The Cyprus peace process has been demonstrating good progress thanks to the good leadership on both sides. It seems however that the negotiation process itself has stagnated in out-of-date approaches, which may risk yet another disappointing result but this time, for a different reason: that it lacks compliance with the fundamental freedoms and principles upon which the EU is founded.
A groundbreaking event is scheduled on 3-4 November in Nicosia to bring together leading experts in the fields of politics, economics, gender and civil society. The aim is to discuss this issue from various perspectives and to come up with a 'White Book' to be then presented to both leaders and their negotiation teams. (See below for further details.)
Core Values At Stake?
All previous efforts to reach a settlement in the long years of the Cypriot conflict have collapsed to date; with public trust in the peace process plummeting greatly in particular since 2004. There is a different feel to the negotiation talks this time around as the current leaderships on both sides indicate a shift in political will. It seems, however, that despite the visible progress in many ways, the negotiation process itself has stagnated in out-of-date approaches. The process is still top-down, still excessively secretive, and more to the point, still lacking women's participation beyond the newly established GETC (Gender Equality Technical Committee). Women and in fact gender in general, continue to be an afterthought; and therefore the peace process' approach to these issues lacks accountability.
Up until recently, peace processes around the world have been conducted in a gender-blind manner. There has been a shift since 2000, with the passage of the UN Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 which urged all actors to increase the participation of women and incorporate gender perspectives in all UN peace and security efforts; nevertheless, there is still long way to go.
For the UN-facilitated Cyprus peace process in particular, there are more specific obligations in addition to UNSCR 1325. The south of the island is a member of the EU, and the north is not at present. If a solution is reached, EU membership will be island-wide, covering the north of the island also, meaning that a possible forthcoming settlement will need to be compliant with the EU constitution.
Isn't It Time That Cyprus Starts Seeing Tangible Efforts?
What is telling within the negotiations is a lack of understanding on how the humanitarian system functions. Are the leaderships of the two communities aware of the EU Gender Action Plan for 2016-2020, which calls for the mandatory and systematic reporting of all EU member states for gender related issues in all walks of life? In their Joint Declaration of February 11, 2014, the leaders of both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities pledged that the democratic principles, human rights, the four fundamental freedoms and the principles upon which the EU is founded would be safeguarded and respected throughout the island.
While these are wise and noble sentiments the peace process at present is lacking evidence that it genuinely means to meet these targets. We have yet to see anything tangibly implemented; and as such, both leaderships have put the lives of vulnerable women and men at risk, demonstrating a neglect of human rights as per the EU Constitution:
For the south of the island, an EU country profile in 2013 observes that the proportions of Cypriot women on both supervisory boards (8.0%) and in management positions (14.0%) are considerably smaller than the EU-27 average (16.0% and 33.0% respectively). Cypriot companies do not make full use of the existing female labour force potential. The relatively low rate of part-time employment among women suggests that normally women work either full-time or not at all. As a result, the availability and use of childcare facilities in Cyprus is generally below the EU-27 average. In the north of the island, which is not yet a member of the EU, the numbers are even lower.
Intimate partner violence and domestic abuse is both a prevalent and underreported issue. In the south of the island domestic laws and state legislation lacks harassment protection unless evidence is physical harm. In 78 percent of the cases, the victims were female. Furthermore, the trafficking persons' 2012 report out of the U.S. State Department places Cyprus in the same category as Afghanistan and Liberia where cases of women and children forcibly exploited for sex and slave-like work conditions are prevalent in the north of the island. Again, the north of the island there is a very similar picture. These statistics matter because it tells us where we stand both nationally and globally. It screams loudly that work is needed and simply focusing on one item and leaving women to the end is going to keep us on a human rights watch list for many years to come.
Will Cyprus Be Left Behind?
Both negotiating teams have failed to see the necessity of including UNSCR 1325 as part of the pathway towards a sustainable solution to the Cyprus Problem. Instead, the issue has been auctioned off to the intercommunal GETC (Gender Equality Technical Committee), thereby dismissing the importance of creating an organisational environment that enables the adoption of gender-mainstreaming in policy, leadership, resources, capacity and accountability mechanisms. Whilst the establishment of the GETC is a step in the right direction, there is need for more gravitas.
A statement by the GETC made in March 2016, affirmed that:
"According to the UNSCR 1325 women should be active participants not only at the negotiating table but also in the post-conflict peace building processes. We believe that the gender perspective and the recognition of the need to initiate processes to eliminate the marginalization and exclusion of women in the political process in Cyprus has been long overdue"
Whilst this statement represents a crucial step forward, it shows an insufficient investment in technical gender expertise, poor quality gender analysis, complete lack of a gender assessment or evaluation, and a piecemeal response to gender equality in programming.
Instead the process requires sufficient human and financial resources to affect gender mainstreaming and capacity building into hard sectors. Unless the leaders of the two communities along with the office of the negotiators start using the language of UNSCR 1325 and take the implementation process forward, the gender and security agenda will become lost, which will result in the continuation of the disturbingly, gender-blind standards and discriminatory structures and practices perpetuated on the island. Access to high-level debates on the Cyprus issue is limited, and hardly include the voices of people living on the island. The need for the implementation of UNSCR 1325 and the women, peace and security agenda has never been greater.
The UN advocates for the equal and full participation of women in all efforts to create and maintain international peace and security. To date, there are 58 countries that have adopted a National Action Plan for the Implementation of UNSCR 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. There are three resolutions on the rights of women to which Afghanistan, Yemen, and Syria among many others are signatories, and yet Cyprus still is not. This is alarming in the context of any proposed solution because we will be doomed to repeat the same errors and sustainable peace will not be achievable.
Calling for urgent action
The full implementation of these resolutions must be taken seriously. These are an important means of contributing to the full realisation of human rights, peace and security; because it increases over the long term, the effectiveness of the international community's responses to the island's situation. This will thereby build a new future that respects the fundamental equality of men and women. If the leaders of the two communities in Cyprus exclude a gender perspective in a settlement agreement there will be devastating consequences for women.
Women and men have gathered with patient determination to reclaim this country as their own. It is time for the citizens of the island, with its strategic location of East meeting West, to demand more from their leadership. A possible settlement will have to be "fully in line" with the EU's values and principles, and above all the EU Constitution. We must ask ourselves what impact an ad-hoc, piecemeal approach to this issue will result in post solution in terms of the participation, protection and security of the people living in Cyprus. Perhaps more alarmingly, how legitimate will a solution be if it does not allow 50% of its population, the island's own women, as active participants.
and a Senior Research Fellow of Conflict Research and Analysis Centre, Uni of Kent UK
A groundbreaking event is happening 3-4 November in Nicosia bringing together leading women experts in the field of politics and civil society from various perspectives (international, Turkish Cypriot, Greek Cypriot, Maronite, Armenian, other nationalities living in Cyprus) to gain a better understanding of UNSCR 1325, what it means, why it matters, but more importantly how it is implemented in the everyday lives of women in Cyprus. The conference seeks to bring together women as a collective and to build women's solidarity across the four pillars of UNSCR 1325. The aim is to develop an integrated and inclusive dialogue about women in a post-solution Cyprus and to generate a 'White Book' edited by the conference organizing team to propose a set of good practices to promote the women, peace and security agenda as a core dimension of the larger discussion of the Cyprus peace building process.
The event is organized by Madga Zenon, a leading peace activist, from Cyprus Women's Lobby and Sophia Papastavrou Faustmann, Gender Technical Lead, World Vision International. It is funded by World Vision International Middle East and Eastern Europe Regional Office and supported by Friedrich-Ebert-Stiftung.
Further information: https://www.facebook.com/events/357848117886133/