Women are Imperative: U.S. Congress Holds Hearing on Inclusive Peace Processes
On March 22, 2016, the United States Congress’ House Foreign Affairs Committee (HFAC) held a full committee hearing on “Women Fighting for Peace: Lessons for Today’s Conflicts.” The hearing, led by HFAC Chairman and International Foundation for Electoral Systems (IFES) 2015 Charles T. Manatt Democracy Awardee Ed Royce (R-Calif.), examined the impact of women’s participation on peace negotiations, as well as women-led efforts to reduce violent extremism. This was the third event in an HFAC series that examines challenges faced by women around the world.
Witness testimony was provided by Her Excellency Monica McWilliams, Professor of Women’s Studies at Ulster University’s Transitional Justice Institute; Hassan Abbas, Ph.D., Professor and Chair of the Regional and Analytical Studies Department at the National Defense University; and Jacqueline O’Neill, Director of the Institute for Inclusive Security. Via HFAC staff, IFES Senior Gender Specialist Jessica Huber contributed suggested hearing topics and resources.
In his opening statement, Chairman Royce stressed the critical importance of women’s inclusion in international peace processes, citing research that peace agreements are more likely to be reached – and 35 percent more likely to last at least 15 years – when women are included. Looking to the U.S. Congress’ own practices, the Chairman pledged to recruit more female experts for HFAC hearing panels, and stated that he looks forward “to the day when we have more women serving on this Committee.” (Six of HFAC’s 44 members are women. Overall, women comprise 19.4 percent of Congress’ 535 members; this is below the global average of 22.6 percent).
Chairman Royce also questioned witnesses on the post-conflict reintegration of women who have been impacted by sexual violence: “In a traditional society like Syria, where even the suspicion of rape can break families apart, can you speak a little about the importance of women’s inclusion to address the long-term effects of widespread sexual violence in conflict?” In discussions with Syrian women for the report “Crisis in Syria: Now is the Time to Seek Male Allies for Leadership Equality,” IFES noted that many women discussed the entrenched stigma for actual or perceived sexual abuse of female prisoners and the need to support them with psycho-social support and community outreach.
In response, McWilliams shared her recent experiences advising Syrian women, as well as the need to document human rights violations, with the expectation that perpetrators will eventually be brought to justice. She added, “women are survivors and agents of change, not just victims, but they are often bypassed during transitions to peace.” She then linked this to women’s involvement in peace processes, noting “key to women at peace talks is to challenge the process at the pre-negotiation stage to ensure their involvement.”
IFES has also raised the need to address political and electoral violence against women through its Reducing Election Violence Against Women (REVAW) framework. IFES recognizes that violence against women in elections can affect women’s participation in the electoral process as voters, candidates, election officials, activists and political party leaders, and therefore threatens the integrity of the electoral process, as well as the commitment of governments to a free, fair and inclusive democratic process. This topic was addressed throughout the hearing and was punctuated near its conclusion with a statement by Congresswoman Martha McSally (R-Ariz.), the first female fighter pilot to fly in combat and first to command a fighter squadron in combat in United States history. McSally shared her continued focus on women’s inclusion in both domestic and international security infrastructures, stating, “Unless we get men to realize that this is not a women’s issue, but a security issue, and women must be at the table, then we are speaking in an echo chamber.”
Please click here for a complete video of the hearing.