By: Waqas Naeem
ISLAMABAD: Women peace activists and human rights campaigners from Pakistan, Afghanistan and India met at a regional dialogue on Friday to share their experiences and construct common agendas for peace and stability in the region.
The regional dialogue, titled “Women building peace within and around us”, was organised by Women’s Regional Network (WRN) and focused on militarisation, insecurity and corruption and how they impact women.
“There’s a history of shared conflict in the region,” said political economist and rights campaigner Feryal Ali Gauhar. “War is a manifestation of human insecurity, but it is rooted in inequities and injustice in our societies.” She said the dialogue aims to share the experiences of women in the three countries and come up with recommendations to fight injustice.
The participants came up with several recommendations, such as disarmament, social audits for accountability, state policies to combat terrorism, inclusion of women in peacemaking processes and protesting militarisation of foreign aid.
The situation got emotional as participants from Afghanistan and Pakistan recounted their experiences of dealing with the loss of loved ones and harassment as a direct consequence of militarisation.
However, the talk soon moved from stories of sorrow to struggle and courage, with Abha Bhaiya, an activist from India, giving examples of women in the Indian state of Orissa who successfully warded off attempts by the South Korean steel conglomerate POSCO to usurp their land.
The participants also stressed on the need for women to unify across ethnic, class and geographical divides to bring down patriarchy. They discussed issues such as social inclusion of women, deweaponisation of cities, rise of religious movement among women in Pakistan and engaging the youth in women’s movement. Human rights activist Samar Minallah, in her presentation, said there is a need to provide space for discourse where women’s voices are amplified.
“Women’s voices are important and crucial for any peace process,” she said. Participants were also shown Minallah’s documentary, which showed testimonies of Afghan women refugees as well as schoolgirls of Swat who fight for their right to education.
The issue of redefining the definition of “security” also came up during the event.
“There is a lack of consensus on the definition of security. It has been defined by men,” said WRN convener Patricia Cooper. “It doesn’t represent the reality of women’s lives.” She said through community conversations, WRN hopes to document a new definition of security from women’s point of view.