount.

We know that this transformation is possible. What we know today of security is vastly different from what our mothers and grandmothers knew in the Cold War, in World War II, in the many conflicts of our past. The WPS Act encompasses a longer reaching vision and embodies what motherhood is about, the protection of our children. This Mother’s Day marks a call to action to protect future generations by incorporating women into the definition of security.

Lena Taylor is a state senator in Wisconsin and an active member of the Women Legislator’s Lobby – a program of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND).