By Sophia Papastavrou
MORE THAN a decade after United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) was adopted, the absence of women from formal peace negotiations has revealed a gap between the aspirations of global and regional commitments and the reality of peace processes.
On July 16 I found myself closely following the appointment of ambassador and former permanent secretary of the foreign ministry, Andreas Mavroyiannis as negotiator by the National Council to resume the task of solving the Cyprus problem.
As I looked at the photographs of the National Council’s meetings covered in the press, I couldn’t help but wonder: where have all the women gone?
There in fifty shades of grey suiting were the representatives of the Cyprus negotiations team appointed for the peace talks. The number of men photographed at the discussion table: 20; the number of women: 0.
Thirteen years before this meeting, women’s organisations around the world with the support of the international community drew attention to the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and girls and their exclusion from conflict prevention, peacekeeping, conflict resolution and peacebuilding.
The aforementioned United Nations Security Council Resolution (UN SCR) 1325 mandates that women participate in the making and keeping of peace in the international arena. The adoption of such a policy is a testament of the recognition of gender inequities and the contributions of women around the world.
UN SCR 1325 of 2000 affirmed that women can and should be involved in peacemaking. However, in Cyprus academic scholars, researchers and peace activists have found that women who work for peace at the community level rarely reach the national or international negotiating tables.
Though government officials and policy makers from the foreign ministry would tell me that they have one or two female representatives and perhaps another two behind the scenes making coffee, you must forgive me for being cynical. As a democratic society that is based on gender equality both men and women have the right for equal representation and participation in peace building.
As a member state of the EU, Cyprus’ lack of women in negotiations dismisses gender equality and leaves women’s voices out of the building of the nation-state. While the UN Secretary-General Ban Ki Moon, echoed by the many states of the Security Council, continues to call for the increase of women’s participation at the decision-making levels in peace-processes, Cyprus continues to lag disconcertingly behind.
As a researcher and woman who voted in the last election I am deeply concerned and worried for the women of Cyprus. For the past six years my research and publications have revolved around United Nations resolutions on women, violence and conflict. Four out of the six years of my work has focused on Cyprus.
Many Canadian scholars at my university have asked me, why study an island in the Mediterranean? Why not women in Afghanistan or Syria or Liberia or Sudan? Why Cyprus? My response has always been, why not Cyprus?
I have spent the last year working on the island and becoming immersed in participant observation of the women of my generation while also closely following the tireless work and efforts by women’s NGO groups organising to educate their various communities on the importance of women in peace-building and their role in the peace-talks. Cyprus is a country that in so many respects rests on the morals of a Western democratic civil society and yet women’s rights have been glossed over by the frozen conflict and now the current economic crisis. My research has revealed the widespread prevalence of sexism, discrimination and the denial of women’s rights on the island.
At an event on Women’s Peace: Applying UNSCR 1325 to Cyprus and the Region back in March, I listened to the diverse contributions of scholars in the region who shared their concerns in raising awareness of women’s rights. Cypriot scholars have asserted the need for implementing the UN Resolution and the gaps that have challenged the process. There are two ongoing narratives that require a solution. The first is the ethnic balance between the two main communities and the second is the issue of gender and not seeing equality as an overriding principle.
It is important to note that the Special Representative of the Secretary-General and Head of Mission of UN Peacekeeping Force in Cyprus (UNFICYP), Lisa Buttenheim supports the expert group of UN SCR 1325 known as the Gender Advisory Team made of Cypriot women and has engaged in the need to address gender issues and how we (women of Cyprus, the government, and the UN) can better integrate gender into the ongoing peace process on the island.
Unfortunately, there has been little to no participation by the government. How can peace be sustained without women helping to craft it in the first place? It is here where I stumbled onto the harsh reality of an ethno-nationalist culture that is maintained through militarism and has dismissed the realities that affect both men and women on the island.
The distribution of power across the ethnic divide prioritises men, both Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot respectively. The nation is constructed based on ethnicity, and “the purity of blood” has become part of the political DNA and its narrative passed on from generation to generation. As such, issues of gender and women’s rights are rejected by the nation-state that has run smoothly due to meeting the needs of the status quo.
It is necessary that amidst this stark evidence we do not lose sight of the human rights violations that women experience in frozen conflict conditions and how such violations continue to be recognised as unfortunate circumstances of the conflict itself. An effort must be made to advance gender equality practice across the whole island by incorporating women’s perspectives and voices in peace negotiations that goes beyond the European Union, United Nations and the major ethnic groups.
We have a responsibility to address the absence of incentives and accountability mechanisms that would facilitate the identification and appointment of qualified women candidates as mediators and technical experts to mediation teams along with adequate training and education in gender issues across the range of subjects addressed in peace negotiation.
At the local and community levels, we need better and more creative outreach strategies to highlight instances where women have played roles as leaders, entrepreneurs and role-models. We need to move this beyond the academic realm to illustrate the roles women have played to bring peace to their community and the nation.
UN SCR 1325 provides a key opportunity to give a voice to the voiceless. The resolution is the beginning of what we can do in letting women in conflict and post conflict situations know that their suffering will not be allowed to happen again; that we will educate ourselves and others, and let them know that they are not alone.
Sophia Papastavrou is a PhD candidate at the University of Toronto