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Vol. LXIV, No. 39
Wednesday, September 29, 2010
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Panelists Make the Case for Women As Part of Peace-Building Process

Ellen Gilbert

“Equality under the law is not the same as equality in practice,” said Liechtenstein’s Minister of Foreign Affairs Aurelia Frick as she set the tone for a panel on “Women in Peace-Building” last Saturday at the Woodrow Wilson School of Public and International Affairs.

The panel marked the tenth anniversaries of the creation of the Liechtenstein Institute on Self-Determination (LISD) at Princeton University, and United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1325, the first resolution to focus on women, peace, and security.

Saturday’s five panelists were representatives of LISD’s mission to examine issues related to self-determination with particular respect to “socio-cultural, ethnic, and religious issues involving state and non-state actors.” They included former Austrian Foreign Minister and Member of the Parliament and Special Envoy for International Women’s Affairs Ursula Plassnik; Princeton University Dean of Religious Life and Chapel Alison Boden; Princeton Associate Professor of Politics Amaney Jamal; Laurence S. Rockefeller Distinguished Visiting Princeton Professor Nannerl Keohane; and U.S. Department of State representative Ciara Knudsen.

“I’m slightly speechless at the turnout on this stunningly beautiful day,” said LISD Founding Director Wolfgang Danspeckgruber as he surveyed the filled room in Robertson Hall, while children outside splashed in the fountains, enjoying a last blast of summer.

In her keynote address, Ms. Frick expressed a “mix of frustration and hope for the future” at worldwide efforts to include women in the peace-building process, a sentiment that was echoed throughout the program. Several panelists referred to recent reports of mass rape in the Democratic Republic of the Congo as dismaying evidence of how far there is to go, noting that the widespread use of sexual violence — against men and children, as well as women — no longer represents “the spoils of war,” but a strategy of humiliation to achieve military ends.

Women, however, were the main focus on Saturday. “Women are the only majority on earth that is constantly treated as — and behave like — a minority,” said Ms. Plassnik, whose imposing height and demeanor added to the impression of a forceful spirit at work. “No women, no peace,” she declared as a guiding credo, along with the thought that “all peace is local; it is not enough to have negotiations at the international level.” She approved of the use of the word “building” in the program title, noting that in addition to bringing women to the table, there is a need “to connect the table to the ground,” by encouraging grass roots participation in community efforts to nurture peace.

Saying that they afford a sense of “reconciliation, cooperation, restitution, and forgiveness,” Ms. Boden made the case for the inclusion of a religious women’s perspectives in peace negotiations. Evidence from Ms. Jamal’s current research on women in the Middle East strongly suggests, she said, that the presence of American troops in Arab countries leads to real setbacks, as a backlash effect leads to a tighter embrace of Islamic precepts that include the oppression of women.

Speaking from her own experience in the field, Ms. Knudsen emphasized the need to work with such realities as the fact that Afghan women typically leave their homes twice in their lives: once to get married, and again when they die. The former Presidential Management Fellow also encouraged listeners not to “underestimate the importance of honor and prestige in other countries,” nor the importance of religion in people’s lives.

In her concluding remarks, Ms. Keohane, a former president of both Wellesley and Duke Universities, thanked “women who have worked for peace,” and encouraged younger women to “be engaged.”

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