Transforming Power: Women, Peace and Democracy
Khushi Kabir and Diana Avila
VOLUME 27, NUMBER 3, SEPTEMBER 2005
On a rainy spring day in Ottawa, Inter Pares staff gathered at our office to meet with some of our closest counterparts. They had travelled from great distances to be with us. Asha El-Karib from the Gender Center for Research and Training had arrived from Khartoum, Sudan; Khushi Kabir from Nijera Kori had travelled from Dhaka, Bangladesh; and Diana Avila from Project Counselling Service had made the journey from Lima, Peru.
In our conversations, Diana, Asha and Khushi talked about their work and in particular, their struggle against the forms of violence perpetrated against women by states and other armed actors. From Peru to Sudan to Bangladesh, women are dedicating their lives to eradicating militarized violence and making the world a safe, more just place for all.
We discussed how in times of conflict, women are particularly vulnerable. Sexual violence is a common weapon of war. Asha told us that in the Darfur region of Sudan, it is the women in refugee camps who collect firewood outside the camps because if the men go, they will be killed, while women will 'only' be raped. Khushi recounted how an estimated 200,000 women were systematically raped by Pakistani soldiers during the 1971 war of liberation in Bangladesh and a cloak of shame still hangs over them. Diana spoke of Guatemala, where the Truth Commission did not identify sexual violence as a war crime, despite the thousands of women who were targeted and traumatized. And we also discussed violence against women as a weapon in times of peace, because wherever patriarchal systems and attitudes prevail, women continue to be at risk.
As long as women are objectified and seen to "belong" to someone or something - fathers, husbands, families, communities and countries - they will never be safe or free. Until the structures of power are transformed into more equitable and participatory systems, neither men nor women will fully reach their human potential. Justice demands fundamental change. Inter Pares works with women and women's organizations, and with mixed organizations of women and men around the world who share this belief. Like Asha, Diana and Khushi, we seek to transform power.
Despite the most difficult of situations, amidst armed conflict, repression and scarcity, our experience and that of our international colleagues is that women are not victims, though they may be victimized. Women are, in fact, powerful and effective agents for change, as was evident when Asha, Khushi and Diana spoke to us about their work.
On that rainy afternoon, Asha, Khushi and Diana were also candid about the dilemmas of facilitating women's access to justice. Political organizations and movements, however well-meaning, have their own agendas. While they condemn abuses and publicize injustice, too often, they forget or ignore women's own personal pain. We heard about how women are often stigmatized by the very people they depend on for support when they finally break their silence, how they are retraumatized when they have to tell their stories, and about the need to be uncompromising in protecting women and validating their needs first and foremost. In addition to advocacy work and research, it is critical that comprehensive and appropriate support services be provided to victimized women by those who understand the local context.
When women organize, when women speak in a collective voice, their lives and the life of their community is transformed. Around the world, we are witness to a myriad of such courageous acts. This Bulletin provides a few of these inspiring stories.
|Reviewed September 7, 2005||Publishing Policies|