We Are The Leaders We Have Been Waiting For

We Are The Leaders We Have Been Waiting For

By Abigail Ruane

WILPF Women, Peace and Security Programme Director

January 2018

In the last year, a women’s rights tidal wave flooded the world: over 4 million people marched in the first “Women’s March” in January 2017, and over a million marched a year later, from Washington DC to New York, from Sydney to Osaka, and from Rome to Nairobi.

Over 2 million people from 85 countries shared #MeToo stories of sexual violence on social media (#BalanceTonPorc #YoTambien #QuellaVoltaChe وأنا_كمان#); and powerful men across the tech, business, politics and media industries stepped down in the face of allegations.

Peace and conflict issues have not been immune from this women’s rights surge.

Sweden and Canada have led the way with “feminist foreign policies” that included strengthened support for women peace civil society leaders. Under Sweden’s guidance, the Security Council has made some normative progress:

The percentage of the Security Council presidential statements referencing Women, Peace and Security (WPS) issues have increased from 69% in 2016 to 100% in 2017.

Women civil society took on a more prominent role in the Security Council on country-specific situations, with nine civil society speakers briefing the Council on the situations in Colombia, Iraq, the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and others. This made gendered conflict analysis more available for political decision-makers at the highest levels.

Despite this tidal wave, the dinosaur of patriarchy continues to fight for life.

The US restricted $8.8 billion of foreign aid connected to women’s sexual and reproductive health and rights in 2017, while pushing to increase military funding by multiple times that amount.

Independent civil society voices, despite a rhetorical recognition as critical leaders on disarmament, environment and security, are slowly being choked through a lack of funding and a plethora of paperwork, with their lives often endangered.

Meanwhile, the women’s rights agenda is undermined by a check-the-box approach: initiatives on gender parity are moving ahead, but holistic action on gender equality are scrapped – just look at the proposed cut to gender advisers in peacekeeping missions, or efforts to “mainstream” rather than prioritise WPS.

As Martin Luther King once stated, “We know through painful experience that freedom is never voluntarily given by the oppressor; it must be demanded by the oppressed”.

Around the world, women peace leaders are building alliances from the personal to the international to call for action to address the root causes of violence: they are demanding the prevention of arms transfers that promote gendered violence and calling for reconstruction that repairs gendered injustices and upholds women’s economic social and cultural rights.

This year, women peace leaders will continue their historical legacy to create a world of feminist peace based on demilitarisation, meaningful participation and gender justice for all people.

In Colombia, women will continue to demand the implementation of peace agreement commitments for zero tolerance on sexual and gender-based violence. In Nigeria, women will continue addressing gendered early warning signals with local authorities.

In Libya, women will continue to push for a civil society consultative mechanism for all activities, including conflict resolution, peacebuilding and counterterrorism efforts.

As the 2018 women’s march slogan recognised, “we are the leaders we have been waiting for”.

2017 pulled back the veil and mobilised conversations about women’s participation and security.

2018 is an opportunity to take concrete action that makes a difference.

What will you do in 2018 to make a change?


Originally printed in WILPF’s Women, Peace and Security E-News, January 2018

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