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Kamala Sarup: Is Gender Equality Practised Today?

Is Gender Equality Practised Today?

By Kamala Sarup

Are gender equality and social justice ultimately achievable within capitalism as it is practised today? What does the women's movement need to do to challenge the global trend of economic and political conservatism? Do Nepalese women as well as men receive training in mediation, facilitation and alternative dispute resolution? Is there an analysis of the barriers that women face when attempting to participate in peace building initiatives? Do local and international organisations have the capacity to recognize and work with gender equality issues? Will women's organisations gain new skills and capacity in articulating policy alternatives, holding governments accountable and being advocates for change?

''For an agreement to stick, women who are the glue that hold societies together must participate at the negotiating table so that they can also participate in the interpretation and implementation (of peace agreements). '

'No Women, No Peace'' is the slogan used by Cora Weiss, president of the Hague Appeal for Peace, an international coalition of activists. Weiss pointed out that token participation of women is not an answer. Equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflict are essential for the maintenance of peace and security.

Women recognise the progress made in including women in peace making and peace building efforts within the UN itself and the pledges made to women during the Fourth World Conference on Women in 1995.

Supporting women´s initiatives

From 1975, women became much more visible in the UN system after the first UN World Conference on Women. As the Cold War escalated, the call for peace became louder in the international community. From 14 to 30 July, 1980 a second conference on women was held in Copenhagen. The report from this World Conference of the United Nations Decade for Women: Equality, Development and Peace also makes a strong link between the achievement of peace and women's participation in peace and security issues. Women are called to participate in the broadest way to achieve détente and disarmament, to promote freedom and strengthen international security. More specifically the UN calls for solidarity campaigns for struggling women and calls on the UN system, non-governmental and intergovernmental organizations to support these groups and include women's participation in their activities.

Women's Role in Peace Movement

The Report of the Fourth World Conference on Women, held in Beijing 4 to 15 September, 1995, devoted much attention to peace and women, again linking the advancement of women to the promotion of lasting peace. Instead of asking women to strengthen their efforts, this report recognizes the leading role that women already play in the peace movement.

One sub chapter is also devoted to the issue of women and armed conflict, listing six strategy objectives to increase women's participation, reduce excessive military expenditures, promote non-violent conflict resolution, promote women's contribution in fostering a culture of peace, provide assistance and training to refugee and displaced women, and provide assistance to women of non-self-governing territories. The report then provides an extensive list of actions to be taken by governments and international and regional intergovernmental institutions.

Each conflict/peace building situation is different and there is always a need for a specific analysis. Women have a fundamental stake in building peaceful communities. Their contributions to peace building should be encouraged and supported.

There are no precise estimates, official or non-official, of the number of women widowed or children orphaned in Nepal. It is the women of Nepal who have felt the impact most severely. Yet not much is being written about their response to the conflict. In Nepal, there are currently more than 118 legal provisions that directly discriminate against Nepalese women, strictly limiting their rights. But the important question is how to engage women and promote people's participation in the peace process? One of the potential answers would be to promote peace advocacy/lobbying and massive campaigns at local level in a non- partisan way. The question I have is whether Nepalese feminist groups can get together across political differences to demand an end to armed conflict.

If Nepalese women are to play an equal part in security and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically.

Empowerment of Women

In no society today women enjoy the same opportunities as men," says the Human Development Report. Gender equality does not depend on the income level of the country. Equality is not a technocratic goal-it is a wholesale political commitment. Equality with men in a male-dominated culture and society alone is not enough. Women need to be empowered to bring their own views to policy-making and the development of society, and to set their own priorities in accordance with their inherent values.

"Women's empowerment "aims at removing all the obstacles to women's active participation in all spheres of public and private life through a full and equal share in economic, social, cultural and political decision-making. This means that the principle of shared power and responsibility should be established between women and men at home, in the workplace and in the wider national and international communities. Equality between women and men is a matter of human rights and a condition for social justice and is also a necessary and fundamental prerequisite for equality, development and peace".

World Women's Security Council

Security is the first priority of women in Nepal. For true freedom in Nepal, security is essential. Without security, no human being can be free. Only with security can we win the restoration of women's rights, peace and democracy. At the same time, security is not possible without women's rights.

The participants of the conference agreed that the World Women's Security Council should be established as an NGO and not as an additional UN body. Within the structure of UN hierarchy and its diplomatic and qualified language it would not be able to fulfill one of its most important tasks: the critical monitoring of the UN Security Council.


(Kamala Sarup is editor to )

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