I’m in conversation with Adivasu Levu, the Executive Director of Transcend Oceania. An eminent rural woman here in Fiji. She and I have been part of a collective learning of bridging the numerous divides women in our country face, to redefine peace and security, after our own experiences of political crises. Together we have travelled many rural roads to meet women, initially afraid to speak out. Together we have produced community media content and systems so that there is tangible evidence of women’s leadership and space.
We are discussing our sessions at the upcoming Women, Peace and Security Summit in Samoa. The summit to be hosted by the Governments of Samoa and New Zealand is aiming to facilitate discussions on: the concept of meaningful participation and representation of women at all levels of peace and security governance; how to promote women’s rights; and identify what protection of rights for women in fragile conflict and post conflict situations means for Pacific Island countries; Explore the Prevention, Participation, Protection and Peacebuilding pillars from the Principles for Women, Peace and Security and understand how this strategy can help address issues in the Pacific; Build capacity and capability on gender issues to link to the expanded concept of security identified in the Boe Declaration on Regional Security and publish a summary of discussions for participants to use as reference to support implementation of the Boe Declaration and UNSC Resolution 1325
We ask ourselves ..."even with, or despite the commitments to gender equality and women’s rights including the Beijing Platform for Action, international treaties like CEDAW, the suite of women, peace and security council resolutions, is mainstreaming even a tangible strategy when we still don’t have equality in representation in local communities and sub-national decision making processes, in development planning and disaster management committees?
At regional, inter-governmental level, even our eminent government ministers fail to even mention their own commitments to gender equality and women’s rights – despite the adoption of the Pacific Leaders Gender Equality Declaration and endorsing the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security.
We both also agree, we have an important role to bring to the attention to Pacific Leaders through this summit, that there is a need for greater accountability to the human rights agenda. We need enhanced approaches to progressing gender inclusive human security and the prevention of all forms of gender based violence, including enhancing the protection of women’s human rights defenders.
As Josephine Teakeni of Vois Blong Mere Solomon reminds government officials “‘you have been leaving us out for a while, and now you are calling us because you need help. Why?’
Our mantra is Redesign the Table.
It is a message being amplified through the Pacific network of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) and our allies of the GPPAC gender focal point network.
Recently Adivasu’s organisation, Transcend Oceania has assumed the role of regional secretariat of GPPAC Pacific and the network’s regional steering group meeting last month (June 2019) also affirmed that our strategy going forward was also going to look at ways to convene cross gender dialogues on peace and security to realise the shift from reaction to prevention.
Such a strategy is just one of many within the Pacific women and feminist movement to realise the commitments to gender equality and women’s rights. The GPPAC Pacific network, which has contributed to promoting and progressing the WPS commitments, sees it as an opportunity to bring men – traditional leaders, faith leaders and yes representatives of the security sector to our table to better understand our notions of peace and human security.
The methodology of cross-gender dialogues is not a new concept. Within the GPPAC Pacific network, the Bougainville based Nazareth Centre for Rehabilitation is running four safe houses and two men’s hubs. They have established a whole network of women’s human rights defenders, a network of male advocates, a school-based peer education program where we also deal with out-of-school youth. They have forums that provide training programmes and facilitate dialogue engaging government and civil society networks.
The Pacific Conference of Churches, also a member of GPPAC is also committed to addressing the prevalence and prevention gender based violence and gender equality within the church.
Redesigning the Table for Transformative Conflict Prevention
The quest for gender equality in peace and security processes pre-dates the adoption of the ground-breaking UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Women, Peace and Security) on October 31, 2000. The GPPAC Gender Policy (updated May 2019) highlights that in fact the Beijing Platform for Action adopted in September 1995 at the 4th UN World Conference on Women (Beijing Conference) drew on recommendations from successive women’s conferences and reaffirmed that:
"In a world of continuing instability and violence, the implementation of cooperative approaches to peace and security is urgently needed. The equal access and full participation of women in power structures and their full involvement in all efforts for the prevention and resolution of conflicts are essential for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security. Although women have begun to play an important role in conflict resolution, peace-keeping and defence and foreign affairs mechanisms, they are still underrepresented in decision-making positions. If women are to play an equal part in securing and maintaining peace, they must be empowered politically and economically and represented adequately at all levels of decision-making"
Collectively, through the GPPAC network, while we are all contributing to the have made substantive headway bringing visibility and attention to gender inclusive conflict prevention approaches through successive events and initiatives we are finding we still need to go further and get to the root causes of the persistence of unequal power relations, harmful gender norms and working with men and boys.
The GPPAC Gender Policy is taking a Gender Transformative Approach (GTA) to influence the change of attitudes, behaviour and norms that are at the very core of unequal power relations and gender inequality.
So coming back to our conversation point on why gender mainstreaming is a luxury.
Remember those committees I mentioned earlier ?
The one where the diversity of women’s leadership is not present ?
So, until we secure equal participation, catalyzed by greater political accountability, we cannot simply “mainstream commitments”
We have to change the conversation to gender equality accountability and start to redesign the table.