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Women's rights and the economics of war.

Background of the "March" Seminars

Since 1984, women have come together at the United Nations, Geneva, Switzerland, to observe 8t" March, as International Women's Day, focusing on disarmament and related issues from women's perspective. In partnership with other non governmental organizations, the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom has facilitated this annual opportunity for NGO representatives to interact with their governmental representatives. This provides an opportunity for disarmament specialists, diplomats and representatives of concerned non-governmental organizations (NGOs) to share information and knowledge. The seminar is timed to coincide with the weekly open plenary session of the Conference on Disarmament, at which a statement from the Seminar is read.

In the past few years, the seminars have focused on:

* Terrorism, the Global Order and Missile Defense (2002)

* Role of the Media (2001)

* Weapons in Space (1999)

* Nuclear Disarmament (1998and 1997)

* Conversion (1996)

* Feminist Perspectives on Security (1995)

* Development and Disarmament (1994)

Theme of the Seminar in 2003

This year the focus was on Women's Rights and the Economics of War. Economic backgrounds of conflicts and the humanitarian impact of disarmament, the consequences on human rights of failed disarmament were highlighted and brought forward to the Commission on Human Rights, The seminar offeted the opportunity to hear several speakers, on the economics of war from different perspectives. The presentations were very interesting and the discussion quite lively. We only share a glimpse of our impressions.

The Politics of Oil and its Geopolitical Aspects

Prof. Dr Jan Oberg, from the Transnational Foundation for Peace and Future Research, a very well known researcher and scholar, especially in the domain of peace and conflict resolution presented a passionate view on the current situation, tearing down all sorts of arguments in favor of the war and other "imperialistic" politics that have no ground what so ever to hold stand. He has been very engaged in ex-Yougoslavia, Georgia, Tibet and has recently visited Iraq.

(You can find his article and more on this topic:

Perspectives on the Situation of Small Arms and Women's Rights

Dr. Vanessa Farr is an independent consultant of South Africa, who has specialized in research on the gendered implications of small arms and light weapons proliferation and misuse. She discovered a striking lack of documentation on how women are affected by gun proliferation before, during and after violent conflicts: e.g. how conflicts cause brain drains, creating unworkable medical centers and health clinics in rural areas. The small arms also causes many accidental injuries. She mentioned the comfort women having to do their work under threat of small arms, who also become vulnerable to HIV/AIDS.

(For more information about the International Action Network on Small Arms (IANSA and the current discussion on the small weapons in relation to the war in Iraq, please visit;

Human Rights Situation in Oil Producing Countries: Focus on Tchad and Nigeria

Two presentations concentrated on the impact of oil companies on the lives of the people in Chad and Niger Delta. The first speaker on this issue was Irene Mandeau who works with the German section of Amnesty International (AI) and heads the working group on Chad of AI. She worked on the human rights issues in Chad, especially related to oil and the constructions of pipelines. The main company involved in Chad is ESSO. Violation on the rights of women and children there are appalling.

(For more information on the German working group please visit the web site: or

The second speaker was Alice Ukoko of Women of Nigeria International, she focussed on tragedies of the oil richness of the Delta region of Nigeria; (SHELL company is the main producer there.) Alice Ukoko gave a very passionate and appealing speech on the situation of her country and about the deep suffering of women and about the non violent resistance their women exercise. Alice Ukoko has recently come out to the international arena to voice out the injustices done to her people. She asks us all to listen to her story and involve her in the international network of women striving for justice and peace issues.

(Please visit her web-site:

Report on the Violation of Women's Rights in Iraq, especially in Kurdistan

Soheila Mamel was born in Iranian Kurdiastan. As a historian, she works for France Libertes, the foundation of Danielle Mitterand, and is responsible for the Middle East, is a coordinator of culture and peace and is in charge of the relations with the UN. She does important work by sharing information, managing field projects and undertaking missions in France and abroad, alone or in the company of Danielle Mitterand. Her testimony on the violation of women in Iraq, the torture and oppression was an eye opener. Her examples came mainly from the Kurdish women.

(More information on violation of (women's) human rights, especially in the Middle East, visit

Weapons for Development

Suela Krifsa, is from the United Nations Development Program (UNDP), and is working for Crisis Prevention and Recovery program. She gave an interesting expose on the efforts of the UN to disarm small weapons by offering development programs to the villages that have disarmed themselves. This created lively discussions about being "change agents" and on following questions; How does this work and what is sustainable in this matter? Are women well involved in implementing these programs?

(More on this you will find on the UNPD web-site)

Statement to the Conference on Disarmament from the Seminar

The Women's International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) prepared a statement in co-operation with the NGO committee on the Status of Women Working Group on Peace. This statement was read by the Deputy Secretary-General of the Conference on Disarmament (CD), Mr. Enrique Roman-Mory at the Plenary session of the CD on 6 March 2003. The day prior to this, women discussed the content and accepted the text. All participants of the seminar were present on the public balcony at the time the statement was read. Contrary to the other years, the chair of the CD responded to the content of the statement, and stated that the CD felt committed to the themes and issues the statement had raised, with special emphasis to the women and gender related issues, which should be more closely looked at. This reaction was seen as a clear recognition of the years of work of the NGOs to defend women and gender related issues in the disarmament debate.

(If you want to know more about WILPF and their interesting plans and programs, their web-site is: with further links to national WILPF groups.)

Conclusion: Women's Rights and the Economics of War

We were impressed by the many different areas the conference focussed on and the variety of speakers. Also we were very touched by the great energy women showed to fight for justice and peace in the midst of terrible conflicts and yet have the creativity to work on alternatives. It strengthened and engaged our solidarity with these women and men all over the world and motivated us to search for ways bow women here in Geneva can express and work together. Building relations with other women in the world is something we have great opportunities for in Geneva, since we are already multicultural as a group. But how can we take more advantage of this and act upon the suffering and pain we daily learn about in conflicts all over the world? This conference has been a great inspiring place for us and challenges us to keep on telling the story and engaging ourselves.

Excerpts from the Statement Made at the Conference on Disarmament

......In October of 2000, the Security Council emphasized the relevance of gender issues to its work and acknowledged in Resolution 1325 that women deserve a place at the negotiating table, not only because women are affected by war differently than men, but because it is our human right to participate in society. Women have a right to participate in decisions on peace and security, but internationally and in the vast majority of the world's national capitals, women are systematically barred from enjoying this democratic right. It is impossible to lay the groundwork for a culture of peace without giving due consideration to women. A gender perspective on disarmament challenges existing analysis and solutions for disarmament, and demands that people are put in the center of the picture: women and men, as victims, survivors and perpetrators of weapons related violence. This is human security in action and we commend those governments that have committed themselves to advancing this concept and practice.

Decisions and experiences in relation to weapons involve human beings operating in their social and political environment, and therefore have clear gender dimensions. Women and men alike have concerns about the impact of weapons--from small arms to weapons of mass destruction. We applaud the Department for Disarmament Affairs for recognizing this fact and undertaking a Gender Action Plan to be launched at the Disarmament Commission. This move forward should also provide guidance to member states on how to integrate gender perspectives into the work in the CD.

Disarmament has become a household word, with the largest global demonstration for peace in history occurring on February 15 in over 700 cities illustrating ordinary people's belief that disarmament is an alliterative to, and the best way of preventing war. Women played a major part in these demonstrations, and have articulated positions and ideas on disarmament. We recognize that there are risks involved in forging new agreements, and in discussing and negotiating sensitive issues of national security, but world public opinion is supportive right now, and this strengthens the hand of those states that are willing to take the risk of placing their national security interests in the context of intentional security. A failure to act at this time would not be easily forgiven, and we urge you to seize this moment by placing the stated popular will of the world's people above process and procedure.

Fifty seven years ago, Article 26 of the UN Charter charged the Security Council with responsibility for generating a plan for the regulation of armaments with the least diversion of the world's human and economic resources. This recognizes the timely and crucial need for a long term and broad based vision for peace. We are still waiting for the plan. We hope that the Conference on Disarmament is not going to follow this example. How many more years can the CD justify hovering in this limbo of indecision when the agenda that faces you is getting ever larger'?

Some of you may see NGOs as mere "focus groups" with critical voices that are never satisfied, but you would be wrong to dismiss us so lightly. We are at the intersection of international bodies such as the CD and the constituencies we represent. We receive multitudes of phone calls and letters on a daily basis, from ever more desperate and angry people who want to know what member states of the CD are doing and why nothing is happening. As NGOs who defend the UN and its central commitment to disarmament, it is becoming increasingly difficult for us to explain the role of the CD because you are not dealing with nuclear disarmament as you have committed to do so, often and in so many forums. You are not advancing international commitment to the prevention of an arms race in outer space, and you are not negotiating a Fissile Material Cut Off Treaty, and you are clearly not dealing with any of the other pressing disarmament priorities. The most practical way forward would be for all states to immediately agree to the proposal by the five former Conference Presidents, Ambassadors Dembri, Lint, Reyes, Salander and Vega (CD/I 693).

One of the salient issues of today is terrorism, which is manifesting itself in more sinister and varied ways than ever before. Terrorism, facilitated by weapons of every kind, is a pressing disarmament issue whose complexity stems from the fact that the physical weapons of terrorists are secondary to their methods of operation. Because they will stop at nothing to achieve their means, greater investment in disarmament and the safeguarding of toxic materials, rather than unilateral policies and doctrines of war must be considered in long-term solutions to the dangers posed by terrorism. The CD has a profoundly important role to play in this monumental task.

For centuries, there has been the reaction to take up the banner of militarism in the face of threat. Evaluation of this paradigm, so contagious and so destructive to the frustrated victims of the injustices of our society should begin here--because it is what happens here that breeds justification for the resort to violence. Eleanor Roosevelt, well remembered for her work in the creation of the Universal Declaration of Human Rights once said, "nobody won the last war and nobody will win the next". Every time there is a public reinforcement of the notion that military strength and the willingness to use it are key elements of security, every time disarmament or choosing not to rely on threat or use of force for security are dismissed as weak or womanly options, the power of the terrorist is reinforced.

Transparency in Armaments was added to your agenda in 1992, and reduction in military spending is part of the Decalogue. Increased accumulation of armaments and military spending has not increased world security. For nearly a hundred years, women's organizations have been in the forefront of researching, exposing, and protesting the enormous resources devoted to weapons and war. Our research allows us to assert that the ability of military violence to achieve its stated aims is routinely over-estimated, while the extent of its costs are overlooked. Our studies show that just one quarter of the world's approximately $839 billion in military spending would allow nations to provide decent housing, health and education to their citizens. It would also allow governments to provide energy, to clean up the environment, ameliorate the AIDS pandemic, stop global warming, ease the debt burden, disarm nuclear weapons, collect and destroy hundreds of millions of small arms and de-mine the world. Perhaps most importantly at this fragile moment, the careful redistribution of resources that are currently absorbed by the global killing machine might convince the most desperate and angry of the world's people that they do not need to resort to terrorism to achieve their goals.

Even in times of grave uncertainty, a comprehensive strategy can and must be guided by the rule of law and true respect for human rights. We endorse the High Commissioner for Human Rights Sergio Vicira de Mello 's statement." "The security of states.. flows from the security of the human being."

Women urge the CD to:

1. Agree to a program of work in this first part of the 2003 session. While the proposal outlined by the former Presidents does not meet our expectations of the CD, the deadlock of the last six years has considerably altered our expectations of this body. The program outlined would at least see the negotiation of a Fissile Material Cut-off Treaty. This is more urgent than ever due to the increased dangers posed by toxic materials of the nuclear age, which should stop being produced immediately. The Proposal should also include discussion on arrangements towards a binding agreement on negative security assurances, and an exchange of information on nuclear disarmament toward potential future work of a multilateral character.

It would be our hope that "the elaboration of a regime capable of preventing an arms race in outer space" could be elaborated rather quickly due to the investment, research and development by one member state in this held, which are significant enough to trigger an arms race should other member states join that race.

2. Because it is unacceptable for a handful of CD member states to hold the time and concerns of the majority in contempt, a coalition of willing states should begin informal deliberations on the above five areas, thereby utilizing the time and expertise available in Geneva constructively, and generating draft documents and draft treaties as food for thought for when political will finally reaches a critical mass.

3. Conduct a serious review with the aim of developing new mechanisms for a more inclusive role of NGOs in the life and work of the Conference on Disarmament. This review should consider the modality for participation, and assistance with the important "partnership" role that NGOs can play and the essential opinion-formulating role of civil society, vital for the success of your work. NGOs stand ready to work with you in the conduct of this review and the development of appropriate mechanisms.

Thank you for taking the time to hear our perspectives on disarmament. Your commitment to doing so each year on this day should not, however, be marked with statements thanking women for their interest, which implies that our work on disarmament issues is invisible for the other 364 days of the year. For us, International Women's Day is more than symbolic. It is an opportunity to remind you that your ongoing and serious engagement with issues of global security requires the systematic integration of gender in your work, when that work actually begins anew. As the world's sole multilateral disarmament negotiating body, you can only be said to represent us--and remember, women constitute at least 50 % of those you represent--if you engage with and reflect our perspectives in your work."


Ecumenical Women's Group in Geneva
COPYRIGHT 2003 Lutheran World Federation
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Title Annotation:International Women's Day
Author:Van Teeseling, Dorine
Publication:Women Magazine
Geographic Code:4EXSI
Date:Jul 1, 2003
Previous Article:A report on the 47th session: UN Commission on the Status of Women.
Next Article:Living letters: messages from the LWF women's pre-assemblies.

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