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The real femillennium now

This year's Nobel Prize establishes women as real agents of peace. Anne F Stenhammer writes.

india Updated: Dec 18, 2011 22:45 IST

When Alfred Nobel drew up his will, he designated peace as the fifth and final prize area. He said that the prize must be awarded "to the person who shall have done the most or the best work for fraternity between nations, the abolition or reduction of standing armies and for the holding and promotion of peace congresses".

On December 10, the three courageous women who walked up to the podium in Oslo to receive the Nobel Peace Prize for this year did justice to his wish. Liberian President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf is Africa's first democratically elected woman president; and Liberian peace activist Leymah Gbowee spearheaded the peace movement in Liberia. Tawakkol Karman from Yemen is known for her work on peace and human rights before and after the Arab Spring.

This year is the first time that the Nobel Peace Prize has been awarded to three women together. The Nobel Peace Prize Committee recognises "their non-violent struggle for the safety of women and for women's rights to full participation in peace-building work".

In the 110 years of the award's history, only 12 women have won the prize. It's undoubtedly inspirational for women who are taking a stand and demanding that their voices are heard, as they carve a new future for themselves and their countries. It's an acknowledgement of what women have been demanding for years: the equal involvement of women in all decisions pertaining to peace, security and democracy. The prize is also significant, as women bear the brunt of armed conflict across the world. While men are also targeted, women are disproportionally affected. Rape is used as a weapon of war and a combat strategy that brings about large-scale psychological and physical destruction of women and societies. However, widespread and systematic abuse witnessed in a war doesn't end with the onset of peace. The exploitation of women continues even after formal fighting comes to an end.

South Asia is a region scarred by on-going armed conflict. While women have suffered physical and emotional scars, they have also been active in advocating and mobilising for peace. Nepal is a prime example. For decades, South Asian women have been reaching across borders to raise women's voices and strengthen messages of peace.

Women's participation must be central to peace-building efforts to ensure that they guide post-conflict processes. Internally displaced people and war widows need the attention they deserve.

Despite some successes, women are still under-represented on the negotiating table. According to UN Women's research, fewer than 3% of signatories to peace agreements are women. Since 1992, fewer than 10% of peace negotiators have been women. Typically less than 6% of reconstruction budgets specifically provide for the needs of women and girls.

The UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace and security, adopted unanimously in 2000, acknowledges the devastating impact war has on women, while calling for States to ensure that women play a more active role in all aspects of peace-building.

The Nobel Peace Prize is a momentous step forward in the struggle to establish women as agents of peace. This has to be a necessary condition for any successful reconstruction of post-war societies.

Anne F Stenhammer is regional programme director, UN Women South Asia The views expressed by the author are personal