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Where Are the Women Leaders in Wartime?

By Elana Sztokman

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Gender democracy activist Anat Thon-Ashkenazy holds a 1325 pin in support of the UN resolution to bring women leaders into negotiations.

“We can’t solve problems by using the same kind of thinking we used when we created them,” Albert Einstein famously quipped. Yet, when it comes to the current crisis in Israel and Gaza, the same minds that created the problems seem to be the ones charged with resolving them. And those minds almost exclusively belong to men.

A group of women have been working to change this, specifically to ensure that women have a seat at the table where strategies are formed and major decisions are made. The group, a coalition of over 30 Israeli and Palestinian NGOs that have been meeting regularly for the past two years, is charged with the mission of implementing UN Resolution 1325 in Israel. Resolution 1325, which affirms the “important role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and in post-conflict reconstruction”, was passed in 2000, and Israel was the very first country to adopt the resolution in 2005 with the addition of Section 6c1 to the Law for Women’s Rights. The Section establishes that all government bodies, especially those involved in peace negotiations, are obligated to ensure appropriate representation for women from diverse population groups when building teams and committees for designing national policies. Since then, another 45 countries have also adopted 1325, some with very successful practices of implementation. In Israel, however, even with Section 6c1, the process of implementation has been slow and at times completely stalled.

“Despite the fact that Israel was the first country to set the principles of Resolution 1325 into law, not a single Israeli government since then has formulated an action plan for applying the decision,” said Knesset member Aliza Lavie, head of the Knesset Committee on the Status of Women, who convened a special joint meeting this week of her committee along with the Subcommittee for Foreign Policy, Publicity, and Policy Awareness of the Foreign and Security Committee headed by MK Ronen Hoffman. “In Operation Protective Edge, for example, we see clearly… that men are deciding, analyzing and mediating the discourse. The time has come to advance and learn from the countries where women have been incorporated in all key areas of security using legislation and incentives.”

Indeed, today, the team appointed by the Prime Minister’s Office for negotiations with Egypt does not have a single woman on it (National Security advisor Yossi Cohen, the Prime Minister’s representative Yitzhak Molcho, Security Ministry representative Yoram Cohen, Amos Gilad, General Nimrod). Even Justice Minister Tzipi Livni, whose official job title in this coalition includes overseeing the country’s diplomatic initiatives and peace talks with the Palestinians, was not invited by the Prime Minister to be on the team.

Hoffman, who was a key member of peace negotiating teams under two administrations and described his experience of working with tables full of men, added that the inclusion of women is not just about gender diversity but also about hearing a broad range of important perspectives. “By excluding women,” said Hoffman, who was a conflict management specialist before becoming an MK, “we are missing out on perspectives of psychologists, anthropologists, educators, and other people who can contribute to resolving this conflict from a more human perspective. We need more than the same one-dimensional militaristic ideas.”

“This is one of the problems with having only a section of a law and no adapted national plan,” according to Anat Thon-Ashkenazy, the coordinator of the initiative and a lawyer for Itach-Maaki, one of leading NGOs in the coalition. The responsibility for gender inclusion becomes the ad hoc responsibility of random government representatives who have no accountability. “Every time a committee is formed, we have to be there to fight for representation,” said MK Zehava Galon, one of six MKs who attended the meeting. “It is a matter of constant vigilance. There is currently no systemic approach to the problem.”

“We have to demand accountability,” added Vered Sweid, Director of the Administration for the Advancement of Women in the Prime Minister’s Office. “We need to use financial disincentives to ensure women’s equal representation.”

The purpose of this 1325-Israel coalition was to advance a systemic and enforceable approach to women’s leadership and gender mainstreaming. The coalition, which was funded by the National Council of Jewish Women, Heinrich Bell and the European Union, formulated a detailed five-point action plan available here for gender mainstreaming across all areas of government which was presented at this week’s Knesset meeting.

“Israel can learn a lot from other countries,” said Thon-Ashkenazy. The purposeful and directed inclusion of women has brought about significant results in countries such as Guatemala, Darfur, Rwanda, Bosnia the Philippines and Ireland. “In the Philippines, for example, the religious war ended by the adaptation of a six-year National Action Plan for gender mainstreaming,” Thon-Ashkenazy said, “which had the effect of, among other things, redefining security as ‘human security’.” The coalition aims to get the government to adopt the specific goals of the action plan. At this meeting, it was resolved that over the next two months, the coalition would work to get the government to adopt Resolution 1325. Thus far, 30 MKs have shown their support by being photographed with a “1325” pin.

“Women are a powerful but often untapped force for peace,” UN Secretary General Ban Ki-Moon said at the meeting via pre-recorded video. “Resolution 1325 means that women must be central to negotiating peace, delivering justice, negotiating reconciliation, [and] shaping society.” Unfortunately, Israel still remains far from that ideal. But if this coalition has its way, we may yet see some real change.

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