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Best way to make peace out of war? Women.

Women are disproportionately affected by war as victims. Yet of the 24 major peace processes since 1992, fewer than 3 percent of signatories to agreements have been women. Including women in negotiations is not just fair; it's indispensable to durable peace.

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Today marks the 100th anniversary of International Women’s Day – a time to take stock of the global picture for women. While the last century has been marked by the remarkable progress of women in many fields of endeavor, when it comes to matters of war and peace – the picture is mixed. Women continue to be disproportionately victimized by war and marginalized in peacemaking.

In today’s dangerous and conflict-stricken world, more needs to be done so that women are protected in conflict, but also engaged and counted in post-conflict resolution, especially peace building. Including women in peace negotiations is not just an issue of fairness or equity, but also of effectiveness and efficacy. Excluding women from the rebuilding process jeopardizes a society’s post-conflict recovery.

Top 10 countries for women: Global Gender Gap Index 2010

Rape as a weapon of war

Take the current conflicts in Afghanistan, Sudan, and Colombia, where women civilians are no longer just collateral damage, but targets on the frontlines. Not only are women displaced by conflicts, they are subjected to rape as a weapon of war: an estimated 60,000 rapes in the Balkans in the 1990s, as many as half a million rapes during the 1994 genocide in Rwanda, and in the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) more than 200,000 cases of rape have been documented since 1996. These numbers represent just a fraction of all people who have been terrorized by sexual violence. The result is ravaged communities and shattered lives, proving the adage that the war might be over, but the violence continues.

Protection of women is a high priority for American foreign policy. US Secretary of State Hillary Rodham Clinton and others have strongly condemned mass rape and raised awareness of the nefarious effects of sexual violence on societies. That said, much remains to be done, starting with eradicating the notion that sexual violence and rape are inevitable outcomes of war. What has to change are not just the behaviors but also the norms. This is simply not a tolerable form of normalizing violence, nor is it historically correct. International peacekeepers and police have been given explicit mandates to protect civilians; these must now be enforced and perpetrators must be arrested and vigorously prosecuted.


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