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Women offer tools to combat strife

 
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3:00 P.M. EST March 9, 2011 | NEW YORK (UMNS)



The post-election conflict in Côte d'Ivoire has exposed women, children and the elderly to violence and limited access to basic living needs for those displaced from their homes. A UMNS 2008 file photo by Mike DuBose.
The post-election conflict in Côte d'Ivoire has exposed women, children and the elderly to violence and limited access to basic living needs for those displaced from their homes. A UMNS 2008 file photo by Mike DuBose. View in Photo Gallery

The violence currently raging in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire is particularly threatening to the most vulnerable citizens of those nations — women, children and the elderly.

Ecumenical Women at the United Nations — an international coalition of church denominations and ecumenical organizations, including The United Methodist Church — has developed tools to encourage women and others to act as peace-builders in responding to these crises.

The idea for the advocacy tools grew out of feedback from participants at the 55th session of the Commission on the Status of Women at the United Nations. Ecumenical Women hosted multiple gatherings and likely interacted with about 300 women during the two-week session, said the Rev. Ann Tiemeyer, a National Council of Churches executive and part of the coalition’s leadership team.

Libya and Côte d’ Ivoire emerged as concerns during the evening debriefing sessions sponsored by Ecumenical Women. As a coalition, Tiemeyer explained, “We wanted to have something that women could take home or people could pick up who weren’t there.”

Liberato Bautista, the United Methodist Board of Church and Society’s main representative to the United Nations, was among those who created the advocacy tools for Ecumenical Women. “The encouragement is for groups out there to see the resource as a way to start conversation,” he said.

Turmoil in Côte d’Ivoire has been increasing since last November’s disputed presidential election and recent deaths, according to news reports, have included at least seven female protesters. On March 8, the U.N. High Commissioner for Refugees estimated the number of those displaced by political violence in Abidjan, the nation’s commercial capital, at 200,000 to 300,000 people.



Ecumenical Women. A web-only graphic courtesy of Ecumenical Women.
Ecumenical Women. A web-only graphic
courtesy of Ecumenical Women.



“Human-rights violations, including sexual violence, have been perpetrated by forces on both sides of the current dispute in Côte d'Ivoire; and people are made increasingly vulnerable as civilians are displaced due to fighting,” the coalition pointed out.

Women, children and the elderly suffer under such conditions, with limited food, shelter, clothing, water and sanitation facilities available as refugees cross into neighboring countries.

In Libya, Ecumenical Women noted, women, children and the elderly are particularly vulnerable to the “brutal attacks” by the Qaddafi regime as it tries to crush a rebellion.

Women as peacemakers

Although the two resources highlight the situations in Libya and Côte d’Ivoire, the coalition said the tools could be used “as a model for advocacy related to situations faced by peoples in many places and nations of the world.”

The resources are downloadable documents that include advocacy suggestions for individuals and organizations, background information on the conflict in each country, links to supporting statements and other online resources, a sample letter to the president of a country and a sample blog post.

Bautista saw firsthand how women can take an active role in peacemaking when he spoke in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia, to a January gathering of women focused on issues in the African Union.

The recommendations from the event made clear how the issues of education for peace, human rights, justice and sustainability intertwine. They also highlighted that “the role and participation of women are not only crucial but key and foundational,” he explained at a Feb. 25 forum during the Commission on the Status of Women meeting.



Ecumenical Women developed an advocacy tool to support women and others affected by post-election violence in Côte d'Ivoire. A UMNS 2008 file photo by Mike DuBose.
Ecumenical Women developed an advocacy tool to support women and others affected by post-election violence in
Côte d'Ivoire. A UMNS 2008 file photo by Mike DuBose.
View in Photo Gallery

This year’s focus by the commission on women’s access to technology and education “is crucial in peacemaking and peacebuilding,” Bautista said. “Women’s role in securing themselves for peace is equally a securement for entire communities and societies.”

Many of these actions included in the resources from Ecumenical Women were first suggested by a working group of the World Student Christian Federation of North American Region. Six representatives from the federation attended the entire commission gathering. “Those young adults did some incredibly great advocacy work,” Tiemeyer said.

Responding to the conflicts

Actions suggested for Libya include:

  • Holding a vigil in memory of the lives that have been lost and the countless lives still at danger in Libya.
  • Joining efforts to provide humanitarian relief to the people of Libya and other mobilizations in local community and around the world to end the violence directed toward the innocent civilians exercising their rights.
  • Writing government officials to urge that they remain committed to giving follow-up to the steps outlined in U.N. Security Council Resolution 1970 and any subsequent resolutions referring to the situation in Libya.

Similar actions for Côte d'Ivoire include:

  • Praying for the people of Côte d'Ivoire who remain in their country and those forced to leave.
  • Holding vigils in memory of the people who have been lost and the lives still in danger in Côte d'Ivoire and neighboring countries.
  • Supporting efforts to provide humanitarian relief in this situation.
  • Urging government officials to work with the United Nations and the international community in pursing justice, peace and well-being for the people of Côte d'Ivoire and neighboring countries impacted by the current instability and increasing violence.

The advocacy tools also provide sample letters and blog posts about the two situations and point out that in both conflicts, “the roles of women are crucial as recognized by the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325.”

That resolution, as U.N. Secretary-General Ban Ki-moon pointed out in his message for International Women’s Day, affirms the role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts and peace-building efforts and “stresses the importance of their equal participation and full involvement in all efforts for the maintenance and promotion of peace and security.”

*Bloom is a United Methodist News Service multimedia reporter based in New York. Follow her at http://twitter.com/umcscribe.

News media contact: Linda Bloom, New York, (646) 369-3759 or newsdesk@umcom.org.

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