On 19 November 2020, Fight for Humanity organized a webinar to discuss the progress and challenges faced by women leaders when trying to protect, promote, and defend the rights of women and girls in times of conflict. The event took place in the context of the 20-year anniversary of Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women Peace and Security.
Nearly 200 people participated in the event to hear first-hand views from 4 women leaders from armed and political movements: Zeyneb Muhemed, Member of the Coordination Committee of Kongra Star (North-East Syria), Dr Najwa Fadhl, STC Presidential advisor for women issues of the Southern Transitional Council – STC (Yemen), Olga Lucía Marín, former combatant and current member of the Common Revolutionary Alternative Force – FARC political party (Colombia) and Naw Wah Khu Shee, central standing committee member, Karen Women’s Organization-KWO/Karen National Union-KNU (Myanmar).
When war and insecurity take hold, women bear a heavy burden of violence, poverty and inequality: “during conflict lots of women experience sexual abuse, murder, displacement”, and it “can not be ignored” recalled Naw Wah Khu Shee. Traditionally in many cultures, “men are in leadership positions” and the “problem we are facing is a mentality which is 5’000 years old, the patriarchy” said Zeyneb Muhemed. “[Women are] confronting their husband, facing domestic violence, being kept home. Change need to start from their houses.”
There is therefore a need for women to be better represented in the society so that they can promote and defend their own rights, as well as those of other women and girls. The four panelists acknowledged that this representation has been enhanced over the past few years: “Women have become more involved in the structure of the STC. Each governorate has a department mandated to protect the rights of women and empowering them in society” explained Dr Najwa Fadhl.
This progress is not enough: even if “there was a focus on gender in the Colombian Peace Agreement” the implementation of this agreement has not permitted to reach a greater gender equality yet. “The issue is not to note it on a piece of paper but to make it happen” stressed Olga Marín.
The second part of the webinar looked at possible solutions to achieve greater gender equality in areas affected by armed conflict. For Naw Wah Khu Shee “Education plays a very important role [in achieving] gender equality […] and as KWO we focus on child development and nursery schools so that the mother can have free time and work”. For Olga Marín women “need to organize political parties or women committees” while Zeyneb Muhemed also stressed the need “to establish relations with other women’s organizations” for exchanges, including at the international level.
Indeed, this change requires the support from the international community “We hope that the international society will support women especially in countries plagued by conflicts, by supporting their participation and ensuring they are adequately represented” raised Dr Najwa Fadhl.
Participants also underlined the importance of awareness-raising towards reaching a broader consensus within society and to include men in the struggle. As Olga Marín said it, “We need to keep struggling for our rights. Even if it doesn’t produce immediate effect it does produce a change of consciousness in people.”
Fight for Humanity will publish a report of the event in the coming weeks, based on which it will propose concrete follow up steps and recommendations. It will also work with like-minded organizations to ensure that the voices and efforts of those promoting the rights of women and girls in areas affected by armed conflict and/or controlled by non-state armed actors are heard and made visible.