Several International Women’s Day events highlighted women’s role in the peace-making process worldwide, and focused on the fact that women and their children often constitute the majority of the victims of war and conflict. At a conference on women and conflict management, former Special Representative of the Secretary-General for Bosnia and Herzegovina Elisabeth Rehn noted that women ambassadors to the U.N. are the most active in pursuing peace worldwide, and praised recent resolutions, mostly reached by women, to increase representation of women in all levels of the U.N. At the event, the Women’s Alliance for Peace and Human Rights in Afghanistan circulated a plea for the United Nations to “form an international tribunal and bring to justice the Taliban and all other war criminals that commit war crimes, crimes against humanity, genocide and cultural genocide in Afghanistan.”
Earlier this week, the United Nations awarded the first-ever women’s peace prizes, established by the U.N. Development Fund for Women and the London-based International Alert. Honorees included Flora Broniva, a Kosovar woman jailed by former Yugoslav government agents for aiding independence-seeking separatists who founded the League of Albanian Women, a group that protested the war and cared for women, children and the elderly. Two Pakistani sisters were also honored; Asma Jahangir and Hina Hilani have worked for two decades defending women’s rights and human rights in Pakistan, India and Bangladesh. Veneranda Nzambazamariya of Rwanda was also honored for her work in restoring peace to Rwanda after the 1994 genocie through the collective of more than 30 women’s organizations that she headed; Nzambazamariya was killed in a plane crash last year.
Finally, a conference in Cape Town, South Africa also highlighted the role of women in armed conflict. 32 witnesses told their stories of war and conflict, including Nooria Shafiq, an Afghan woman who fled to Pakistan six months ago. Shafiq told of how the Taliban tortured and killed her husband and uncle, and then beat her for appearing in public without a male relative. The conference raised awareness of the fact that women and children are increasingly becoming targets in wars worldwide. South African deputy defense minister Nozizwe Mandala-Routlage noted, “Civilians now make up 90 percent of casualties, compared to 10 percent in World War II.”