Why women are a foreign policy issue
Weekly Cutting Edge
May 05, 2012
US Secretary of State Hilary Clinton (L) talks to President of Somalia Sheikh Sharif Ahmed during the Somalia Conference at Lancaster House on February 23, 2012 in London, United Kingdom. GETTY
Karachi: On a trip to Afghanistan in the summer of 2009, not long after my appointment as the US State Department`s ambassador at large for global women`s issues, I stopped for dinner with a group of Afghan women activists in Kabul. One woman opened our conversation with a plea: “Please don`t see us as victims, but look to us as the leaders we are.”
Those words have stuck with me as President Barack Obama`s administration has endeavoured to put women at the heart of its foreign policy. For generations, the United States too often viewed the world`s women as victims of poverty and illiteracy, of violence and seemingly unbreakable cultural traditions - essentially, as beneficiaries of aid. Women`s issues existed on the margins, segregated from the more “strategic” issues of war, peace, and economic stability. Now, in a time of transformative change - from the rise of new economic powers to a growing chorus of voices against repressive regimes in the Arab world - promoting the status of women is not just a moral imperative but a strategic one; it`s essential to economic prosperity and to global peace and security. It is, in other words, a strategy for a smarter foreign policy.
In the past, US diplomacy and development efforts were conducted in a manner that was gender neutral at best. The United States regularly supported peace talks that left women out of negotiating rooms and treaty documents, an omission that weakened the chances of forging durable peace agreements. The country designed development programs without consulting women or considering the crucial role they played, whether it was agricultural training initiatives that targeted men even though women often represented the majority of small farmers, or building wells in areas where women could not go, never mind that women were the ones responsible for fetching water.
As a growing body of research shows, however, the world`s most pressing economic and political problems simply cannot be solved without the participation of women. That`s why Secretary of State Hillary Clinton is working to ensure that advancing the status of women and girls around the world is fully integrated into every aspect of US foreign policy. As of this spring, with the release of a first-ever secretarial policy directive on gender, advancing the status of women and girls worldwide is officially a requirement in every US diplomat`s job description. As Clinton said in March, the United States will use “every tool at our disposal” to support this crucial cause.
Why? This is, as Clinton has called it, a “Full Participation Age,” an era when information transcends borders, opinions and ideas scale firewalls, and the world can no longer afford to leave millions of women out of the global community. It`s no coincidence that those countries that deny women basic human rights are some of the poorest and least stable. According to the World Economic Forum, countries where men and women are closer to enjoying equal rights are far more economically competitive than those where the gender gap has left women and girls with limited or no access to medical care, education, elected office, and the marketplace.
As much of the world struggles to climb out of recession, the economic participation of women and their enhanced efficiency and productivity are essential to recovery and growth. Goldman Sachs researchers, for example, found that closing the gender gap between male and female employment would be a powerful engine for global growth, even in the United States and the eurozone, where it could boost GDP by billions of dollars. In fact, the Economist has reported that the increase in employment among women in developed countries contributed more to global GDP growth than China as a whole in recent years. Yet many women still lack access to capital, credit, and training. Laws prevent them from inheriting or owning land. Cultural traditions inhibit women`s participation in the formal economy. In the agriculture industry, to take one example, the UN Food and Agriculture Organisation estimates that if women farmers were provided the same access to seeds, fertilizer, and technology as men, they could improve their yields by 20 to 30 per cent and reduce the number of undernourished people in the world by 100 million to 150 million.
This is not just about the economy, though; it`s also about global security. In the 1990s, nearly half of all peace agreements failed within the first five years, according to the Human Security Report Project. These deals are generally struck by a small number of male military and political leaders shielded from war`s impact on daily life. Women, meanwhile, endure much of the residual violence and poverty caused by armed conflicts, and they bear much of the burden of rebuilding families and communities. They are often excluded, however, from both the negotiating table and the governments charged with sustaining peace. Less than 8 per cent of the hundreds of peace treaties signed in the last 20 years were negotiated by delegations that included women, and according to the World Economic Forum, women hold less than 20 per cent of all national decision-making positions.
Excluding women from these negotiations exacts a measurable cost. In 1994, for instance, women were far from the minds of the men who, with US support, signed the Lusaka Protocol that ended two decades of civil war in Angola. The commission established to implement the protocol consisted of 40 men - and not one woman. Women were also left out of demobilisation programs for ex-combatants because the definition of “combatant” did not consider the thousands of women who had been kidnapped and forced to work as military cooks, messengers, or sex slaves. Demining efforts focused on roads and failed to target the fields, wells, and forests where women grew crops, fetched water, and gathered firewood. And following a conflict in which rape was used as a weapon of war, the male negotiators granted each other amnesty for the crimes they had committed against women. Just four years later, war began anew.
We do not want to see history repeating itself. Last December, the administration launched a national action plan on women, peace, and security, which expands US efforts to include women in conflict prevention, peace negotiations, and reconstruction. Still, the exclusion of half the world`s population continues to threaten many countries. In Egypt last year, women marched on the front lines of the protests, often leading their fathers, brothers, and husbands into Tahrir Square. A year later, the courageous women of the Arab Spring fear not just that progress on women`s rights will halt, but that the rights they currently enjoy will be rolled back.
Or consider Afghanistan. Although the number of women attending school and serving in parliament and on local peace councils has increased dramatically over the past decade, the country remains the world`s most dangerous for women in terms of health, violence, and lack of economic resources. The United States must continue to insist that insurgents who want to reconcile must commit to protecting the rights embedded in the Afghan constitution - including those for women. There may be some who, in the interests of getting a deal done, consider women`s rights negotiable. But this is a red line that cannot be crossed; any peace that is made by excluding more than half the population is no peace at all and will not last.
In all circumstances, and especially in the most challenging ones like those in Afghanistan, the United States must remain a vital voice for women and girls not just because it is the right thing to do but because it is the smart thing to do. Give a small-businesswoman access to capital and training, and she can become a powerful contributor to GDP growth. Include women in governments and peace talks, and they can help ensure that ministries are better run and peace agreements are sustained. Educate a girl, and she will be more likely to raise healthier and more educated children - and end the cycle of poverty.
Secretary Clinton has championed the use of “smart power”: deploying all the tools at America`s disposal to advance national interests - not just military might, but also diplomacy, development, and America`s enduring values. Advocating for women`s full economic, social, and political participation around the world is one of the most potent weapons in America`s smart-power arsenal. And it`s one we shouldn`t even hesitate to unleash.
© Copyright 2012. Weekly Cutting Edge.
Somalia`s new government: key points
Wednesday, August 1, 2012
MOGADISHU, Aug 1, 2012 (AFP) - Somalia`s corruption-riddled Western-backed Transitional Federal Government (TFG) will end its eight-year existence on August 20, under a United Nations-backed agreement. The self-declared independent nation of Somaliland in the north-west has refused to participate.
Here is an updated outline of the key steps.
WHO DOES WHAT. A Technical Selection Committee chose the Traditional Elders, who in turn selected members of the National Constituent Assembly, an ephemeral structure chosen only to endorse the provisional constitution. The constitution still has to be ratified by a national referendum.
The Elders, assisted by the Selection Committee, will also choose members of parliament, who in turn elect the president, the speaker and two deputy speakers. The president appoints the prime minister, who in turn forms the Council of Ministers.
TECHNICAL SELECTION COMMITTEE. A group of 27 representatives, including at least nine women, drawn from the main clans and approved by Somalia`s disparate leaders. Two other non-voting advisory posts are held by officials from the United Nations Political Office for Somalia (UNPOS). There are also seven international observers.
TRADITIONAL ELDERS. Chosen by the Selection Committee, the 135 elders are drawn from different clans, with 30 from each of the main four clans and 15 drawn from a coalition of minority groups. The ethnic quota system is referred to as the “4.5 formula.” Somalia`s four main clan families are the Darod, Dir, Hawiye and Rahanweyn.
NATIONAL CONSTITUENT ASSEMBLY. The NCA has 825 members, including at least 256 women, or 30%, and is meant to include youth representatives, religious scholars, traditional elders, the business community, academics and the diaspora. Anyone with a “record of serious crime or crimes against humanity” is barred from being a member. It endorsed a draft constitution on August 1.
PARLIAMENT. Is made up of a lower house called “The House of the People” with 225 lawmakers -- including 68 women, or 30%. The upper house has a maximum of 54 members. Parliament`s mandate lasts four years, or until elections. It marks a major cut to the previous bloated 550-member parliament.
PRESIDENT, SPEAKER AND TWO DEPUTY SPEAKERS. Must be elected before the August 20 deadline. Over 60 candidates are believed to be in the running for the presidency.
PRIME MINISTER. Appointed by the president within the first 30 days.
COUNCIL OF MINISTERS. Formed by the Prime Minister, who presents the names to parliament for approval.
(Description of Source: Paris AFP (World Service) in English -- world news service of the independent French news agency Agence France Presse)
© Compiled and distributed by NTIS, US Dept. of Commerce. All rights reserved.
Global leadership: In Rwanda, women run the show
The Christian Science Monitor
November 13, 2010
Rwanda`s parliament is the first in the world where women hold the majority of seats. Photograph: Stephanie McCrummen/Getty Images
Global leadership: Rwanda, a tiny African nation, has the highest proportion of women leaders.
When Beata Murekatete was growing up in rural Rwanda, she never would have imagined she`d end up working for Parliament.
She`s not a lawmaker, but everything she does touches the law. She`s a researcher, and she spends her days in villages around Rwanda researching reports for parliamentarians about issues with which ordinary Rwandans might need a helping hand.
Tiny Rwanda, in the center of Africa, is the only country in the world with a female majority in Parliament. That statistic alone, says the young mother, inspires her - and her generation.
“This motivates our small daughters; it motivates our sisters. They know that they can do what our brothers do,” Ms. Murekatete says. “We do not fear to compete with men. That`s a good step for women in Rwanda.”
The country made history in 2008, when 56 percent of the politicians it sent to Parliament were women, far surpassing a national quota set at 30 percent. Two years before that, women were elected to a third of all mayoral-level posts. Women lead a third of Rwanda`s ministries. They protect public assets - the head of the tax authority and the auditor general are women. Every police office in Rwanda has a “gender desk” to take reports of violence against women, as does the national Army.
Sen. Marie Mukantabana, vice president of the Rwandan Senate and chair of the Women`s Parliamentary Forum, says the ascent of women in politics reflects their unique characteristics: “Women have integrity. Women have particular natural qualities; they listen well; they respect others, not just other women, but all Rwandese.... There are things we are better at than men.”
Among them, she says, is keeping honest. There`s a widespread belief, in Rwanda and outside, that women are less corrupt than men. There`s not necessarily hard evidence that this stereotype is true, says Shirley Randell, director of the Center for Gender, Culture and Society at the Kigali Institute of Education. But there is evidence, she says, that Rwandans think it`s accurate - in public and in private: “They put women on the counters as bank tellers; women handle money in the supermarket.” She thinks Rwandans across the board acknowledge that women are more responsible with money.
“If women earn money, and their husbands don`t take it, it goes toward the family, toward education, toward health. With most men - not always, but most - it goes toward banana beer,” she says.
But behind their soothing image, Rwanda`s female politicians are using political muscle to get things done. Women in Parliament have been credited with pushing through laws protecting women and children against domestic and gender-based violence and establishing women`s rights to own land and inherit property.
The political ascent of women may stem from Rwanda`s troubled history. The 1994 genocide killed an estimated 800,000 Tutsis and moderate Hutus in 100 days; millions of Hutus fled the country after the genocide.
To Ms. Mukantabana, the horror meant the country had little choice but to try trusting women with what had traditionally been men`s work. “Men with power before brought catastrophe,” she says. “After, women were accepted to have power in the country as well.”
But Dinah Musindarwezo, gender equality specialist at the Norwegian People`s Aid offices here, says the emergence of women leaders reflected an urgent practicality. Women are believed to have made up 70 percent of Rwanda`s postgenocide population, and thousands - widowed, abandoned, or orphaned - became heads of their households, a new phenomenon in a previously patriarchal society. As necessary as that development may have been it doesn`t explain the rise of women to positions of power. That, Ms. Musindarwezo and others agree, can only come with political will at the highest levels. “Gender roles changed because women, not just men, were breadwinners, but that doesn`t necessarily lead to political participation or a chance, as a woman, to be a minister,” she says.
In fact, Musindarwezo cautions, logical fallacies lurk everywhere in a discussion about women`s role in politics. “Being a woman does not automatically make you gender sensitive or willing to work for gender equality,” she says.
Nor does it mean you`re always going to promote - or even agree on - what is good for women. Last year, Parliament passed a law cutting maternity leave for women in half.
“People asked, `How could such a law pass with a majority 56 percent of women in Parliament?` “ says Musindarwezo.
But in spite of the symbolic importance of the numbers, female politicians in Rwanda don`t necessarily see women as a discrete constituency.
“These women are at the top, but they do not descend. We do not see them in the village. They do not know how ordinary women in Rwanda live,” says one woman in Kigali who asked that her name be withheld. “Women in Parliament do not make a big difference in our lives.”
Musindarwezo agrees female politicians need to be held to greater accountability to female citizens. “They`re not answerable to women,” she says. “We don`t have a direct line between women in communities and the leadership.”
© 2010 Christian Science Monitor. All Rights Reserved.
Somali women win political emancipation with parliamentary quota
by Juliette Hollier-Larousse
August 01, 2000
ARTA, Djibouti, Aug 1 (AFP) - Somali women taking part in talks here aimed at setting up a government in their war-ravaged country are celebrating a major coup: if all goes well, 25 of them will sit in the next parliament.
“It`s a dream that has become a reality. We are delighted,” said Asha Haji Elmi, 38, an economist and head of the Women`s Association at the reconciliation conference.
Under the quota system agreed for a transitional assembly, 10 percent of the 250 seats have been reserved for women, who have traditionally been excluded from the political scene in Islamic Somalia, where warlords have held sway since the 1991 fall of president Mohamed Siad Barre.
“With all these years of civil war, when there was no administration, it was the women who kept the families alive, who kept the non-governmental organisations going. They won this role,” said Elmi, who has lived in Mogadishu and Nairobi since 1992.
Here in Arta, women have had to fight to win recognition for their work and overcome the conservatism of traditional and religious leaders at the conference.
A hundred of them sit with the men in the front rows of the talks, held under a huge tent.
“The host of the conference, President Ismael Omar Guelleh, insisted on this. We accepted, but it is not in our tradition,” said an imam from the Hawiye clan, to which Elmi also belongs.
Unlike most African countries, Somalia is for the most part populated by people of the same ethnic group. The country is however divided into groups of common bloodlines, or clans, of which there are five major ones, and a complexe network of sub-groups.
While initial plans called for five seats in the assembly to be earmarked for women, one for each major clan, they now have 25, which they must share between the clans.
But membership of a particular clan is of little importance to women, many of them insist.
“We are now the sixth clan. We do not think in terms of clans. We are from different clans and live together in the same house,” explained Mariam Arif Qasim, a writer who lives in Dubai.
She is staying with about a dozen other Somali women, mostly officials from non-governmental organisations who live outside Somalia, in a house nicknamed “the women`s villa.”
“We want to be the rainbow coalition, because we come from all the clans and we hope to vote in a block during the election of the (transition) president,” said Elmi.
“We will look at candidates` ideas and we will decide, no matter what their clans are,” she added.
But she admits that success is not certain and that some women legislators might vote according to their kinship links.
In private, many male delegates are skeptical about a women`s block vote.
“During the presidential election (by parliament) traditional chiefs, but also husbands, brothers and friends will exert a lot of pressure on the women MPs, because they have an important voice and they (the men) will not understand why they might favour a candidate from a clan other than their own,” explained one delegate.
Elmi remains adamant however that it is the women who will bring much-needed change.
“We are not here for decoration. Ten years of war and no government, that is enough. The women of Somali are tired and will work to pressure the men to change the situation,” she said.
Somalia: MPs Want More Women in New Parliament
September 13, 2004
Somali presidential candidate Asha Ahmed Abdalla casts her ballot during elections for a new transitional Somali President in Nairobi, Kenya on October 10, 2004.
Nairobi, Sep 13, 2004 (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks/All Africa Global Media) -- Women members of Somalia`s newly created transitional federal parliament plan to move a motion seeking a constitutional amendment to increase the number of seats reserved for women in the assembly, one of the MPs said on Monday.
The women have complained that delegates attending the Somali national reconciliation conference in the Kenya capital, Nairobi, flouted the National Charter when they failed to adhere to the provision that at least 12 percent of the members be women.
Delegates, the majority of them men, appointed only 23 women members to the 275-member parliament even though the charter stipulates that at least 33 MPs be women.
“We are planning to come up with a motion to amend article 29 of the charter to raise the women`s quota in parliament,” Asha Haji Elmi, one of the MPs told IRIN. She said that women members would form a “strategic alliance” with men MPs sympathetic to their cause to ensure that the motion is passed. “We [women] are part and parcel of the national solution,” she added.
The planned motion will seek to have parliament endorse the creation of an additional 14 seats for women.
The fledgling parliament, which was inaugurated in Nairobi last month, will hold a session in the Kenya capital on Wednesday to elect a speaker. The Transitional Federal Charter that provides for the creation of the transitional parliament and a federal interim government was adopted by delegates to the reconciliation conference in Nairobi in September 2003.
The MPs were chosen by elders and political leaders from their respective clans who were attending the conference sponsored by the regional Intergovernmental Authority on Development (IGAD).
The creation of the transitional federal parliament paved the way for the formation of an all-inclusive government in Somalia, which has remained without an effective government since 1991, when the regime of Muhammad Siyad Barre was toppled.
Each of Somalia`s four major clans was allocated 61 seats in the parliament, while an alliance of minority clans was awarded 31. A speaker and two deputy speakers to be elected from among the MPs will preside over the election of the president, who will in turn appoint a prime minister to form a government.
The reconciliation conference was initiated by IGAD in October 2002 in Eldoret, Kenya. The subregional body that groups Djibouti, Ethiopia, Eritrea, Kenya, Sudan and Uganda as well as Somalia, moved the talks to Nairobi in February 2003.
After a new government has been installed, IGAD intends to return the peace process to Mogadishu, the Somali capital. It is also planning to seek international help to kick-start the new Somali state.
© 2004 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved
Women in Puntland Demand Greater Role in Government
December 03, 2008
Nairobi, Dec 03, 2008 (UN Integrated Regional Information Networks/All Africa Global Media) -- Women in the self-declared autonomous region of Puntland, north-eastern Somalia, are calling for greater representation in the region`s parliament in the upcoming elections to reflect their role in society.
Asha Gelle, the Puntland Minister of Women and Family Affairs, told IRIN on 3 December that women were demanding “to be represented at the table where decisions are made. This time around we want to make sure that our rights and interests are represented.”
She said at present there were five women among 66 MPs. “There are fears among women that even that small number may disappear.”
Puntland MPs are selected by traditional elders and since women are not included in the elders` council, “women`s interests are not always heard; we are not there so we cannot make our case”.
The Puntland constitution stipulates that 30 percent of all government positions be filled by women, but that has not been fully implemented, said Gelle.
She said women`s representation in parliament should be increased “to between 15 and 20 members”.
Hawa Yusuf, a women`s activist, said women had carried the greatest burden of Somali society throughout the civil war. “We are the ones who care for the weak and the dispossessed and displaced,” she told IRIN. “Today more women are breadwinners.” It would be unfair to deny the women their rights of political participation at this stage, she added.
“We are not lobbying only for the women`s percentage in parliament, but we are advocating for a package for women`s inclusion in every aspect and level of the new government.”
She said women should be treated as individuals and not as members of clans. If women were treated as part of the clan, she said, “Men will never give the rightful share to women. I am not part of my father`s clan or part of my husband`s clan. We should be treated as a separate constituency.”
Abdishakur Mire Aden, a former Puntland deputy minister of information, agreed that women deserved better representation. “For now we should make sure that the five members who are now in parliament should be returned.”
The selection of MPs in Puntland is expected to conclude on 30 December, to be followed on 8 January by the election of president by parliament.
[This report does not necessarily reflect the views of the United Nations]
© 2008 AllAfrica, All Rights Reserved
[L] Somali President Sheikh Sharif and [R] Rwandan Minister of Foreign Affairs and Coorporation, Louise Mushikiwabo