Breaking Justice Barriers

Melanne Verveer, ambassador-at-large for global women’s issues at the U.S. State Department, opened the second day of the conference with a video message. Recounting a conversation with an Afghan woman who said, “Don’t look at us as victims, but look at us as the leaders that we are,” Verveer affirmed women’s agency and power. She highlighted the National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security advanced by the Obama administration in December 2011. The plan is a roadmap to accelerate and institutionalize to advance women’s participation in making and keeping peace. It represents a fundamental change in how the U.S. approaches diplomacy, military interventions, development and humanitarian assistance. While “our journey is far from over,” Verveer concluded, “you are the change makers, we owe you a debt of gratitude. … For blessed indeed are the peacemakers.”


The morning panel brought together four unique voices with distinct contributions of how to ensure post-conflict justice is responsive to and respectful of women’s rights. Gender justice, they affirmed, must be central in the planning and implementation of international tribunals, formal trials, national truth commissions, traditional approaches and personal interactions between perpetrators and survivors.


A gender-sensitive lens exposes limitations in evidentiary and compensation procedures: having to provide a medical certificate or checks that cite the violations of rape as the reason for reparation are not acceptable, argued Nahla Valji of UN Women. “The demand for justice grows louder and more urgent,” shared Brigid Inder, of Women’s Initiatives for Gender Justice and gender adviser to International Criminal Court (ICC) prosecutor Fatou Bensouda. The ICC has an explicit mandate and positive obligation to prosecute gender-based crimes, which it is currently investigating in all but one of its cases. For local women to trust international laws and institutions, the resolutions and decisions must be implemented, continued Asma Khader, founder of the Sisterhood Is Global Institute/Jordan. Bringing the international to the regional and national level, she highlighted the realities of women the Middle East, including Egypt, Libya, Syria, Jordan and Palestine, where women who fight against traditions and conservative values are punished more severely than before.


The panel concluded with a personal story of healing and reconciliation. Zandile Nhlengetwa, 2008 Woman PeaceMaker and founder of the Harambe Women’s Forum, brought the audience into her experiences during apartheid in South Africa and her own journey of suppressed pain and loss, the drive for justice, deep anger and hatred, followed by confronting fear and risk to begin a process of forgiveness. “I was deepening the process that the Truth and Reconciliation Commission had begun. … That process changed my life,” she concluded. To read more about Zandile’s life and work, read her narrative.