International Women's Day has been observed on March 8th since the early 1900's. From factory workers to abolitionists, women began to speak out against women's oppression and inequality. They organized to demand better working conditions, equal pay, and the right to vote. As fifty percent of the world's population, our fore-mothers realized they had a critical role to play in the political, social, and economic life of their society and it was time for their voices to be heard.
Women today continue to raise their voices to bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large. For example, this year women leaders in the Minnesota Legislature will introduce the Women's Economic Security Act, a package of 15 bills addressing issues from pay equity to support for women entrepreneurs. By uniting with others - or raising one courageous voice - women here and around the world are potent agents of social progress and change.
Recently, the bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Act (S. 1942 / H.R. 2874) was introduced in the U.S. Congress to ensure that women are equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace. The WPS Act is an important step in integrating women into these negotiation processes. It empowers women to act as leaders and contribute their voices to achieving peace.
Modern peace agreements around the world have fallen apart at a startling rate because of the failure to include a broad range of stakeholders, especially women, in the peace process. Research and experience show us that, when included as meaningful participants, women are likely to expand the scope of agreements to include a broader set of critical societal priorities and needs required for lasting and just peace.
Of the five women present at last month's Geneva II peace talks to end the four-year deadly conflict in Syria, none had a seat at the negotiating table. Despite Syrian women's significant peacemaking and reconciliation efforts and support to victims of violence on the ground and in refugee camps, their voices were not heard.
This pattern of excluding women must be set aside in order to move forward in the right direction, in Syria and countless other conflict areas. We know that women play a crucial role in creating and implementing sustainable solutions to conflict and other social problems.
Minnesota Congresswoman Betty McCollum (MN-04) emphasized the importance of Afghan women's equal and full participation during congressional briefing entitled, "The Role of Women in Peacebuilding and Post-Conflict Reconstruction in Afghanistan" sponsored by Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) on March 6, 2014. In her opening address Congresswoman McCollum stated:
"Over the past thirteen years, Afghan women have escaped the cruelty of the Taliban to make enormous strides forward. Now, with an upcoming election and real uncertainty about the future, the women of Afghanistan have an enormous role to play in both protecting the progress they have struggled to achieve, as well as determining their country's path forward. I feel very strongly that the U.S. and our international partners must continue to stand with the women of Afghanistan and at the same time keep the pressure on the Afghan government to protect the rights of women and girls."
Minnesota women and women's organizations, like the Minnesota Women's Foundation, have played key roles over the past decade in getting public attention, law changes and resources to address the issue of sex trafficking. All of us could share similar examples.
This year, in recognition of International Women's Day, call your Senators and members of Congress and ask them to sign onto the Women, Peace and Security Act (S. 1942 / H.R. 2874). You can find them here: www.usa.gov.
Let us make sure that women's voices are heard on the most important issue of all - peace.
Essay submitted by: Representative Connie Bernardy, Senator Chris Eaton, Senator Alice Johnson, Representative Sandra Masin, Ramsey County Commission Mary Jo McGuire, Representative Kim Norton, Senator Sandy Pappas. Senator Patricia Torres Ray, Representative Mary Sawatzky, Representative JoAnn Ward, Senator Melissa Wiklund, and Representative Barbara Yarusso are all active members of the Women Legislators' Lobby (WiLL), a program of Women's Action for New Directions (WAND) and by Candice Quinn with Minnesota Arms spending alternatives Project (MN ASAP).