Rotary Peace Center at Chulalongkorn University, Bangkok, Thailand

Can Women Make a Difference in Peace Negotiations?

I am looking forward to the Rotary Peace Fellows’ field study to the Philippines and excited to meet with the courageous women who served on the government’s negotiating team, chaired by Prof. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer, and negotiated a peace deal with the Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF).  The stories of the women are covered in the magazine, Kababaihan at Kapayapaan, Issue No. 1, March 2014.  The diverse representation of the women, their personal experience, and technical expertise made them even stronger.  From lawyers to administrators and peacebuilding activists on the ground, they represented their country and their people well.  It is really important to include the voices of the people who are on the ground because they are the ones who suffer the consequences of wars and who yearn for peace and will eventually implement the peace agreement.  Without including their inputs, any efforts to bringing peace from the top down will not succeed.

In a conference that I helped organize in May 2014, Washington – DC, a US businessman and political adviser said, “Women bring order to things much faster than men with AK-47s… The more women we can get involved everywhere, the better off we seem to be.”  This is what the Filipinas proved right.  According to a male interviewed for the Philippine magazine, the women’s work ethnic, competence and their ‘women touch’ contributed significantly to the success of the peace process.  More important, they offered better worded texts!  I hope we can learn from their experience.

My country, South Sudan, has suffered a long history of war and, after gaining independence in July 2011, the people hope to enjoy peace.  Yet violence started again in December 2013 and current peace negotiations seem stalled.  Perhaps we would have made progress by now if women were to lead or be included on both sides.  Inclusion must come from the beginning.  We must act now before it is too late.  The Global Peace Index puts South Sudan on the category of least peaceful countries and one of the indicators for structures that sustain peaceful societies is ‘gender equality’.  Think about it!

Though the South Sudan constitution guarantees 25% women’s involvement at all levels of government, this is not reflected on the negotiating teams.  The opposition group had three women in the first round of talks but, to my understanding, recently reduced the to only one.  When asked why there are no women on their team, the government representative, the acting chair, said, “What is important is not the gender representation but what is important is the achievement of the objective.  The objective is irrespective if they are represented or not.”

The marginalization of women is a global problem that varies from one nation to another.  The response of the representative above is just one example of how we are still suppressed in our community, our concerns are taken for granted, and our needs largely disregarded.  Leaders must realize that the push for representation that women call for and the issues that they want included in the agreements are the foundation of a stable society.  If these issues are not provided for they become the reasons for conflicts – started by men!

Sarah Cleto Rial, USA/South Sudan
Rotary Peace Fellow
June 2014 Session


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