From the Worldwide Faith News archives

WCC: US women working in the margins of peace

From "WCC Media" <>
Date Wed, 07 Apr 2004 15:55:42 +0200

World Council of Churches
Feature Feat-04-08
For Immediate Use
7 April 2004

Women working in the margins of peace
By Jean Martensen (*)

This feature will be available in French, German and Spanish
translation next week. 
Ce document sera disponible en frangais la semaine prochaine.
Dieses Dokument wird ndchste Woche auf Deutsch verf|gbar sein.
Esa crsnica sera disponible la semana prsxima en espaqol. 

"Women are either victims of civil strife or beneficiaries of
humanitarian efforts, but they are not full partners or equal
participants" in the peace process, proclaims Sarah Shteir of the
Women's International League for Peace and Freedom.  Shteir was
one of several panelists at an ecumenical women's gathering
convened by the World Council of Churches (WCC), the National
Council of Churches of Christ in the USA and a national women's
peace organization called PEACE X PEACE. 

Shteir, along with some thirty female leaders from eight
Christian denominations in the US, came to the Episcopal Church
Center in New York to observe this year's International Women's
Day in a unique way.  With their thoughts on the WCC Decade to
Overcome Violence and its 2004 US focus theme the Power and
Promise of Peace, they came to ask one question: Where are women
in the peace process? 

During their two-day consultation, taking place just across the
street from the United Nations building where the Commission on
the Status of Women was meeting, they discussed women's roles in
organizational and grassroots peace efforts.

Kofi Annan's call goes unheard

The voice of women in the international peace process is not
new.  Day one of this women's consultation concentrated heavily
on UN work around this issue, specifically UN Resolution 1325
focusing on the improvement of the status of women in the UN
Secretariat.  Sarah Douglas of the United Nations Development
Fund for Women provided the background for this remarkable
"watershed" resolution, passed in October 2000.

The resolution, coming just before the UN Decade for Peace began
in 2001, "urges Member States to ensure increased representation
of women at all decision-making levels" with regard to the peace
process, and requested that the secretary-general provide UN
member states with "training guidelines and materials on the
protection, rights and the particular needs of women"".

However, despite Kofi Annan's strong support for this
resolution, nations continue to act as though women were
invisible.  Of the 264 reports submitted to the UN Security
Council from the secretary general, only 17.8% made multiple
references to gender, 15.2% made minimal reference and 67% had no
reference or only one reference to gender issues. 

Part of the problem is that "there are no timetables and target
dates explicitly articulated in UN Resolution 1325 that make the
UN actors and UN member states accountable," concluded Shteir.
"UN Resolution 1325 doesn't exist for most UN agencies. It is not
integrated into their mandates or their daily work."  

Some women may argue that it doesn't have to be.  As the global
constituency of knowledgeable women is growing, they are
increasingly taking it upon themselves to use this legislation to
ensure their right to participation. 

Women in the Democratic Republic of Congo used UN 1325 to
support skills training and capacity-building in preparation for
and during the peace negotiations held in Sun City, South Africa
in 2002.  They are not an isolated case; thanks to the tenacity
of Somali women in promoting the resolution, they have taken part
in their nation's peace talks and peace-building efforts in the
post-conflict period.  

In the US, congresswoman Bernice Johnson has introduced a
congressional resolution to build support for UN Resolution 1325
at the federal level.  This effort is heartening at a time when
the US delegation to the Commission on the Status of Women at the
UN appears to be regressing.  

But who will take care of the cats?

However, these women are few and far between.  Monica Willard of
the UN International Day of Peace - a day that is increasingly
observed around the world - spoke of the need to further engage
women in the peace process. It is one thing to petition the
government to support resolutions that help empower women, but it
is another issue entirely for women to empower themselves - a
realization that hit Judith Kelly hard in November 2003.

Judith is a Roman Catholic woman who came to the decision to
participate in civil disobedience through daily prayer, careful
thinking and a very supportive community.  This decision, though
carefully made, was not so easy to carry out.  

Just the day before taking part in an annual protest gathering
at the School of the Americas, a combat training school in
Georgia, she found herself thinking: "I might get sick... It may
be raining too hard...Who will take care of the cats?"	She did
go in the end, but only after securing a faithful cat-sitter - a
prudent move considering she was later found guilty of
trespassing during the protest and sentenced to three months in a
federal prison.  An experience that has perhaps left a bigger
mark than the protest itself.

While in prison, Judith's strong commitment to non-violence was
repeatedly tested through humiliating rituals designed to
differentiate those with power from those without.  Refusing to
return the contempt of the guards with hostility, she found
peaceful ways to assert her integrity, alter relationships and
enable a community of "prisoners of conscience" to grow.  

In a country with a growing prison population and tendencies
towards violence both inside and outside the prison gates,
helping women to find integrity is a necessary step in
transforming the power of violence into the power of peace.

The torch has been passed  

Both speakers and participants of this consultation were clear
about the need for women to speak up and to make full use of the
legal instruments now available.  Some thirty UN participants,
coming from Sweden, Sierra Leone, Kenya and Bosnia, among other
countries, came into the consultation during session breaks from
the UN commission, stressing how important it is that American
women participate in the worldwide struggle to overcome violence
with nonviolence. Though engaging women in the peace process
remains a major challenge, it is clear that the torch is
continuously being passed. 

The conference drew to a close with a list of possible actions
women might take in the quest to overcome violence from a women's
perspective.  Enthusiasm for collecting stories of women's
non-violent witness was apparent, and these stories and others
will be shared through the WCC Decade to Overcome Violence. 
Together, those assembled were able to see new ways to help shape
a more just world, trusting, as they do, in God's enduring power
- the power and promise of peace. 

Jean Martensen is co-chair of the US Conference for the WCC and
member of the US Decade to Overcome Violence Committee 
UN Resolution 1325:

For questions regarding translations of Resolution 1325, please
contact Sarah Shteir: 

WCC Decade to Overcome Violence: 

National Council of Churches: 


International Day of Peace: 

For more information about the "prisoners of conscience":   

For further information, please contact Juan Michel, WCC  media
relations officer,  tel: +41 22 791 6153, mobile +41 79 507 6363,  


The World Council of Churches (WCC) is a fellowship of churches,
now 342, in more than 100 countries in all continents from
virtually all Christian traditions. The Roman Catholic Church is
not a member church but works cooperatively with the WCC. The
highest governing body is the assembly, which meets approximately
every seven years. The WCC was formally inaugurated in 1948 in
Amsterdam, The Netherlands. Its staff is headed by general
secretary Samuel Kobia from the Methodist Church in Kenya.

World Council of Churches
Media Relations Office
Tel: (41 22) 791 6153 / 791 6421
Fax: (41 22) 798 1346

PO Box 2100
1211 Geneva 2, Switzerland

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