Women have the power: united they cannot be defeated

Women have the power

By Danielle Bonner

There’s a certain energy created when you have a group of women come together for a common cause, an energy that can lift your confidence and empower you to take on any challenge.

In April I attended the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) 2015 conference, on women’s power to stop war. It was an extra special conference because it also celebrated 100 years since the organisations formation when 100s of women came together on 28th April 1915 at The Hague to call for the end of the First World War.

100 years on again some 1000 women came together from over 82 countries some travelling from ongoing conflict in their country such as Syria, Libya, Iraq, Ukraine, Afghanistan and other conflict war zones. To hear, share and discuss the ways we can end conflict and lay foundations for peace.

Over 3 days I listened and talked with women from all over the world, like Fatima from Pakistan whose supporting women in her country through the promotion off human rights and the use of technology.

The women from Syria who spoke of their everyday coordination with other women across the county to end the conflict and highlight the crimes being committed, to the women from Iraq and Libya highlighting their efforts against extremism in their communities.

On my last day I talked with Maureen an energized 83 year old from America. She’d been round the world twice on what she called borrowed money! Though she always paid back. In 1995 she travelled with 200 other women from Helsinki to Beijing on the peace train to be present at the 4th UN women’s conference, which produced the Platform for Action to support women, an agreement still in effect today which sets the framework to support the rights and empowerment of women.

 The diverse stories told by women were inspiring, empowering but also eye opening, while stories of conflict can be seen in the news, when you are sitting in a room with a survivor of conflict and you hear their personal story you cannot but feel a wave of emotions.

The issue of sexual violence as a weapon of war was a widely featured topic during the conference, one journalist from Colombia spoke of her kidnapping and rape at the hands of a militia, and while it was difficult for her to speak about her experience she explained she did so to bring a human face to the reality of sexual violence and the impact it has. Similarly a young women from Uganda and a victim survivor of the terrorist group Lord Resistance Army (LRA), spoke of the continual injustice victims of sexual violence faced in her country and the lack of support provided to them in the aftermath of experienced violence.

Commitment to action was also demonstrated, during the conference a lady from Yemen highlighted she found herself stateless because she could re-enter her country because of the recent imposed closed borders and international military airstrikes in Yemen. The next day WILPF prepared a statement for government action demanding the end to these imposed sanctions, which was hand then delivered by 20 women to 12 foreign embassy residing in The Hague who influenced the conflict in some form.

Amal Basha from Yeman and Sameena Nazir from Pakistan, calling for action to end conflict in Yemen

The actions of the women were reported in the media drawing awareness to the conflict and the realities people faced. This collective action is an example of the power and solidarity women have to create change. A solidarity I’ve seen in my own work in the women’s sector which connects locally and nationally to support women, raising awareness to issues effecting women’s lives, to the women’s groups across communities who provide friendly support relief for women in their communities.

The conference too highlighted the importance of sharing and giving voices to women’s lives, while it demonstrated the great leadership women have across our world’s communities. It brought voices to the many talented women working to end conflict and build peace in challenging circumstances.

Research shows including local women in a peace process increases the chance of violence ending by 24%. Yet despite this research women find it particularly challenging to even gain a seat or have their voices heard at peace negotiation tables, further allowing women’s rights to be under prioritised and omitting women from having any input in peace process and decisions affecting their lives as women. Women in Peacebuilding

Women’s security, rights and political inclusion are common challenges face by women in conflict and post conflict environments. It is therefore vital that we ensure international laws such as the UN Resolution 1325 and other agreed human rights and laws are not only implemented but continually developed to ensure women are protect and have a voice in peace processes.

The Women’s Power to Stop War conference provided an international platform for women to come together to share work, ideas and empower each other particularly youth women to address and play an active role in bringing war and conflict in our world to an end.

And while the many may never no their names or hear about the great work these women are currently doing they are the silent backbone to peace in our world. They prove we can and should all do something to unmask injustices & create change in our world.

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Women’s Equality Lets Make it Happen

Make it Happen

As a child I was fortunate to have many positive female role models in my life which never lead me to question or think that my gender would restrict me in what I wanted to do with my life. However as I have grown up and entered my adult life I’ve become conscious of the existing gender inequalities operating in society which impact the lives of women.
In honour of International Women’s Day I write and share this piece with you.
By Danielle Bonner

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Around the world women have diverse and dynamic roles, in our daily lives we have women playing important roles from being mothers, daughters, sisters, grandmothers, aunts and cousins, to being role models, providers, leaders, workers, carers, inventors, the list is endless. Indeed there are women all around the world making a positive difference, many of whom we will never know their names yet the people around them will feel the benefit of their actions.

Every year on the 8th March, the world celebrates International Women’s Day, but why do we have or need such a day? A simple answer could be to say because there is no country in the world that has reached gender equality[1], so we need to continue to raise awareness over the issue.

However this leads us to ask the question what is gender inequality and how does it affect women differently? Here I look to unravel this question and explore why the celebration of International Women’s Day is so important.

What is Gender Inequality and how does it affect women?  

I recently saw a comment made about the double standard of gender equality and why there is no International Men’s Day or a drive to get more boys into education like the drive to get more girls into education. Firstly just to note there actually is an IMD it’s on 19th November but it’s just not publicised very well!

However the comment made me think about what ‘Gender Equality’ really is and how does it affect women? I came to the conclusion that ‘Gender Equality’ should be the mutual respect and absolute undiscriminating empowerment of all genders. Gender Equality should be about a person not being scared or restricted in doing something just because of their gender while no person should be prevented from doing something just because of their gender.

In reality however this is not the case, there are many gender inequalities faced and experienced by women on a daily basis. We still live in a world that being born a female automatically ensures that your life will face certain inequalities that you may not have otherwise of faced had you been born a male.  While in some places in our world being born a female you are considered less valuable than being a male.

And in some extreme cases female babies do not even make it into this world because during pregnancy parents discover that the sex of their unborn child is female and decide to end the pregnancy which is known as Female infanticide,[2] or at birth the female baby is killed Femicide[3]

There are many other challenges and forms of inequalities faced by women around the world, here are just a few.

  • Employment- Pay Gaps“Women earn on average 15% less than men and at the top of the pay scale, 21% less.”[4]
  • Restricted Economic Opportunities- there are 128 countries with at least 1 legal difference restricting women’s economic opportunity.
  • Increased Psychical and Sexual violenceGlobal statistics show that 35% of women have experienced sexual violence in their life time. Only 52 counties criminalise rape within marriage. 2.6 Billion however live in a country that doesn’t.
  • Under representation in political decision-making- Only 22 per cent of all national parliamentarians were female as of January 2015 (UN Women)[5]
  • Lack of Access to Education1 in 5 girls of lower secondary age is out of school, 1 in 3 girls in the developing world is married by the age of 18.
  • Health- Every year, almost 300,000 women lose their life due to preventable complications during pregnancy & childbirth. (Care International)

IMG_6526

With such inequalities continually effecting women’s lives, we must continue to work for gender equality and social change, to ensure that no matter what sex/gender you are, you are considered a valuable member of society, both given and treated with the respect that all human rights grant. We must work together as a society locally and globally to deconstruct all social, structural and cultural norms that allow these gender inequalities to continue.

How is women’s inequality being addressed?

At an international level governments and world organisations have pledged their support to the Beijing Declaration and Platform for Action, an agreement and framework which sets out 12 key areas of concern and “remains the world’s best blueprint for achieving gender equality and empowering women.”[6]

At a community grassroots level however we also need to start addressing the social attitudes we hold towards women. Women need to be better openly supported and valued at every level of society.

Women’s empowerment and equality will benefit the whole society

So what is IWD and why do we need it?

Let’s be clear international women’ day is not about women vs men or criticising the opposite sex. Rather it is about supporting the roles and acknowledging the achievements of women within our diverse world. It is also because women continue to experience inequality simply because they are women that we take this day to raise awareness and show support for the rights of all women across the world, which helps to bring such inequalities to an end.

Over the years I’ve had the privilege to meet and interact with women from around the world, from the local business woman Beba in Mostar Bosnia and Herzegovina, overcoming the effects of conflict to rebuild her family home and turning it into a successful business, the women in Afghanistan working every day and risking their lives in support of ending violence and bringing peace to their country. To the women I work with and meet every day doing valuable work that they often don’t even realise is making such a positive difference for our society.

And while we should support the rights and empowerment of women everyday it is nice that for one day of the year on the 8th March the world unites and collectively comes together to honour women all around the world.  Encouraging women no matter where in the world they are, to be empowered, to realise their full potential and to value the contribution they make to our world.

I strongly believe that the empowerment of and fulfilment of women’s rights will have an overarching positive effect not just for their lives but also for the benefit of society as a whole. It is therefore time we all supported the advancement of women’s equality.

“Remember women of the world you are great and together we can and will overcome Gender inequality”

[1] Secretary-General and Executive Director of UN Women Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka, http://time.com/3735042/gender-equality-un/

[2] Find out more at http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/abortion/medical/infanticide_1.shtml

[3] Find out more at http://apps.who.int/iris/bitstream/10665/77421/1/WHO_RHR_12.38_eng.pdf

[4] Launch of first major OECD report on gender and education – Thursday 5 March 2015, http://www.oecd.org/newsroom/launch-of-first-major-oecd-report-on-gender-and-education.htm

[5] Source see more at http://www.unwomen.org/en/what-we-do/leadership-and-political-participation/facts-and-figures

[6] http://www.undp.org/content/undp/en/home/presscenter/speeches/2015/03/08/helen-clark-statement-on-international-women-s-day-/