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UP FRONT | September 2003

Winning the Peace
Letter from the Editor

Ms. Fall 2003

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Welcome again to the Ms. community, and a special thanks to all who made our Summer issue so successful. We celebrated with terrific events in Los Angeles and New York that brought members and supporters together. We hope for more events like those around the country!

This issue has a decidedly international focus, bringing together feminist voices from around the world. Our deputy global editor Kari Browne was in Cairo much of the summer, speaking to Egyptian feminists; Noy Thrupkaew did the same in Morocco, and the BBCs Berlin correspondent Tristana Moore spent time aboard a floating abortion clinic in Poland.

Elaine Lafferty and Queen Noor
Photo by Jayne Wexler

It seemed right, then, especially at a time when so much attention is focused on the Middle East, to bring readers an interview with Queen Noor, who believes passionately that women are the key to peace. Iraq, for instance, is in continuing chaos. The deadly bombing of the U.N. compound in Baghdad brings into sharp relief the world's desperate need for full participation of women. The war in Iraq is far from over. Or, as Jessica Stern, a lecturer at Harvard University and author of the fine book, Terror in the Name of God: Why Religious Militants Kill, put it,
"America has taken a country that was not a terrorist threat and turned it into one. America has created-- not through malevolence but through negligence-- precisely the situation the Bush administration has described as a breeding ground for terrorists: a state unable to control its borders or provide for its citizens' rudimentary needs."

So what does all this have to do with a feminist perspective? Plenty. In July 2002, the U.N. Development Programme (UNDP) released a study called the Arab Human Development Report, which was authored by Arab scholars: The report cites the systemic undervaluation of women in society as a cause of underdevelopment in the 22 Arab League nations. The reports notes that women's political and economic participation is among the lowest in the world; just 3.4 percent of parliamentary seats are held by women.

In the Arab world, as well as everywhere else, women are key to security, liberty, prosperity and democracy.

If the United States is serious about promoting freedom and democracy in Iraq and in the entire region, women must be included in all aspects of reconstruction. Women comprise 55 percent of Iraq's population and are among the most well educated professionals in the region. They are, in other words, well-positioned to play key roles in rebuilding the country. Including women is necessary not just because it the right thing; it is also the only thing that will work. The evidence is in from Bosnia, Kosovo, Rwanda-- places where women were crucial to encouraging peace.

Last April, a conference called "Winning the Peace: Women's Role in Post-Conflict Iraq" was hosted in Washington, D.C., by Women Waging Peace and by the Conflict Prevention and Middle East Projects of the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars. Some 25 Iraqi women participated, including the first woman to be appointed a judge in Iraq, and the Minister of Reconstruction in Kurdistan in Northern Iraq, along with 60 experts from nongovernmental organizations and international agencies.

At its conclusion, the conference called on international policy makers to guarantee that women make up no less than 30 percent of all committees that are convened to advance reconstruction, that an interim constitution be drafted that is secular and guarantees the subjugation of religious law to civil law. The conference also noted that women's presence is a deterrent to religious extremism.

Without women, there is little hope. To quote Swanee Hunt of Women Waging Peace, "We must see beyond women as victims and recognize women as agents of change."

Thanks for reading Ms.