"War is terrible for children and other living things." That's what the Vietnam-era poster used to say. Sadly, not much has changed since then. Women and children living in regions of armed conflict worldwide face distinct and significant economic, personal, and emotional struggles during war and in its aftermath. It is women who could make a difference for themselves and their children in and around the battlefields, but women's influence is, in general, insignificant in the design of policies related to national security and the impact of war-related violence on citizens.
Israel was one of the first countries to sign on to UN Security Council Resolution 1325, enacted in 2000. That document calls on member states to increase the active representation of women at all decision-making levels in national, regional, and international institutions and in the mechanisms that prevent, manage, and resolve conflict.
In 2005, a coalition of Israeli feminist organizations succeeded in getting the Israeli Knesset to amend the 1951 Equal Representation of Women Law to mandate the inclusion of women from diverse groups in any public body appointed by the government for either conflict negotiations or the design of domestic, foreign, or national security policy. And while the State of Israel has not implemented the letter of this law, it is making progress. We in Israel certainly hope that other countries, particularly those that are involved in conflict with the State of Israel, will also bring women to the table by passing similar legislation.
Now, with the resumption of peace negotiations between Israel and the Palestinian Authority, major women's organizations in Israel sent a letter this past week to Prime Minister Netanyahu reminding him that more women need to be involved in peace talks based on Resolution 1325. The organizations included Itach-Maaki, Center for Advancement of Women in the Public Sphere, Agenda, Wizo and Naamat.
And in honor of the tenth anniversary of UN Resolution 1325, at the end of October the same group intends to ask the government of Israel for the pro-active creation of a clear and effective government National Action Plan (NAP) to implement both Israeli law and UN Resolution 1325. The National Action Plan should include a vision for inclusion of diverse representation of women and women's issues into the policy and decision-making mechanism of the government and an implementation agenda to make it happen. The US came later to ratifying Resolution 1325, but it already has a National Agenda Plan on Women, Peace and Security as of December 2011.
The voices of women in the struggle for peace have been excluded too long. They can contribute significantly to conflict resolution and one can argue that without them, the (mostly) men running the show have not done such a great job on their own. Women are knowledgeable not only about military strategy, but about other topics that need to be taken into consideration as well during and after conflicts -- matters such as water rights, needs and rights of families living on both sides of a border, education, the fate of women victimized by assault and rape, and other social justice issues.
With Minister of Justice Tzippi Livni leading the negotiations for Israel, she and the Israeli prime minister must work to bring more women on the Israeli team, so they may bring their knowledge, their commitment to peace, their experience, and their voice. With the fate of negotiations hanging in the balance, this round may be our last chance to do it right by letting the other half of the Israeli population take its place at the table.
Shari Eshet is the director of the National Council of Jewish Women's Israel Office.