The Power to Think, Do and Transform:
the “Enhancing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in Northeast Asia” Regional Workshop
“We cannot make peace and security with only half of the globe. We need to make sure we include women in everything... It’s about maximizing capacity and competence.” The words of Norwegian Ambassador to China Geir O. Pedersen resonated powerfully in the conference room. I had already been inspired by the poster for the meeting, an image of a woman with hair flowing free in the wind, accompanied by the words “engage”, “impact”, and “transform”. The event, the “Enhancing the Women, Peace, and Security Agenda in Northeast Asia” Regional Workshop in Beijing on 24-25 May, was for me a two-day crash course on the issues in the Women, Peace and Security (WPS) agenda.
Coming amid the expanding women’s empowerment movement rapidly transforming the social and political context on a global scale, the meeting touched upon a range of issues threatening the well-being of women. I was impressed by the number of influential leaders and experts in the field, like Noeleen Heyzer, Member of the UN High Level Advisory Board on Mediation, Bineta Diop, Special Envoy on Women, Peace and Security of the African Union, Gen-Maj (Ret) Patrick Cammaert, former commander of the UN forces in various peace operations, Marita Sørheim-Rensvik, Special Representative Women, Peace and Security, Ministry of Foreign Affairs of Norway and Cate Buchanan, Member of DPA Standby Team of Senior Mediators, who committed to flying across the globe to take part in the workshop.
Northeast Asia is a vibrant economic region that wields significant influence in international affairs. But despite its relative affluence, women and girls here continue to suffer from lack of access to education, employment opportunities and reproductive rights, and they are more prone to be victims of gender-based violence and child marriage. Moreover, as emerging economies reshape existing understandings of peace and security, the gender-specific impact of conflict also raise new concerns. The workshop provided a rare opportunity for a large array of participants – from government, civil society, academia, as well as observers like me -- to discuss the WPS agenda in a concrete and practical manner, identifying priorities, determining responsibilities, exploring the allocation of resources, and initiating strategic actions.
What I most appreciated was that both difficult topics and moments of humor were interwoven into the workshop, bringing to surface the complexities and challenges of addressing the gender-specific impacts of conflict. The group impressed me with its ability to thoughtfully discuss a huge range of issues. Whether it be the question of “comfort women”, sexual exploitation and abuse by UN peacekeepers, or the likelihood of forming a “Kimchi Community” to unite two radically different Korean societies based on their shared love of a culinary delight, the encounter was a living example of the power of dialogue in maintaining, promoting, and re-envisioning conflict prevention and resolution. Ms. Lee Hyun Sook of the Republic of Korea, representing the Women’s Forum for Peace and Diplomacy, repeatedly emphasized our need to “think the unthinkable!” Indeed, while the power to transform begins with our ability to imagine, it also encourages us to “do the undoable”.
The workshop dared me and the other participants to continue to challenge existing norms and break down barriers for women to be included in the process for achieving long lasting stability. As Bineta Diop, Special Envoy of the African Union on Women, Peace and Security, said in closing the meeting: “If we want to transform, the women will have to lead at the end of the day. The role of women in the peace process is critical. Let’s lead, at the grassroots level, at the country level, at the continent level, at the world level! We need to make sure that women of the world get together, to transform; we transform.”