Commonwealth Foundation: Peaceful Malaysia the ideal platform for discussions on women, peace and security

Opalyn Mok
Commonwealth Foundation programme manager Reineira Arguello Sanjuan said Malaysia was chosen as the venue because of its advocacy for peace solutions. — Picture by Sayuti Zainudin

GEORGE TOWN, Feb 18 — The Commonwealth Foundation picked Malaysia as the venue for women from all over the world to converge and discuss an advocacy map for peace-building because of the country’s advocacy for peace solutions and its peaceful society.

The foundation’s programme manager Reineira Arguello Sanjuan said Malaysia has remained peaceful for many years and had even acted as a mediator for peaceful negotiations in the region.

“So, we felt that it would be good for conversations on peace to be in a country that has built and maintained peace for so many years,” she said.

The three-day roundtable session themed “2020 — Designing an advocacy roadmap” is attended by women from countries such as Sri Lanka, Kenya, Uganda, Papua New Guinea, East Africa, Iran, Pakistan, Northern Ireland and Sierra Leone.

“The main aim of this roundtable is to bring civic voices together to learn from one another and to constructively engage in government processes,” Sanjuan said.

She stressed that it was not about criticising institutions and governments but a platform for women to discuss, come up with proposals and bring about constructive changes.

“It is also about fostering channels of inclusion, working with intersectionality and learning from each other to be involved in the processes of transformation,” she said.

She said the Commonwealth Foundation is an inter-governmental organisation that is committed to Sustainable Development Goal 16 (SDG 16) which is to promote peaceful and inclusive societies for sustainable development.

She said women’s groups have a different perspective on how transformative change should look like and how peace should be defined.

“They have messages on how different processes can be put in place with specific recommendations to the United Nations and the world so the foundation can broker their messages to the decision makers,” she said.

In one of the sharing sessions today, a participant, Helen Kezie-Nwoha from Uganda, said it was not safe for women to leave their homes in conflict-riddled countries.

She said sometimes peacekeeping efforts were not successful especially when women continue to be pawns and victims of violence in warring countries.

“Women are raped with peacekeepers nearby and they did not stop it. We have to look at this, don’t we need to change the way they are going about peacekeeping?” she asked.

She said peacekeeping resolutions should be focused on addressing issues such as discrimination, exclusivity and attacks on a woman’s dignity and inequality.

She also spoke about trauma among women in war-torn countries.

“We need to address the trauma in conflict before we are able to aim for transformative change,” she said.

Later, Susan Owiro-Chege from Kenya and Shreen Saroor from Sri Lanka both shared how women in their respective countries try to engage in peacekeeping efforts.

Owiro-Chege said they started with small women’s group discussions in churches and by emphasising to the women that they must work together as one unit.

She said another way was trying to reach out to the spouses of the people in power as there is very minimal female representation in government.

Meanwhile, Saroor talked about how Muslim women started a movement to amend a law that had failed to protect Muslim women in the country.

She said under the law, women’s rights were not protected and even babies can be married off.

She said this was why Muslim women were at the forefront of fighting against laws that failed to protect women and children.

“We have been fighting to change this, young women are now aware of this and want to change this... it is all over social media in Sri Lanka,” she said.

Despite this, Saroor said it remained an uphill battle for them to have the respective laws changed to protect women’s rights in Sri Lanka.

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