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We Must Involve Women in Bringing Peace to the Arab Region

09/06/2016 16:26 | Updated 09 June 2016

As conflict rips apart the Arab region, women are often left paying the highest price: targeted by ISIS in Iraq, starved in Syria, assassinated in Libya, bereaved in Palestine and given as child brides in Yemen.

In parts of Syria and Iraq, women are sold into sexual slavery and are subjected to some of the worst forms of sexual violence including rape and forced marriage. In refugee communities, young girls are married off at a rapidly growing rate. The threat of trafficking is evident; more girls are missing years of education; and more women are losing their lives during childbirth due to inadequate healthcare.

It is simple common sense that those who suffer the most should have a say when the time comes for recovery. Yet despite a series of UN Security Council resolutions, women are still severely underrepresented in peacebuilding and rebuilding efforts. This is not merely a tragedy for women - it is a loss to the world, since mounting evidence suggests that peace negotiations involving women are more likely to succeed.

Solutions begin and end with women. Everywhere in the Arab World women are the main caregivers; the first shield against radicalisation. As politicians and negotiators, we have seen them prove, time and time again, that they are more likely to compromise and reconcile in order to achieve peace.

Last year, Libyan women politicians and civil society activists from opposing factions and groups met in Geneva. For three days, I watched as they fought, exchanged accusations and disagreed about almost everything. By the fourth day, they had come up with a unified peace agenda and came out to present it in unity in a press conference at a time when it was almost impossible to get the male representatives of their groups in the same room.

Yemeni and Syrian women have demonstrated the same impressive ability of compromising for peace at similar conferences. Everywhere in the region, I see those women taking significant personal risks to reach out and build bridges when all other links are broken. Furthermore, according to a global study on the implementation of Security Council resolution 1325, women's participation increases the probability of peace agreements lasting at least two years by 20 per cent; 15 years by 35 per cent[1].

The women of our region are more than a simple afterthought and they are definitely not the meek victims you see splayed over newspaper pages and TV screens; they are change agents. Talking about women's active participation and boosting their decision-making powers in conflict-ridden countries and at negotiation tables is not secondary, nor is it disconnected from reality. The reality is that investing in women is the right investment to make. At a time when other groups are choosing to target women as the catalysts for social change to radicalize the region, it is simply nonsensical not to do the same to stabilize it.

Women are here to drive change and literally raise communities. They are here as breadwinners, workers and business pioneers. They are here as leaders of civil society, political parties and peace movements. They are here and they have a right to be heard; they have a right to lead the way.

[1] Based on a forthcoming publication by Laurel Stone, whose summary findings were cited in Coomaraswamy, Radhika (2015) Preventing Conflict, Transforming Justice, and Securing the Peace: A Global Study on Implementation of Security Council resolution 1325. p.41-42

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