From 27 to 29 April, ICMP participated at the Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) international conference on “Women’s Power to Stop War”, in The Hague, the Netherlands. The conference was organized to mark the centennial of the establishment of WILPF, when in 1915 more than 1,300 women came together in The Hague in an effort to stop the violence of World War One and establish the principles of permanent peace.
The three-day conference, organized by WILPF and over 40 other civil society organizations, comprised five plenary sessions and more than 47 smaller sessions, including workshops, panels, testimonials, films and regional meetings. A range of subjects were discussed, including the current alarming world trend in militarization, issues related to women and conflict, ideas of masculinities and the need to engage men and boys in gender equality, peace and social justice; fighting impunity in regard to sexual violence in conflict, the role of women in peace and transition processes, and the role of women as agents for change.
There were more than 100 speakers at the conference and nearly 1,000 male and female participants of different ages, and political, ethnic and religious backgrounds from over 80 countries, ranging from Central Africa, North and South America, Asia, Europe, the Middle East and North Africa, including participants from countries currently affected by armed conflict, such as Ukraine, Syria, Yemen, Iraq and Libya.
At a plenary session on the impact of missing persons on women, ICMP Director-General, Kathryne Bomberger, presented the issue of gender and missing persons. ICMP’s presentation noted among other things that, according to its recent publication, “Bosnia and Herzegovina: Missing Persons from the Armed Conflicts of the 1990s: a Stocktaking”, 87 percent of persons who went missing in Bosnia and Herzegovina during the conflict of the early 1990s were men. Further, according to the UN Working Group on Enforced or Involuntary Disappearances, 70 to 90 percent of those who go missing in conflict are male. These figures mean that the vast majority of those left behind to search for the missing are women. This is compounded by the fact that these women generally come from rural and economically poor areas, and in many cases belong to traditional societies. Consequently, the ramifications of enforced disappearance on these women, who have become single heads of households, are vast; more often than not, they live in fear of reprisals, they are deprived of their social and economic rights, they have limited legal recourse to information, truth and justice, and they have an uncertain legal status. Furthermore, they often face harassment and isolation within the extended family and are more likely to lose custody of their children. The consequences of this are clear: psychological suffering, severe economic hardship and increased vulnerability to gender-based violence.
Director-General Bomberger informed the plenary participants of the ways ICMP can help women in their search for missing relatives. ICMP works globally with women-led civil society organizations and educates them on their economic and legal rights. Moreover, it partners with them in strengthening rule-of-law capabilities, including, enforcing state responsibility for the missing, and advocating for rights to privacy and data protection and provision of scientific evidence of identity, which is critical to accessing rights.
The plenary session concluded with the following recommendations and suggestions on helping women deal with enforced disappearances:
- There must be greater recognition of the rights of women and children survivors;
- Denial of rights for women increases cycles of violence;
- Peace agreements must recognize the rights of women and children;
- International legal frameworks must be enhanced;
- Domestic legislation must be improved globally in order to allow access to social and economic benefits and rights to truth and justice;
- Legislation on privacy rights must be improved;
- A declaration that underscores the specific vulnerabilities of women and children should be created.