“IT’S time to include women in the peace building processes,” says the GPPAC Pacific Regional Steering Group Chairperson Vanessa Heleta.
Heleta, who is also the Director of the Talitha Project in Tonga, shared that the natural disasters of recent have devastated regions across the Pacific as of late and hence there is a need to have voices of women being heard.
It is important that women and women leaders are included in decision-making processes concerning environment security issues in the Pacific Islands countries.
This was shared by Vanessa Heleta, chair of the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict (GPPAC) Pacific regional steering group during the femLINKpacific’s Regional Women’s Weather Watch meeting.
Heleta who recently returned from the GPPAC Gender Global Strategy meeting in the Hague said this is one of the reasons this global network of peacebuilders is committed to progressing the realisation of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (Women, Peace and Security)
Despite this and other commitments to women’s participation in peacebuilding we are still not there yet she said.
In the Pacific this is a concern for the network despite the commitments in the Pacific Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security (2012-2015) adopted by Pacific Forum Leaders in 2011. Members of the GPPAC Pacific network worked hard to bring and share evidence and stories from communities which guided the action plan. The plan for the process was supported by the Pacific Women’s Ministerial Meeting as well and was recognised for the way in which it also connected to regional peace and security processes and agreements including Conflict Prevention, Human Security and Security Sector Governance.
Since then Solomon Islands has also adopted a National Action Plan but there remains a concern that resources are limited especially for women’s civil society and progress is slow.
It is an example says Heleta of the lack of action taken by leaders to bring gender perspectives into decision-making and this meant challenging current power structures:
“They understand the need [for gender balance in decision-making] but they fear losing power,” Heleta said.
“They are afraid of change.”
And according to Heleta, the rhetoric has to change from simply talking about women being at the table of negotiations to building women’s capacity and strengthen existing women’s networks as these sustain the focus on empowering women:
“This will give women the skills to not just advocate but lobby for change,” said Heleta.
Heleta was in Suva along with other GPPAC Pacific Regional Steering Group members (Vois Blong Mere, Trascend Oceania, Vanuatu Young Women for Change, femLINKpacific) as well as the Pacific Centre for Peacebuilding and Action Aid Vanuatu for the Regional Women’s Weather Watch network meeting.
The network is committed to progressing the commitments of the Regional Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security which identified humanitarian crises as a priority area for peacebuilding. The focus is on communicating Sustaining Peace by ensuring there is greater attention to gender equality and women’s rights and addressing the nexus of Peace, Human Security, Development and Humanitarian Action.
“Particularly with the increase and frequency of disasters, there is a need to promote and uplift women’s leadership including ensuring protection with dignity at all times” says GPPAC Pacific Regional Representative Sharon Bhagwan Rolls who is also the chair of the GPPAC Board:
“Just as women were first responders in recent conflict in our region they are the key preparedness, protection with dignity and building resilience. We need to see a reform in the way in which gender equality and women’s rights commitments are not just integrated but that as women we are being seen and heard as equal partners in processes which affect our lives, our peace and security”
Conflict prevention and peacebuilding must also be applied in times of disaster stresses Heleta.
That is one of the values of working together through a network like GPPAC and collaborating on innovative programmes like Women’s Weather Watch she says:
“We all go through it. This is our everyday lives. We need to be strategic,” said Heleta.
Since 2015, members of the network have faced three category five storms, prolonged periods of drought, floods, tsunamis, earthquakes and volcanic eruptions together which affect the environment, health, food and economic security and livelihoods.
Women’s participation is a matter of ensuring political security for Women of all diversities says Heleta from local to national governance structures:
“Bringing together all these different groups enhances our efforts as a network because we all want the same thing: the advancement of women in all aspects of life and that means young women, women with disability, elderly women”