Tag Archives: women

Distinguished Lecture Series: Monica McWilliams on “From Peace Talks to Gender Justice”

Women make up less than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements, so to be in the presence of both Monica McWilliams and Luz Mendez — two women who signed peace agreements in their respective countries — is remarkable. Never mind the addition of over 175 delegates representing 45 countries, all of whom  are experts, scholars and practitioners in women, peace and security. This was the scenario at the Peace & Justice Theatre at the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ) last night.

The Joan B. Kroc Distinguished Lecture Series was pleased to welcome Monica McWilliams to open the 2010 Women PeaceMakers Conference with a talk entitled, From Peace Talks to Gender Justice.”


In 1996, in the midst of the Troubles in Northern Ireland, Monica McWilliams brought an unlikely combination of women together across religious, class, sector and regional divides to form the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition party. Together these women were elected to a seat at the Multi-Party Peace Negotiations, which led to the Belfast (Good Friday) Agreement in 1998.

After a jovial introduction by 2010 Joan B. Kroc Peace Scholar Paul Arthur, in which he noted the “frontiered misogyny” that McWilliams and the Women’s Coalition faced and honored their work humanizing the peace process, McWilliams took the stage. She began her talk by inviting the audience to walk with her through the last 40 years — through pictures.

As we all know, pictures say 1,000 words and McWilliams pictures were no exception. She shared images from as early as 1970 — a newspaper clipping showing the “army of women [who] broke barricade to bring aid” — and included snapshots of her alongside dignitaries such as Hillary Clinton and Nelson Mandela, an early Women’s Coalition brochure encouraging voters to “wave goodbye to dinosaurs,” and a more recent political cartoon depicting McWilliams, as human rights commissioner, admonishing her fellow commissioners that “This isn’t pick ‘n mix.”

As McWilliams traced her journey from “accidental activist” to “human rights activist” (with peace activist, feminist activist and party political activist along the way), one of her key messages was that peace is a process. In articulating this, she likened peace to domestic violence. Many people assume that a woman is safe as soon as she leaves an abusive relationship, when in fact that time is the most dangerous for a domestic violence survivor. Leaving the violence is an event but ensuring a woman’s safety is a process. Likewise, signing a peace agreement is an event but building peace is a process.

According to McWilliams, 12 years after signing the peace agreement Northern Ireland is in the process of building peace — the country is currently in the reconstruction phase, not yet having reached transformation.

From the early days of Northern Ireland’s civil rights movement through to today, women have been both central and front and center to the process. However, they have been largely written out of history. McWilliams used a photograph from a 1970s civil rights march — depicting eight women, arms linked, at the frontlines of the march — to illustrate this. These women are largely nameless faces in the struggle, whereas the men standing immediately behind them are widely recognized and often referred to as heroes. McWilliams stressed the importance of documenting women’s stories so their efforts are recognized and so that future generations understand the important role women have played and continue to play.

McWilliams argues that women are not new to the process, nor were they new when they formed the Women’s Coalition in 1996. She explained, “We’ve always been there – just politically homeless.”

There is no doubt that McWilliams, together with the Women’s Coalition, was instrumental in the lead up to peace talks and the eventual existence of an agreement. She explained to the audience that had women not been at the table, critical issues such as victim issues, trauma healing, integrated education, housing and health care would have been entirely absent from the agreement. These are the very same issues that women, with the support of some men, are struggling to address as they build peace.

During a meeting earlier in the day, McWilliams noted that she didn’t want other women to have to do go through what she and other women in the Women’s Coalition did — staying up all night for days on end struggling to find insights from other women who had participated in peace talks. Her lecture offered an excellent compilation of lessons learned, insights and best practices from every stage of conflict and post-conflict that will be ideally benefit women around the world and in the future.

At the end of McWilliams talk she was joined on stage by one of the few women she had been able to turn to for informed knowledge about participating in peace talks — Luz Mendez. Mendez, a 2004 IPJ Woman PeaceMaker, took part in the Guatemalan peace negotiations in 1996 and was the sole woman signatory to Guatemala’s agreement.

Despite coming from very different cultures and conflicts, McWilliams and Mendez shared remarkably similar challenges — among others, having to repeatedly confront the question, “What does peace have to do with gender?” They also both recognized the global women’s movement as having an instrumental impact. They went on to share comparable recommendations for how to ensure peace agreements include women’s aspirations.

An evening with McWilliams and Mendez set the tone for two days of exciting, inspiring discussions with remarkable women. McWilliams ended her talk by saying: “When women awake, mountains will move.”

Be sure to watch live webcasts of the public sessions here: http://sandiego.na4.acrobat.com/peace/

2010 Women PeaceMakers Conference “Precarious Progress: UN Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security”

The 2010 Women PeaceMakers Conference begins tomorrow!

“Precarious Progress: U.N. Resolutions on Women, Peace and Security” will examine where and how United Nations Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889 have had and can have impact. It is timed to inform and consolidate recommendations for the 10th anniversary of UNSCR 1325 and mark the 15th anniversary of the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action. For more information, visit the conference website.

If you can’t join us in person between Wednesday, September 29 and Friday, October 1 (list of public sessions here) be sure to WATCH LIVE! Six sessions will be available via webcast.

Follow the conference proceedings here and on Twitter (@KrocIPJ). We’ll be sharing updates from all the sessions!


Gender Power

Thursday, May 22, 2008

At 8 a.m. we gathered in the SAP-Nepal offices, reunited with Naresh Phuyal, our interpreter from 2005-2006, Anil and Niraj Khanal, the SAP-Nepal staff who had been instrumental in arranging the logistics and outreach for the two Kathmandu workshops. A flurry of printing and photocopying, and we were ready when the first participants arrived at 9:30 a.m.

Sixteen women from 4 parties participated in the day-long participatory workshop, “Gender Power: Activating a Common Agenda.” Aker and Taylor were welcomed by the experienced politicians of the Inter-Party Women’s Alliance (IPWA), a consortium of women from the major parties who invited the IPJ to convene this workshop, as well as newcomers from the recently formed Madhesis People’s Rights Forum (MJF). In the shifting political landscape leading up to the constituent assembly (CA) elections, the MJF emerged as the major party representing the historically marginalized southern Terai region, and earned a comparable seats to the past leading parties of Nepali Congress (NC) and Communist Party of Nepal-Marxist Lenin (CPN-ML).

“It is a pleasure to welcome back Dee and Laura, you are like a family member in Nepal” Prativa Rana, Central Committee, RPP, former chair of IPWA

The workshop “Gender Power: Activating a Common Agenda” encouraged new leaders to find the common agenda of women from diverse experiences and help in developing a common “language” to build support for and advance common concerns. The Election Commission called for greater representation of women and how it is time for women to consider the constituencies they represent by gender as well as party. Through exercises and case studies, participants’ examined common challenges and strategies to address them when women come to power.

The program is a continuation of the IPJ Nepal Project which has been conducted with Nepali senior and emerging political leaders, civil society spokespersons, and women representatives since 2003. Programs are designed to enhance personal skills, build broader constituencies for democratic participation, and establish collaborations to address root causes and consequences of conflict.

After Taylor provided a brief review of the impact of the Women, Politics and Peace Working for a Just Society series over the past three years, Aker share a case study of Uganda. Illuminating how women were able to get gender on the agenda for the constitution, Aker described the process, product and impact of the women’s movement on democratic change in Uganda. “Women decided that if a new constitution was going to be written, they would have to go out and make sure that everybody, understood what a government was supposed to and what a constitution could do.” The Ugandan women’s movement led the educational campaigns about constituent assemblies, as well we efforts to collect the voices of people to inform the new document. Through multiple means, e.g., radio, print, TV, etc., the women said, “We are going to be the bridges, the voices from the people, to the political leaders.”

“We are going to be the bridges, the voices from the people, to the political leaders.”

In the next exercise, the participants worked in small groups to use the analytic framework for understanding the conflict in Uganda, to adapt and apply to understand the current transition in Nepal. “We haven’t felt security in Nepal,” shared one of the participants, however, we hope the constitution will “help to build a successful nation.” “The role played by civil society organizations can be further strengthened to make a good constitution,” another participant added. Key issues across the small groups discussions were insecurity, mechanisms to implement necessary legislation, the dissemination of information to the people, transparency, the commitment of the political parties, honesty of the part of the government, and free and strong fair judiciary. One participant concluded, “We are thankful for what you bring, I had no idea about Uganda until now. We will do our best to bring this information to our parties.”

After common priorities emerged during the previous exercise, Taylor shared some key consultation mechanisms to channel constituents’ voices to policymakers. Constitution-making is a “deliberative” process. Interim agreements, like the one Nepali leaders forged in 2006, help society to establish basic clarify basic legal rules and provide sufficient change from past root causes of conflict. A constitutional committee can help reframe a constitution from a “contract” to a “conversation” and carry out three key phases: civic education, popular consultation and synthesis of multiple contributions and submissions. This methodology helps increase public participation and promote an ownership model of civic engagement.

Through a media simulation, participants practiced asking local constituents about their interest and ideas for a new constitution based on the strengths and weaknesses of the 1990 constitution and the 2006 interim constitution, and summarized key points in 3 sentences. They brainstormed mechanisms to share this synthesis, including more traditional channels such as radio and television, but also SMS (cell phone texting) and local suggestion boxes at throughout VDCs.

Constitution-making processes can be transformation if given adequate resources and time to include a multitude of voices and perspectives. Public participation increases local ownership as well as the legitimacy of the final product. With wider societal support, it is more likely the impact of the constitution will be inclusive and empowering in light of the root causes of conflict.

“Uniting for a Democratic Peace” – IPJ Nepal Project – May 19-31, 2008

As the puzzle pieces of Nepal’s fragile transition to peace continue to shift, the IPJ team will return to analyze and take advantage of current windows of opportunities to infuse justice and inclusive participation into local and national processes.

Aker and Taylor pose with rural participants in the Baglung district On April 10, two years after the major political parties and the people of Nepal boycotted the municipal elections ordered by King Gyanendra in Feb. 2006, citizens turned out in historic numbers to take democracy into their own hands – and take their opinions to the ballot box. Sixty percent of the 17.6 million registered voters (of a population of 27 million) have cast their vote – electing a peaceful political transition.

Dee Aker, Interim Executive Director of the Joan B. Kroc Institute for Peace & Justice (IPJ), served as a short-term observer with The Carter Center’s international election observation mission in Nepal. The Carter Center advised: “the election in Nepal [is] a critical step for the consolidation of multi-party democracy…. The Government of Nepal, including the CPN-M [Community Party of Nepal- Maoists], have welcomed international delegations and have specifically extended an invitation to The Carter Center, together with other international and domestic observers. The Election Commission and other stakeholders have also welcomed this involvement.”

In global politics, however, the measure of democracy is too often reduced to the success on election day alone. The hard work and preparation that created the foundation for elections is often overlooked and, in the wake of polling, campaign promises remain frequently unfulfilled. As international and media attention fades after votes have been counted, the Nepali people are left to build a peaceful, democratic society, a task of Himalayan proportions following a decade of war waged by the CPN-M that took 13,000 lives.

Thus, the IPJ team of Aker and Laura Taylor, Senior Program Officer, will return in May to continue the next stage in the IPJ Nepal Project, “Uniting for a Democratic Peace.” Building on the previous seven years of partnership with Nepal, this series of workshops and consultations with the newly elected members of the constituent assembly will foster political leaders’ partnership with civil society – particularly women and youth – to manage expectations and prepare the population for inclusive public participation and responsive governance, two pillars of democracy.

For more information on the IPJ Nepal Project, visit: http://peace.sandiego.edu/programs/nepal.html