Good afternoon everyone. It’s absolutely wonderful to see so many of you here today – thousands of women and men standing together against rape culture, victim blaming and for women’s rights. We’re marching in London today – while we do so, I think it’s important that we think about our sisters resisting in other countries. Women’s rights activism is global; it is alive and flourishing everywhere. Why? Because no matter where you are and who you are, life is not the same for women as it is for men. There is a link between women’s participation, power and voice in politics, the economy and culture and the violence and fear that we face in our homes, our communities and our streets. As a women’s rights activist from Zimbabwe said: ‘If you aren’t at the table, you’re on the menu.’
The reality of what this means in practice sharpens and comes into focus when looking at women’s lives in countries affected by violent conflict. All over the world women experience sexual violence, displacement, torture, feminicide and kidnap but the needs, realities, experiences and perspectives of women are often excluded from consideration. Only 1 in 40 signatories to peace agreements are women and only 16% of peace agreements even mention women – and often, even when they do, when women are mentioned, it is to restrict their rights. This is not a coincidence.
When women’s voices are not heard, women’s needs are ignored. When women are marginalised and excluded from power, men think it’s okay to say things like ‘women should avoid dressing like sluts in order not to be victimised.’ Not only does this kind of thinking blame women for rape, but it is used to put women in their place.
In Egypt, women took part in the revolution but have been marginalised in decision making afterwards about the future of their country. Virginity testing of women activists in Tahrir was used to oppress and intimidate because ‘the girls who were detained were not like your daughter or mine.’ Forces had to have proof they were not virgins in case they were accused of rape afterwards – the message of course being that a woman who has been sexually (and politically) active cannot be raped and you should not be concerned about their sexual assault.
In Libya, there is evidence that rape of women was used as a weapon against opposition forces and to punish women in order to instill fear and curb dissent.
October sees the tenth anniversary of military intervention in Afghanistan. In 2001, the need to promote and protect the rights of Afghan women was prominent in UK and US government rhetoric. Ten years later, will women be at the peace table to negotiate the transition? Will women’s rights remain firmly on the agenda, or will they be traded away for so called ‘peace?’
At Gender Action for Peace and Security, we believe that for peace to be meaningful, the end of conflict must mean the end of violence for women. We believe that women must be involved in decisions that shape their societies and their future. We run a No women, no peace. campaign calling for the meaningful participation of women in peace processes and for women’s rights to be taken seriously. In the next few months, we will be asking the UK government to ensure women and women’s rights are central to discussion around transition in Afghanistan. Please join us. You can find out more by visiting our website – nowomennopeace.org. We believe that you can’t build peace by leaving half of the people out.
No women, no peace.