OneVoice’s Rachel Steinberg moderates a panel discussion about women's human rights issues and women’s roles in promoting peace in Israel and Palestine on Capitol Hill June 4. Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Johnson's office.
By Rachel Steinberg*
History has shown that the viability of peace agreements is an uphill battle - nearly half fail within their first decade of being signed. Faced with this daunting statistic, conflict resolution theorists and practitioners are tasked with hypothesizing around how to ensure a sustainable, lasting peace. Many draw the same conclusion: a framework for sustainable peace must include women in the process.
On Tuesday, June 4, I moderated a panel on Capitol Hill entitled, “Moving Forward: Addressing Challenges to Promoting Israeli-Palestinian Peace.” The panel discussion, hosted by Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson, focused on challenges to women’s rights and empowerment in Israel and Palestine and the effect these challenges have on the peace process. I was honored to be invited to moderate amongst a distinguished group of speakers: Salwa Duaibis (Women’s Center for Legal Aid and Counseling, Ramallah), Lior Finkel (Israeli Director, Peace NGO Forum), Tania Hary (Gisha), and Betty Herschman (Ir Amim).
Congresswoman Johnson began the “A World of Women for World Peace” initiative in 2001 to bring greater visibility to the women who are victims of war and aggression and the women who facilitate peacemaking, peacekeeping, and peacebuilding activities in their communities.
As I prepared for this panel, at the forefront of my mind was the theory that more inclusive peace processes have a significantly increased chance of resulting in long-term sustainable peace. I know this not only because I am a conflict resolution practitioner, but because this is a guiding principal of OneVoice’s work to empower average Israelis and Palestinians to play a role in building peace and take an active role in the peace process.
Further, OneVoice works to engage marginalized parts of Israeli and Palestinian societies. This is evident in OneVoice Palestine’s Women of Influence training program, designed to empower, inspire, and activate Palestinian women to be business, civic, and political leaders, as well as to play an active leadership role in OneVoice’s efforts to end the occupation and achieve the two-state solution.
I felt the significance of this program as the panelists highlighted some of the unique challenges and violations of rights that women face in Israel and Palestine. They spoke about the challenges that the occupation and conflict impact, including access to education, family, healthcare, and politics; further, these issues greatly impact women.
Tania Hary also focused on the restrictions of movement for Gazans that prevent women from advancing their education and from being able to run businesses, and Salwa Duaibis pointed out that the biggest challenge women in the West Bank face to addressing their rights are the many and complex legal systems that prevent justice around issues like custody of children and violence against women.
As a result of these challenges and many others across Israel and Palestine, there is also a lack of women’s voices in positions of leadership. These organizations work to address these issues through education (local and international) about rights and violations, advocacy, legal aid, and service provision. I was incredibly inspired by the work that these organizations do not only on behalf of women, but on behalf of the societies as a whole.
I was struck by the panelists repeatedly pointing out the disproportionate effect that prolonged occupation and conflict have on women (and children). A common thread that several of the panelists raised was the fact that women are in a vulnerable position regarding violations of rights as a result of settlement expansion, which inhibits progress toward the two-state solution, and the resulting tension, violence, lack of service provision, and deterioration of socioeconomic opportunities.
To me, this points all the more to the need for women to have a voice in society AND at the negotiating table, both to address their unique needs and to speak on behalf of their societies as a whole. I’m proud that women are at the forefront of OneVoice Israel and OneVoice Palestine’s political activism to halt the growth of these negative facts and the ground and to end the conflict, as leaders and participants.
I was encouraged by something that Betty Hirschman pointed out - while there is still a long way to go to improve the human rights conditions of women, in this past January’s Israeli elections, there were more women elected to progressive parties than ever before. As a result, there is increasingly fertile ground for results to come from advocacy on issues impacting women.
Additionally, as Lior Finkel mentioned, in the last round of Israeli-Palestinian negotiations there were only two women in key positions in the negotiating teams - Hanan Ashrawi and Tzipi Livni. I believe that the empowerment OneVoice and the other organizations represented on the panel provides young women, as well as these positive steps within institutions, can change that level of representation as long as we all embrace our responsibility to push for them.
It was incredibly important for me to take part in such a conversation on Capitol Hill, to ensure that this discussion reached not only the ears of American citizens but also that of American decision makers. As the American policymaking community focuses its efforts on reviving the negotiations process, it is the responsibilities of all stakeholders to hear these messages and ensure that women have a seat at the table.
*Rachel Steinberg is the International Engagement Program Director at OneVoice.Panelists (left to right) Congresswoman Eddie Bernice Johnson (organizer), Salwa Duaibis, Tania Hary, and Betty Herschman, with Congresswoman Jan Schakowsky. Photo courtesy of Congresswoman Johnson's office.