Political Participation: Aspects on International Women’s Day

Last Friday marked the International Women’s Day all over the world. This year, in Norway, we also mark the 100-year Anniversary of women’s right to vote. Oppositely, in Saudi Arabia, women are deprived of the right to vote – and even to drive a car. Across the world, gender-based and sexualized violence are obstacles to women’s participation in society. About 200 million women are stated missing; many of which are victims of modern-day slavery; trafficking.

Establishing equal rights for all is of key importance in any revolution or reform. Female political participation will lead to less poverty, less corruption and is a prerequisite for a modern democracy to thrive and develop.

Violence against women in conflict zones is of a particular concern. When conflict flares up, women and children are those who are affected the most, although they are the least responsible for these conflicts. Civil society plays a big role in changing attitudes, but tackling this issue also requires political understanding and determination by the authorities over time.

Hence, a greater effort must be directed toward getting governments to realize that universal rights are in fact universal; and they apply to everyone, regardless of gender or background. Our support to countries, both bilaterally and through UN agencies, must depend on these countries’ ability to respect these human rights. There will be no aid without factual proof of the right to education, health services, and human rights. Reforms don’t transform societies if the reformist themselves don’t believe in the basic ideals.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1325, unanimously passed in 2000, marked a milestone for women’s rights in conflict areas, and the collaborative achievement of the international community. In clear terms, it set out a clear platform for dealing with the impact of armed conflict on women and girls, the role of women in peace-building and the gender dimensions of peace processes and conflict resolution. Norway, as part of the NATO-led ISAF mission in Afghanistan, has implemented the SR 1325’s objectives in its overall operational strategy. The international community is making sure women are part of the social dialogue, that they participate in politics and that they are given responsibility in peacemaking processes. The past decade has seen significant progress for Afghan civilians, yet there is still a long way to go for the country’s women. Gender equality is formally written into the Constitution, but it’s not visible in everyday life. Though child marriages are technically illegal, they account for some 40 percent of all weddings, according to the United Nations Children Fund. Even though almost half of Afghan girls now attend school, more than half do not.

In neighbouring Pakistan, the situation is also of great concern. We all saw the braveness of 15-year-old Malala Yousafzai, who was shot and badly wounded, simply for writing a blog about the right to receive education. Malala, through her courage and the great personal risk, has become a symbol for those 3 million Pakistani children and 61 million children worldwide who are kept out of or are unable to attend school. Malala Yousafzai and her cause deserve all our support, attention and praise.

We must not set certain standards for our own countries and citizens, and other standards elsewhere. Honour violence is important in this aspect. Curtailed as religion or tradition, honour violence is often overlooked and sometimes forgotten. Former U.S. Secretary of State, Hillary Clinton, has addressed this issue. Her message should be repeated and distributed to regimes and guerillas, despots and dictators, who are escaping from the stark realities of their own countries:

“Violence toward women isn’t cultural; it’s criminal.”

Criminalizing violence against women and persecuting their perpetrators is not enough. The victims of violence and war need to be assisted, empowered, and reassured that their future is secure. In war-torn countries, the balance between war and peace is frail. The authorities need to take responsibility in building safe communities and infrastructures in which women take an equal part.

Liberal activists across the world deserve our attention and support; as do:

–          Those who speak up for basic human rights – and who speak up against repressive regimes

–          Those who speak up against cruelty – and who work relentlessly in order to stop trafficking of women and children.

–          Those who put their lives at risk in order to access schools and universities – and female entrepreneurs who, despite prejudice, start up their own businesses.

–          Those who raise their voices rather than their fists – and those who let action speak louder than words.