“Challenging Extremism and Militarism:
Women Standing up for Rights, Peace and Plurality”
— What the Women Say in the MENA/Asia Region —
2014 was a difficult year in the MENA/Asia region. While international policy and media attention gravitated towards the horrors of ISIS/Daesh and other extremist groups, ordinary citizens from Tripoli to Gaza have borne the brunt of violence and sought to maintain a semblance of peace, normalcy and dignity in their lives. The young men, says one Libyan activist, are divided into two groups –those who kill and those who are killed. Meanwhile, countless women and girls have borne the brunt of displacement, grotesque sexual abuse and sex trafficking. In this chaos, extraordinary courage and defiance is also evident. Despite the risks to themselves and their families, many women have dared to continue fighting for human rights, equality, social justice and peace, voicing the aspirations and concerns of a silent majority. But they are rarely heard in the countless international summits and conferences.
The irony is not lost on women’s rights and peace activists. On the one hand, the international community’s rhetorical commitment to women’s rights or the inclusion of women in decision-making related to peace and security is growing, but the practice remains ad hoc. On the other hand, the potential influence and power of women activists across the region has not gone unnoticed within the region. Those who challenge the status quo of authoritarian states are being silenced by the regimes. Those who challenge and question the narrative of extremists are being targeted for assassination in Libya, Iraq, Afghanistan and elsewhere.
Meanwhile, the international community is struggling to develop a coherent solution, falling back on military tactics that further escalate regional insecurity. Disillusioned by the failure of international actors, many women are taking the lead and articulating both practical solutions to immediate challenges and a long term vision and holistic strategies. Despite open conflict in many countries and regressive legislation in others, women human rights and peace organizations are providing services to displaced and refugee populations, speaking up for marginalized populations, creating safe spaces for dialogue within their communities, and demobilizing young men caught up in militias. Precisely because they know their own societies, they have a clear understanding of the complex and multi-faceted drivers of both extremism and state militarism. They consistently warn against the vicious cycle of dictatorships and extremism that intensify insecurity and thwart social and economic development. Because they are deeply committed to ensuring a future rooted in peace and equality, they coalesce around a shared vision of the immediate and long-term strategies and messages needed to mitigate the spread of violence, prevent regression of rights, security and democratic gains, and provide viable alternatives.
At the 2014 International Civil Society Action Network (ICAN) 3rd annual Forum on Women’s Rights, Peace and Security, 60 women representing 13 countries in the Middle East, North Africa and Asia – including scholars, journalists, NGO leaders, educators and others – came together with international partners to take stock of developments and strategize ideas and solutions for combatting extremism and militarism and promoting peace. Together they adopted a common statement and devised national vision and priorities for their respective countries shared in the statements below.
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