What Gender Means In Practice


By Joyce van Genderen-Naar
On 23, 24 and 25 September 2009 a Thematic Workshop on Gender, Peace, Security and Development ‘, What Can the EU do?, was organised by EuropeAid cooperation office (AIDCO) in cooperation with DG Development and DG External relations in Brussels.

The training was attended by participants from the EU, Kenya, Angola, Botswana, DR of Congo, Liberia, Nigeria, Sudan, Zimbabwe, Afghanistan, Colombia, Bangladesh, Nepal, Indonesia, Philippines, Thailand, Kosovo and Ukraine.
The main issues discussed were: understanding the impact of conflict on gender roles and relations,  understanding the different ways men and women experience and influence conflict dynamics and peace building, the EU Legal framework and Comprehensive Approach, the United Nations Security Council Resolutions (UNSCR) 1325 and 1820 on Women, Peace and Security , EU policies and instruments on women, peace, security and development, EU guidelines on violence against women and girls and combating all forms of discrimination against them, gender dimensions of conflict, Gender and DDR (Demilitarisation, Demobilisation and Reintegration with Liberia as good example), Security Sector Reform (SSR), Justice Sector,  Crisis Management and Gender Based Violence.
Violence against women, gender-based violence, is a global problem. At least 1 out of  every 3 women in the world has been beaten, raped, abused etc.  
The participants shared and acquired relevant knowledge and skills on gender policies and practices with the aim to incorporate in their work what they learned, linking theory to practice. They discussed the obstacles they encounter working with gender issues. The name and notion of ‘gender’ is an obstacle itself, not understood or wrongly interpreted by many men and women. Gender has to do with equality and equal representation of men and women at all kinds of level in politics, economics, in work and life. Because women are underrepresented at all levels, most attention in gender is given to women, especially to defend women’s rights when they are at stake, in war and conflict situations. The UN Security Resolutions are so important because for the first time in history it is legally recognized that violence against women in war (rape, torture and killing) is a war crime, to be prosecuted in court. That was not possible before. 
One of the important recommendations of the Workshop in Brussels was to involve more men  in Gender issues to bring about changes, because “Men listen more to men”. 
Gender is a cross cutting issues, that means that in every project and programme of the EC the equal representation has to be addressed. In practice, sanctions stay out, when not addressed.
What Gender means in practice was explained during the Workshop by the following true story: Gender perspective on building a bridge.
“A group of men were to be sent to Sri Lanka in order to build a bridge. During one of the Swedish Rescue Service Agency’s pre-operations briefings, gender equality was on the agenda. However, the operation officer did not think that was necessary: “Our task is to build a bridge, we do not need to worry about gender issues”, he said.
The instructor then started to ask questions: “Who is going to use this bridge? “Well, the locals,” the officer answered. “You mean men, women and children?”, the instructor asked. “Well, yes.”
“OK, how do they travel?” “By car mostly”, the officer answered.
“The women too?,” the instructor asked
“No they’ll probably walk,” the officer answered.
“Then maybe you want to consider building a pedestrian zone on the bridge?” the instructor asked. The operation officer could only agree.
“Now, gentlemen, we have just used a gender perspective on building a bridge,” the instructor added.

Liberia: Pray the Devil Back to HellMost impressing was the presentation of Dr. Ruth Caesar from Liberia, who spoke about the role of the Liberian women during and after the war in Liberia, showed by the Film ‘Pray the Devil Back to Hell’ 2008. From 1989 to 1996 one of Africa’s bloodiest civil wars took place in Liberia, claiming the lives of more than 200,000 Liberians and displacing a million others into refugee camps in neighboring countries. Christian and Muslim women in Liberia united to end the war and to bring peace in their country, fed up with 15 years of war and bloodshed. They engaged themselves in the peace negotiations, which resulted in democratic elections and the democratic election of the first female President of Liberia and of Africa: Mrs. Ellen Johnson Sirleaf. They also engaged in rebuilding of the country through the Demilitarisation, Demobilization and Reintegration (DDR) programme in Liberia and the applying of the UN Security Council Resolutions 1325 and 1820 in a comprehensive way.

Dr. Ruth Caesar is the Deputy Executive Director of this programme in Liberia. She was one of the courageous Liberian women who united to end a bloody civil war and bring peace to their shattered country. Thousands of women, ordinary mothers, grandmothers, aunts and daughters,  Christians and Muslims, came together every day during many years to pray for peace and then staged a silent protest outside of the Presidential Palace. Armed only with white T-shirts and courage, they demanded a resolution to the country’s civil war. Determined to bring dignity and peace back to their country they stood up to Charles Taylor and the warlords. Their actions were a critical element in bringing about a agreement during the stalled peace talks.

Their story is a true story of sacrifice, unity and transcendence, so impressing, touching and inspiring, that it has been filmed with the help of these courageous women. The film/documentary, Pray the Devil Back to Hell, has won an award and it is an honour for the strength and perseverance of the women of Liberia. Inspiring, uplifting, and most of all motivating, it is a compelling testimony of how grassroots activism can alter the history of nations (Fork Films email: info@praythedevilbacktohell.com; website www.PrayTheDevilBackToHell.com )

In order to maintain stability through the post-conflict period, Liberia’s security sector reform efforts have led to the disarmament of more than 100,000 ex-combatants, reconstruction of the Armed Forces of Liberia, and a UN-led effort to overhaul the Liberian National Police. The mandate of UNMIL was extended to September 2009, and a gradual drawdown for several years starting 2008. During this period the Government of Liberia and its development partners will focus on creating jobs, attracting investment, and providing education and other essential services to Liberia’s communities. The Government of Liberia won substantial donor support for its new Poverty Reduction Strategy at the June 2008 Liberia Poverty Reduction Forum in Berlin, Germany. At the Workshop in Brussels Dr. Ruth Caesar made clear that genderbased violence has increased in Liberia the last 10 years. So the work goes on to educate men and women.
The Special Court for Sierra Leone was established on January 16, 2002, under an agreement between the United Nations and the Government of Sierra Leone. It was established to try “those who bear the greatest responsibility” for war crimes, crimes against humanity, other serious violations of international humanitarian law and Sierra Leonean law committed in the territory of Sierra Leone since November 30, 1996. The Special Court for Sierra Leone is trying Charles Taylor. The trial is taking place on the premises of the International Criminal Court (ICC) in The Hague, The Netherlands.

Charles Taylor is charged with 11 counts of war crimes, crimes against humanity, and other serious violations of international humanitarian law committed in Sierra Leone from November 30, 1996, to January 18, 2002. The Prosecutor alleges that Mr. Taylor is responsible for crimes which include murdering and mutilating civilians, including cutting off their limbs; using women and girls as sex slaves; and abducting children adults and forcing them to perform forced labor or become fighters during the conflict in Sierra Leone.

Brussels, October 2009
Joyce van Genderen-Naar

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