Women who speak out to defend their rights in Iraq, Afghanistan and Somalia are becoming the target of violent reprisals, according to a senior official from the UN Fund for Women.
As reported in the International Herald Tribune, UNIFEM executive director Noeleen Heyzer warned that incidents of violence against women are on the increase.
“Efforts to engage women in public decision-making will not succeed if women risk continued violence for taking on public roles, and they cannot be expected to be effective public actors if they have no source of livelihood,” she said Thursday.
“What UNIFEM is seeing on the ground – in Iraq, Afghanistan, Somalia – is that public space for women in these situations is shrinking,” Heyzer said. “Women are becoming assassination targets when they dare defend women’s rights in public decision-making.”
“And everywhere, there is evidence that sexual and gender-based violence is taken into homes and communities after conflicts have ended, as ex-combatants return with small arms, and social norms that protect women remain broken,” she said.
If women cannot participate in public life without fear of being attacked and possibly killed, it should be clear to everyone that attempts at reform have failed.
Was the price paid by women inevitable? Could anything have been done differently? According to UNIFEM, it should have been possible to forestall some of the violence against women by integrating women more thoroughly into the peace process and civic life.
“What we have learned,” Heyzer said, “is that the earlier women are recognized as peace agents and engaged in peace processes, from mediations to peace negotiations to constitutional reform, the more they are seen as legitimate actors.”