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Vision and Voice: What the Women Say – Findings from the First Regional MENA/South Asia Women’s Rights, Peace, and Security Forum

Main Sponsoring Organizations: The International Peace Institute, International Civil society Action Network/Global Network of Women Peacebuilders, Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN Date and Time: March 7, 2013 – 6:00pm – 8:30pm Location: Church Center for the UN, 777 United Nations Plaza, New York, NY 10017 (12th Floor) http://www.ustream.tv/recorded/29812861 1:13 Introduction by Maureen Quinn (IPI) 7:13 Sanam Anderlini (ICAN) 18:10 Rita Sabat (Lebanon) 31:14 Parisa Kakaee (Iran) 42:38 Visaka Dharmadasa (Sri Lanka) 52:18 Arvinn Gadgil (Permanent Mission of Norway to the UN) 58:45 Question & Answer session 1:43:43 Closing Remarks by all speakers

Transcript of Sanam Anderlini’s talk: We had women from 12 countries in the region together with us in Istanbul of last year, and we will do this again every year for the foreseeable future and we hope to make it a bigger forum for networking. The issues that came up very resoundingly across the region were that women have not only been active, but they were often the first ones out on the streets in Libya and other places. This is something that we seem to forget, that we kind of erase out of our history. Demanding rights, having a space for voice, having a space for dignity and so forth. But what they’re experiencing is that a politicized Islam – and I don’t want to say that this is Islam as many of us know it – but the politicization of Islam and the types of groups that we’re seeing emerging are targeting women very directly. In many other places we’ve seen women being the conduit for addressing ethnic communities or religious communities. In our region, women are the target, and this is something that we have to really understand. The nexus between what to women and women’s rights, and the peace/security/democracy agenda are totally interwoven. Now one of the things that we’ve seen is that there is a version of Islamic values or Islamic behavior that is being introduced into many of the countries (like Tunisia, Egypt and so forth) that to many of the activists working there are actually completely alien. So we have Tunisians saying, ‘These Salafists- who are they? Where were they? They weren’t with us on the streets. This is more alien to us than many other things.’ So it is something that is spreading across the region; it’s a Wahhabi/Salafi version of Islam. It’s being supported in one way or another from countries in the region. We have to recognize


this and call it what it is, and as civil society I’m allowed to do that and put it out on the table for further discussion. It’s being funded, very much so, and that’s important. They’re trying to change the narrative, that women’s rights is a Western concept, an alien concept. Whereas if you look at it – and we’ve put our reports out – if you look at Egypt, there was a women’s rights movement from the 1800s – in Tunisia, in many of these places. So you have this history that exists, and then this erasure that is coming which is extraordinary. That’s something that we have to be aware of, and there’s real double standards because they’re quite happy to take the cell phones and the weapons and the Viagra that the West provides, and the money, but when it comes to support for civil society, all of the sudden it’s “this is Western money, it’s tainted.” So there is this notion that we have to be very very careful about. The reason why I think that we see this rise is because these are movements and groups that were on the ground, providing social services, having connections with people. This is I think part of the challenge that we have, that the states that were supported in the past (by Western governments also) did not provide those services. So let’s be clear about where the fault-lines lie and who is doing what. The other side of the story is what we’ve seen from the international communities’ responses over the last two years. As an Iranian who’s grown up in England and lived here, I find it extraordinary because I’m often told, ‘These are conservative societies.’ I’m thinking, ‘Who are you to tell me what my society is and where we come from and what our history is?’ There is an orientalist approach that is very culturally relativistic about women in our region, and it’s fed in part by the ignorance of many policymakers and media here in terms of not knowing the history of women in Egypt, or the history of Tunisia. That’s one aspect of it. And then there’s a confusion that’s happening, which is that we are assuming that politicized Islam, or the use of Islam for a political end, is the same as being a good Muslim. In our forum, we had women that are covered from headscarves all the way to the chador – practicing – and yet they embrace and they work for women’s rights based on universal norms. That’s a very different story to having political parties that are using this for their own means and ends, and that’s an important distinction to make. Another thing that we’re seeing is that, whereas in the international community and the international discourse we separate the social from the political and the security: women, we’re always social, we’re not political. In the forces that we’re seeing coming up, women are really really important. What happens to women, as I said it’s part of the political ideology, it’s not by mistake that the first speech by the Libyan transitional authority said that polygamy will now be permitted. We should see that as an early warning indicator of what’s coming forward. They see it as completely interwoven. Another thing that we’re seeing is that Western countries are falling into the narrative of ‘our values’ and ‘their values.’ Very often I hear people say ‘our values our different,’ and we’re sitting there thinking ‘women are dying on the streets, women are being raped on the streets of Egypt for human rights. How dare you say that these are your values and our values?’ So we have to say that these are universal values for which we’re fighting for. Not only are they universal values but let’s remember that across the street there’s a replica of something called the Cyrus Cylinder, which is the first declaration of human


rights and comes from our region – and it’s 2500 years old. Let’s reclaim universal human rights back into our region and not fall into the narrative that we have. The final point that I want to make in terms of the women, peace and security agenda was that, like I said, very often we see women separate from the peace and security issues. The whole rational and the raison d’être for the women, peace and security agenda that we now have (the Resolution 1325 and all the rest of it) was that women have been saying, ‘We have something to say; we have a right to be there; these peace and security discussions matter to us.’ At the international level, we’re also seeing this “parallel universe” again emerging; we have many countries telling us ‘We have National Action Plans; we support women’s rights; we think it’s fantastic; let’s go with 1325,’ and yet at the same time imposing sanctions on countries in the region, including Iran, where those sanctions are directly hurting women and women’s rights, and promoting the abuse of human rights on a massive scale. The people on the ground see the connection between militarization and the spread of weapons and what’s going on with women. We have to ask ourselves on the international level – the whole point of this resolution was to make these connections and to transform the way we think about security, and to bring the voices of women which is (by the way) a very much human security oriented approach. These are the shortcomings on the international level in terms of responses to women on the ground. I’m very concerned that we’re still at the point where somehow we still don’t understand that when half the population is being threatened, this is really a threat to peace and security. We’re still seeing it as something cultural happening. If this half of the population were, say, an ethnic group – the “blue people” – we would say that this is racism; if this was a religious group, we would say that this is discrimination. When it’s women, we don’t do it, and it’s really time to do it because this is a harbinger of some very dangerous things to come. The women are there fighting on the front lines. They’re doing it for us right now. The least we can do is be there in support of them upholding their voice, including across the street [at the UN] over the next few weeks.

Voice and Vision event transcript  

Sanam Anderlini transcript

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