By Pragya Narang
“Women have for centuries been in the forefront of peacemaking,” says scholar Dr Radha Kumar, former director general of the Delhi Policy Group. Yet, she said, when it came to the negotiating process that might help to end conflict, women have not been given a place at the table often enough.
Speaking at eShe’s South Asia Union Summit Led by Women, Dr Kumar, who was a member of the Council on Security and Cooperation in the Asia-Pacific, said that though women have played a leading role in peacebuilding as activists and in a humanitarian capacity down history – and it is women who are most often targeted in conflict situations – the role of women’s groups is largely disregarded by lawmakers who have essentially been men.
A senior fellow in peace and conflict studies at the Council on Foreign Relations in New York, Dr Kumar was part of a discussion titled “Doing Gender, Doing Peace” with Dr Meenakshi Gopinath, globally renowned educationist, peacebuilder and director of WISCOMP – Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace, an initiative of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
Comparing women’s role in peacebuilding in other regions with South Asia, Dr Kumar, a specialist in ethnic conflicts and peacebuilding currently based in Kodaikanal, Tamil Nadu, said, “The Scandinavian countries have made huge progress in involving and supporting women in peace negotiations but our own country and region has been a dreadful laggard in comparison. Africa is doing so much better than us when it comes to this.”
Dr Kumar, who was director of the Mandela Centre for Peace and Conflict Studies at Jamia Millia Islamia University, Delhi, argues for the need for greater collaboration between women’s groups to promote peace in South Asia, considering that women often face the brunt of conflict.
“We are fortunate that women activists got rape recognised as a war crime. It took up to the 1970s for many countries to still give women the right to vote. And all that had to come through women’s activism,” she stated.
“In conflict situations, civil-society organisations are always the first to be targeted and they often get polarised along the line of the conflict, especially when it is an ethnic conflict. In my observation during the war in Bosnia, the general civil society was polarised but the women’s groups remained intact and they kept meeting and talking,” said Dr Kumar, who has served as executive director of the Helsinki Citizens Assembly in Prague and associate fellow at the Institute for War and Peace Studies at Columbia University.
Dr Kumar has been a member of the Group of Interlocutors for Jammu and Kashmir appointed by the Government of India, and is on the boards of the United Nations University Council and the Stockholm International Peace Research Institute.
As a South Asian, she urged women’s groups to reach out beyond their own borders: “South Asian women’s networks should have been the first respondents during the conflict in Afghanistan, but we hear more from European and US networks than we hear from South Asian networks.”
South Asia Union Summit Led by Women is a nonprofit initiative by eShe and was timed to coincide with the birth anniversary of Mahatma Gandhi and the UN’s International Day of Non-Violence. The first in a planned series of annual events, it aims to promote women’s leadership and create a space for courageous conversations on peace, gender equality, social justice and a unified South Asia.
The event was supported by WISCOMP – Women in Security, Conflict Management and Peace, an initiative of the Foundation for Universal Responsibility of His Holiness the Dalai Lama.
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