Legislatively Speaking: Women at the Tables of Power Leads to More Sustainable Peace
By Senator Lena C. Taylor
We came to the tables of power to speak the truth. We came to listen. We met with women leaders from other nations. No matter differences of language, culture or religion ─ our stories shared the same underlying message, that women suffer disproportionate effects of war, and yet we remain largely absent from the processes of conflict prevention and resolution. Through a partnership of Women’s Action for New Directions (WAND) Women Legislators Lobby (WiLL) and the EastWest Institute Parliamentarian Network for Conflict Prevention, women political leaders from the east and west came together to advance women’s roles in building sustainable peace.
Sunday September 29th, with a government shutdown imminent, my journey alongside nearly two-hundred important and powerful women at the WAND/WiLL conference began. Just steps from the nation’s capital in Washington, DC, we came together to discuss getting back to business. Amongst a richly diverse group of women, we discussed imminent issues like our concerns regarding disparities in the federal budget; specifically the federal discretionary budget’s excessive allocation of military funds. Importantly, we discussed how together we can influence federal policy and budget priorities to rebuild our roads, invest in our education system and provide adequate services for returning veterans. Wisconsin in mind, I reflected on all the shortcomings of the federal budget and how even a slight reallocation of resources could improve the quality of living for many of my constituents.
From September 29 to October 2nd I participated in an exchange between U.S. state legislators and women parliamentarians from Egypt, Morocco, Afghanistan and Pakistan as part of the Women’s Leadership Conference, “Women at the Tables of Power,” in Washington, DC. Through our dialogues we came to understand that as combatants increasingly target civilians as a war strategy, women and children are routinely victimized. In the first four months of this year alone, instability and impunity in war-torn Afghanistan resulted in over 2,500 cases of violence against women. Of the more than 1.6 million Syrians that have registered as refugees with the United Nations High Commission on Refugees, three quarters are women and children.
Women’s activities worldwide indicate our readiness to be a part of peace processes. Here in Wisconsin women have been taking significant steps to influence state politics. Since 1975, many women have stepped up and taken responsibility for the unanswered voices of Wisconsin citizens; twenty-six women have served in the Wisconsin senate- seventeen of whom had previous experience in the assembly. Throughout the years, the powerful female voices of the Wisconsin Legislation have fought relentlessly for social progress in Wisconsin. More recently we have asked our Governor, Scott Walker, to take responsibility for unfair state practices like education and BadgerCare fund cutting, the gerrymandering of minority communities, and the unjustified rejection of prevention providers like Planned Parenthood from receiving funding under the state family planning program. In a world much different from ours, our Syrian sisters have organized workshops and trainings on negotiation and peace-building in preparation for their participation in the transition from conflict to stability. And Afghan women leaders of organizations like the Revolutionary Association of the Women of Afghanistan (RAWA) are pushing to have their voices heard during the transition process following U.S. troop withdrawal.
Passed in 2000, United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security marked the first leap forward for women’s issues in conflict areas by acknowledging the impact of war on women and the importance of women’s role in achieving sustainable peace. The resolution declares that “an understanding of the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, effective institutional arrangements to guarantee their protection, and full participation in the peace process can significantly contribute to the maintenance and promotion of international peace and security.”
In December 2011 President Obama signed the Executive Order making the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security official administrative policy. The National Action Plan requires women to be included at the negotiation table, acknowledges that women’s experience with conflict gives them a unique and valuable perspective essential to peace building, and that women policy makers can provide insight into the particular needs of women during times of both war and peace.
The National Action Plan has leveraged attention to women in conflict affected areas and their unique capacity to change the way peace is made. As an administrative policy, the national Action Plan will last only as long as the current administration. Introduced to the House of Representatives in July, and soon to be introduced in the U.S. Senate, the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2013 will codify the national Action plan and ensure its continuation beyond the Obama administration. When women participate in matters of security, they “enlarge the scope of agreements to include the broader set of critical societal priorities and needs required for lasting and just peace.” By passing the Women, Peace and Security Act, the U.S. would also set an important international precedent regarding the international women peace and security agenda.