June 26, 2013

Milwaukee Courier

Legislatively Speaking: Not Silenced, Women Matter

By Senator Lena C. Taylor

This past month in Wisconsin, women were silenced on a debate about women’s health.  In the Senate, debate was cut off before voices of women could be heard.  In the Assembly, women who came to observe the debate on bills affecting women were forced to leave before the debate began.  As one of the nine women Senators in Wisconsin, I was deeply disappointed at the silencing of women.  It seems that we have work to do, not only in Wisconsin, but around the world to give voice to the women leaders of our world.

In the upcoming months, the Women, Peace and Security Act of 2013 will be re-introduced into U.S. Congress. The WPS Act is an important step in integrating women into international 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 U.S. federal agencies, including the Department of State, the Department of Defense, and the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), among others, to devise respective implementation plans to ensure the meaningful participation of women in advancing U.S. national security interests within their respective agencies.  The WPS Act will codify the Executive Order and make the U.S. NAP law.

The tenets of the U.S. NAP and the WPS Act holistically improve society. As stated in the U.S. NAP, “When included as meaningful participants, women enlarge the scope of agreements to include the broader set of critical societal priorities and needs required for lasting and just peace.”

Too slowly, we are beginning to realize an urgent and pressing truth. When women are decision makers, when we incorporate them as high-capacity leaders in peace-making processes, and when we protect them from violence and integrate them into security discussions—they can and they will shape the world into a better, safer place.

Last month, I joined women political leaders from the U.S., Afghanistan, Turkey, Pakistan, Morocco, and Tunisia gathered in Ankara, Turkey to participate in a peer-to-peer exchange focused on dialogue, information sharing, and mentoring.  I met women who were leaders in rewriting constitutions and waging peace in the midst of war.  Through a joint project of Women’s Actions for New Directions (WAND) and the EastWest Institute’s (EWI) Parliamentarian Network for Conflict Prevention, we came together as global women political leaders with a goal to advance peace.

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

One of my heroes in the Middle East is Bushra Gohar, a former Member of the Pakisitani Parliament.  Peace jirgas regularly exclude women, but the Honorable Bushra Gohar insisted that women be included in critical matters of security. Jirgas are consensus-based decision-making bodies comprised of political, community, and religious leaders convened to address conflict and negotiate peace agreements.  In 2009, in the Swat Valley Region, a jirga was convened by local government officials to address violent attacks by the Taliban, but women political and community leaders were asked not to attend to avoid objections from religious political groups or Taliban sympathizers .  Bushra didn’t accept that women should not be at the table.  Instead, she, and her fellow women Parliamentarians convened a Women’s Peace Jirga and demanded the government not negotiate and compromise with the extremists, like the Taliban.  Not only did Bushra gain the public’s support, she also gained the support of full Parliament and fundamentally changed the peace process in Pakistan.

The WPS Act recognizes that women matter and make transformation possible. What we know today of human security is vastly different from what our mothers and grandmothers knew in the Cold War, in World War II, and in the many conflicts of our past. The WPS Act encompasses a longer-reaching vision; it is a call to action to consider incorporating women in the peace-making process. I encourage and ask Wisconsin’s women leaders, Sen. Tammy Baldwin and Rep. Gwen Moore, to each cosponsor the WPS Act.  It matters when women are at the table.

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