Al-Ahram Weekly Online   23 February - 1 March 2006
Issue No. 783
Published in Cairo by AL-AHRAM established in 1875

Women in an insecure world

Reem Leila attends the inauguration of the Peace Studies Institute dedicated to achieving peace and helping women

The Suzanne Mubarak Women's International Peace Movement (SMWIPM) will establish the Peace Studies Institute (PSI), the first in the region.

To be based in the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, PSI will cooperate with many national and international institutes, including the Geneva Centre for the Democratic Control of Armed Forces (DCFAF). Headed by Mrs Suzanne Mubarak, PSI will be an academic, scientific pillar and a new support in the women's peace movement with the aim of achieving peace and stability in the world. The institute will serve as a centre for a wide range of studies and research in all political, economic, social and legal fields and causes related to peace. It will also raise people's awareness about sexual discrimination which harms not only the rights and interests of women but prevents humanity from attaining its true potential.

PSI reflects growing regional and global concern over the importance of protecting women against the violence they are exposed to. Women constitute the largest group of the world's population exposed to systematic and persistent violence. The victims are claimed in conflict, but also next door. The causes are complex, but eventually point to the simple fact that for all too many, a woman's life and dignity are worth less than a man's.

At the PSI inauguration ceremony, attended by Ismail Serageddin, manager of the Bibliotheca Alexandrina, and Emil Constantinescu, former president of Romania, along with other eminent figures from national, regional and international organisations, Mrs Mubarak said while we celebrate the inauguration of PSI, we realise how pressing a need peace is, now more than ever. "The institute will consolidate the different cultural directions related to peace through large- scale dissemination in different languages. It will also document the successful experiments in our related field to learn and benefit from. PSI will play an important role in training youth in the Arab world and provide them with the necessary skills to enable them to contribute to political and social lives," said Mrs Mubarak said last week in Alexandria.

"Peace is not just about the absence of war," Mrs Mubarak said. "It is safety from many sorts of hardships such as poverty, scarce resources, violations of human rights and denial of access to a good quality of life." She said peace could be measured by how a society goes about "securing social justice, the rule of law, respect of human rights, environmental safety and fulfillment of personal potentials."

Violence against women impedes the creation of a well-functioning security sector -- that is, institutions capable of providing an adequate level of security for all citizens. Violence against women occurs in varying contexts, at the domestic and community levels, in situation of armed conflict and under repressive governments.

Serageddin said the institute will focus on the magnitude of violence experienced by women such as human trafficking, especially of women and children. Trafficking, violence against women and children are the scourge of recent times. Trafficking is part of an enormous illicit trade that has grown phenomenally in the last decade. Illicit businesses reap benefits in the tens of billions of dollars, as millions of human beings are traded within and across the borders every year. "More than two million women and girls are trafficked every year, and nearly four million women are forced into the sex trade, 35 per cent of European women are subject to physical violence; every 15 seconds there is a girl circumcised," said Serageddin.

In poor communities women and children are often neglected and denied food, education and medical care. Data from developing countries indicate that the mortality rate among young girls aged one to four is higher than that among boys in the same age group.

Constantinescu said this was just the beginning of a lifetime pattern of discrimination against women without access to health care, education and leisure. "This causes excess mortality rate among women and girls, and contributes to their lack of opportunities and powerlessness.

"UNICEF refers to maternal mortality as in scale and severity the most neglected tragedy of our times."

Constantinescu stressed that addressing these problems requires strong international will and a significant allocation of resources to women's education, health care and reproductive services. "PSI will hopefully play a significant role in solving these problems," added Constantinescu.

The inauguration also witnessed the launching of the books, "Women in an Insecure World", "Wounds of War", and "Trafficking Women and Children". The books take stock of the scope and magnitude of violence experienced by women and children in daily life, during armed conflict and in post-conflict situations. They aim to increase awareness among governments, donors, policy makers, academics, experts and civil society about the pervasive forms of violence against women. They also highlight the active role of women in peacemaking and post-conflict reconstruction.

What makes the role of women in combating violence indispensable is not the omnipresence and magnitude of their victimisation, but the fact that women demonstrate the capacity to overcome the trauma of violent acts, to survive and help in the survival of others and to contribute actively to defending and building peace. The three books provide analytical data and statistics, legal documents and policy recommendations, complemented by feature stories and illustrations. Over 60 authors, representing major international organisations, governments and NGOs dealing with gender issues contributed to the books.

Some facts about women

- 66 per cent of the world's illiterate people are women.

- Women provide 70 per cent of the unpaid time spent in caring for family members. Such work is estimated at $11 trillion per year, one- third of the global GDP.

- Women own one per cent of the land in the world.

- Women's participation in managerial and administrative posts is around 33 per cent in the developed world, 15 per cent in Africa and 13 per cent in Asia and the Pacific.

- Worldwide, only about 14 per cent of members of parliament are women. Seven per cent of the world's cabinet ministers are women.

- In the UN system, women hold only nine per cent of the top management jobs, 21 per cent of senior management positions, and 48 per cent of junior professional civil service slots.

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