The exclusion of women’s voices, a phenomenon present in far too many educational, economic and political settings, has perhaps the most far-reaching consequences when it comes to issues of war and peace. Women, whose cultural heritage revolves around care, relationships, nurturing and interpersonal responsibility, have a vital perspective on armed conflict.
Whereas men in power may be motivated — consciously or unconsciously — by issues of ego, power and testosterone contests, women are more likely to be motivated by their culturally imposed responsibility for life. As scholar Sara Ruddick writes in “The Politics of Motherhood” in an essay entitled, “Rethinking ‘Maternal’ Politics,” women “who believe that their lives have been transformed by caring for children… want to put this transformative experience to public use… seeking a more evidently public forum where they could enact values that they struggled to achieve in their daily work: protectiveness, nonviolence, respect for spiritual complexity, the treasuring of individual life.”
In the Middle East, where women’s political activism is both ever-present and marginalized, this is crucial. Women’s groups hold marches, stand on street corners and park tents in front of governmental offices, competing for sound-bites and glimmers of attention. All the while, teams of men are given official power, sit in closed rooms and make the decisions that impact millions of lives. The absence of women in Israeli-Palestinian negotiations means that women’s vital perspectives are lost, deemed irrelevant.
This is why the current NCJW campaign for women’s inclusion in the forthcoming peace process is so important. As the NCJW wrote in a formal announcement this week:
Women and children often bear the brunt of war and conflict. Yet, women are often under-represented in negotiations that impact peace and security and other critical matters. That’s why the United Nations created Resolution 1325 to ensure that women are part of negotiations and that their concerns are taken into account. In 2005, Israel became the first country to adopt part of this UN resolution, passing a law prescribing representation for women on any committee or other body responsible for shaping national policy, including foreign affairs and security. Now that discussions are under way to reconvene Middle East peace talks, write to Prime Minister Netanyahu to remind him that, by law, women must be part of Israel’s negotiating team for the upcoming talks with the Palestinian Authority.
Women’s presence means that there is perhaps a chance of getting out of the current stalemate, of finding alternative paradigms for shaping the conflict, of exploring alternative solutions that have never been taken seriously, of thinking creatively and moving beyond the square, unbending, right-left, right-wrong, in-out configurations that dominate current thinking on all sides. Women’s perspectives offer new hope, as women find avenues for cooperation and collaboration that are unavailable to men.
When Naomi Chazan was serving as a Knesset Member for Meretz, I once heard her talk about the possibility for women’s collaboration through shared cultural experiences. She described her relationship with Likud MK Limor Livnat, who is on the opposite side of the political spectrum. “We sat in the Knesset cafeteria over coffee and ended up talking about our kids,” she said, smiling.
Women have avenues for connecting through shared experiences that build bridges and provide an impetus for seeking creating solutions. Excluding our voices is a loss for all of humanity.