Women forging new pathways at the crossroads of peace, security and development in Asia-Pacific
Conflicts in Asia and the Pacific tend to be long-running, inter-generational and localised, and are among factors contributing to the feminisation of poverty in the region. Conflict and development in the region are inextricably linked, explained Kamala Chandrakirana at an official side event as part of the 20-year review of the Beijing Platform for Action, and therefore ESCAP and member states in Asia-Pacific must include issues of conflict and security in discussions of economic and social development.
APWAPS Coordinating Group members, Kamala Chandrakirana and Bandana Rana, of Indonesia and Nepal respectively, contributed to the official panel discussion on “Women and Girls at the Crossroads: The Nexus of Peace and Security with Development” held on 20 November 2014 on the sidelines of the Asian and Pacific Conference on Gender Equality and Women’s Empowerment: Beijing+20 Review in Bangkok, Thailand. The panel of speakers also included Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, FemLINKPACIFIC Coordinator, and Kate Wallace, a representative of the Australian Government.
Bandana reflected on mechanisms in Nepal to address the peace, security and development nexus. She explained how civil society worked to integrate gender into key policies and structures in the post-conflict and political transition in Nepal. One important instrument has been the National Action Plan for UNSCR 1325. The NAP was developed in a participatory way and women in civil society shaped this as a means to strengthen the government’s accountability. This process also helped to break the mindset that security was a “man’s domain”; it created space for women to initiate dialogue on security with the security forces, government, and within communities.
Bandana also mentioned the importance of regional civil society initiatives such as APWAPS as a forum to expand this process of accountability beyond the national level to regional mechanisms, including Beijing +20 review in the Asia-Pacific. Sharon related this to the Pacific experience, where building on the legacies of the movement for a nuclear-free Pacific, women were able to collaborate and bring about a Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security. Its strength lies with the fact it is not a strategy for 22 Pacific states, but a reflection of the regional concerns and experiences of Pacific women regarding the integrated issues of conflict, security, development and climate change. Its premise is clear, that without the participation of women in policymaking and action on conflict and insecurity, there is no way of preventing the impacts of such issues on women’s lives.
Kamala noted that women’s contributions to peacebuilding in Asia-Pacific often remain invisible. This is not because of a lack of women’s involvement, but a lack of recognition of the broad scope of peacebuilding activities to respond to the diversity of causes, impacts and responses to conflict and the many roles that women play in such activities. Moreover, women’s leadership for peacebuilding is not simply about “a seat at the negotiating table.” After all, women do not wait around for an invitation to be involved in peacebuilding; they are already actively involved in mobilising for peace on a daily basis in conflict and post-conflict communities. Formal spaces for peacebuilding are important and women should be supported in accessing these spaces. However, Kamala stressed that it is crucial that there are grounded movements where women are working together, building analysis and making linkages to build peace in the community and support the formal processes. If women in formal spaces are not part of a grounded movement, then – even if they have a seat at the table – they will not be able to create peace with “women at the center.”
Related to this, panellists discussed the importance of data and documentation to ensure that the stories and experiences of women are recognised and promote accountability. Kamala explained how in the political transition in Indonesia in 1998, women had no formal mechanism to seek accountability for mass sexual violence against minority women. Rather than wait for this kind of mechanism to be instituted, they focused on documenting the experiences of women as a step they could take toward the development of a “home-grown mechanism” and the building blocks for accountability. Kamala mentioned that in this home-grown process, it was significant however, that they utilised international human rights reporting standards. Sharon also reflected on the importance of international instruments and notes that UNSCR 1325, special representatives and also the Arria formula have been useful instruments employed in the Solomon Island peacebuilding process.
Bandana recognised that data and women’s stories have been crucial in Nepal’s transition. In the review of the National Action Plan, women concluded that there was a lack of protection mechanisms, and are now seeking to redress this with a mechanism for women to access justice in a protected manner as part of the new truth and reconciliation commission act.
The panellists concurred on the importance of collecting and validating women’s stories. Kamala also highlighted the need for an approach that goes beyond documentation of violations to new methods that also integrate healing and empowerment into the documentation process.
At the crossroads, we find the emergence of new pathways, forged by a genuine women’s leadership grounded in the peacebuilding of women in communities, a commitment for alliance and movement building, and the creative employment of international frameworks to promote accountability. These pathways are shaped and directed by the experiences of women, their stories and their roles in building peace and security with development.