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J. Karp: Address to World Summit 2015

Address to World Summit 2015, Seoul, Korea, August 27 to 31, 2015

Women around the world share common perspectives that emanate from their experiences as women. Women share sensitivity to injustices and sufferings stemming from the history of injustice toward them as women. I dare say that we naturally are more likely to favor peaceful solutions and peaceful actions.

I come from the Holy Land, the land of the Bible, so I would like to open with an old story from the Bible, where five courageous women fought, against all odds, for their justice and won. I refer to the story of the daughters of Zelophehad, who were given the rather exceptional honor to be mentioned by their first names, seemingly because of their unique historical and ground-breaking contribution. There, in the wilderness of the desert facing archaic men’s law, these women claimed their right to an inheritance from their dead father who had no sons to carry on his name. According to the Bible, God himself told Moses that they were right in their claims. Thus the daughters created a precedent – the first law of inheritance for women. Our sages of blessed memory suggested that the daughters were successful because they were united in their initiative and stood together to fight for their claims.

From the past to the present: I would like first to pay tribute to the women Nobel Peace Prize winners of the last two years: to the two peace activists from Liberia, to the Yemeni journalist activist and especially to Malala Yusafezai, the young girl from Pakistan who almost lost her life while fighting for girls’ education.

Secondly I would like to refer to the landmark UN Security Council resolution no. 1325 “On Women, Peace and Security,” which was unanimously adopted on October 31, 2000. This resolution, focusing on giving women their own voices in peace processes, is based on universal rights, on human dignity, on equality and especially on the right to act and be politically involved in matters basically concerning and affecting women’s lives. The resolution also acknowledges women’s rights as victims of crimes in armed conflicts. Women know better how war brings under attack the fabric of their families and communities and what price their families pay. The message coming out of the resolution is that there can be no peace building without an understanding of how women have been affected by the conflict and the role they can play in a sustainable approach to peace.

By recognizing the importance of gender perspectives, a door is open to legitimize a new approach, a cultural and social acceptance of a different and more “feminized” meaning of the concept of peace. The resolution enables us for the first time to look at peace through a gender lens. This is to say that men, generally, would interpret peace as the end of hostilities, the absence of war, or the existence of a ceasefire, looking at peace through a militaristic lens, perceiving security in terms of power, weapons, territory, borders etc. On the other hand, women, generally, would interpret peace in terms more sensitive to the need of ensuring personal security as well as familial and communal well-being. Women tend to perceive “security” in terms of shelter, food, health, work, education, development and the general feeling of safety and welfare. Sustainable peace for women is not just the lack of war but also an ongoing process of building and developing the infrastructure necessary for sustainable peace. Peace through a gender lens means that fairness, tolerance and respect for the vulnerable section of both societies are key elements in conflict resolution. And while men generally look at peace processes as a competition for power and domination, women would look for measures of success in the existence of well-being for all, of welfare and opportunities for development for both sides of the conflict. They tend to look at society as a family. The feminist approach to peace, I dare say, is more naturally based on a deep understanding of the need for reconciliation because women tend to operate in their lives and especially within the family on this basis – avoiding conflicts or confrontations at home. The feminine discourse on peace is very much based on social and economic aspects, human dignity and social reconciliation. Women, as part of their experience in life and as proved mainly in “people to people” dialogues and activities, are more likely to dissolve psychological barriers, to dismantle dehumanization of the enemy, to be open to understand the position of others. They are built to cross lines, to break barriers and build bridges.

There is an additional aspect of the above-mentioned resolution. It reflects, if you will, not only a statement of recognition of the importance of gender perspectives, but indirectly it is also a statement of recognition of the importance of the contribution civil society makes to peace building.

Though the UN resolution itself has a very limited practical influence, it is a fact that women are almost over-represented in women’s organizations for peace, in grassroots, non-governmental organizations for peace and people-to-people activities. Civil society is where we have seen women to be involved in peace making. Women are the substantive majority in peace movements and in the day-to-day work of building bridges in society through dialogues in a non-formal way of cooperation. It is being done all over the world: in Cyprus, Somalia and Sudan, Israel and the Palestinian authority. In the Israeli Palestinian case women were always one step ahead of other peace movements, raising the concept of two states for two people as far back as 1991. They were pioneers of the concept that is today almost commonly accepted.

It could be said that experience in a number of post-conflict countries suggests that the achievement of sustainable peace is far more likely when gender equality and women’s rights issues, as well as family interests, are made a central aspect of reconstruction. It comes from the recognition that there can be no true peace without civil society and without women. Learning from the experience of women is important because they can turn peace building into a more viable, more effective, more practical and more sustainable effort.

I would like to finish with a hopeful note: right after the last Israeli military operation in Gaza and as a reaction to it, a new voluntary organization was established in Israel called “Women Make Peace.” During the year that has passed since then, thousands of woman (and men), Israelis and Palestinians, Arabs and Jews, religious and secular from all walks of life, joined together to claim Israeli initiatives for peace making. They held demonstrations calling for the government to resume negotiations and urged many sections of society to join the claim. Their number is growing from month to month. Let us cross our fingers that success will expand.

For more information about the World Summit, click here.