The Russia-Ukraine war has plunged the world into despair, the first time it has happened since the second World.
Perceptions regarding the conflict has largely been masculine.
Women have sadly remained peripheral players.
Researcher and author Jan Hitchcock in 2001 argued that women are 75% more likely to express concern over imminent danger, making them more attuned to the perception of environmental, health and social risks. That study conducted over 21 years ago rings true today, as geo-political tensions threaten to undo decades of social, political and economic development globally though differing in degree.
Sadly, women have remained peripheral players in high level decision making processes evidenced by countless studies and surveys carried out over the century.
Over the course of months it became evidence that what was initially termed “a Rusia-Ukraine conflict” has escalated into a war.
What has surprised many and what continues to haunt the basis logic is Africa’s almost uniform stance to abstain from condemning Russia’s actions, implying no solidarity with Ukraine.
“The war in Ukraine is not gendered but I think somehow having more women in politics would make our outlook more humane and compassionate. I think Mary Robinson from Ireland is an example of a woman who has become part of the council of elders who has pushed for compassion both inter and intra state. However the opposite can be true” said Sanusha Naidu a South African foreign policy analyst from the Institute of Global Diplomacy.
If female politicians were actively involved in decision making and if African diplomats had more leverage to question and demand consensus in national positions, the scale would still be biased and tipped towards a male approach often synonymous with defense of territorial integrity.
In Sub Saharan Africa for example, women make up less than 35% of politicians with the exception of Rwanda where women make up 63% of policy makers, according to the Inter Parliamentary Union Map of Women in Politics.
If Hitchcock’s hypothesis is founded, yet the current numbers of female and male decision makers don’t add up and could not possibly make a significant difference it begs the question- what would?
Gender parity in political positions and in decision making processes could make a difference.
“Women’s equal participation and leadership in political and public life are essential to achieving Sustainable Development Goals by 2030 and good governance. With only 21% of government ministers being women globally, at the current rate gender equality in the highest positions of power will not be reached for another 130 years.” according to studies by the United Nations Women.
Political will becomes imperative to expedite the process of gender sensitive and conscious decisive action in global affairs.
Had global leaders taken a proactive approach to engage Russia months before it began to set up military presence at the border with Ukraine, maybe the tide would have turned.
Months would have been spent with envoys, mediators and arbitrartors locked in meetings perusing, considering and brokering a peace deal before the aggression had begun.
Months of bitter feuding over the finer details of territorial integrity and Ukraine’s desire to join NATO behind closed doors would by far have been desirable compared to 40 295 deaths, US$350bn worth of damaged property, 15 000 people missing, and 14m displaced, according to Reuters’ Russia-Ukraine war Tracker.
“UN Women remains determined to give all we can of our energies, expertise and resources, alongside our partners within and outside the United Nations family. We use our voice in international political fora to ensure that women’s rights, interest, voices and leadership are fully built into the global response to the war in Ukraine. We are making efforts to ensure that women’s priority needs are addressed. We are conducting rapid gender assessments to ensure that up-to-date data and analysis on the gender dynamics of the war and its impacts are available to all those working on the response,” the United Nations Women executive director, Sima Bahous said in a statement earlier this year.
Although poorly represented in politics and diplomacy, nine women in history have defied the odds as evidenced by their Nobel Peace Prizes between the years 1901 to 1992. Among these trailblazing women are Emily Greene Balch who worked tirelessly along her compatriot Jane Addams another Nobel Prize recipient to pressure governments to put down arms during wars.
The Nobel Laurent Committee hailed Balch.
“Balch worked to improve international political relations by promoting international cooperation in other fields, and by her control of the facts in all her proposals. As an example she secured the withdrawal of the U. S. troops from Haiti in 1926 after eleven years of occupation. She went to Haiti with a delegation, showed great skill in investigating the situation, wrote most of the report, and fought to get the recommendations accepted by the US government. Eventually they were all carried out and the troops withdrawn,” the Nobel Laurent Committee said.
Another such woman was Alva Myrdal who headed Sweden’s delegation to the United Nations Disarmament Committee between from 1963 to 1972 producing one of the greatest books on disarmament.
Her social commitment went back to the 1930s, when she played a prominent part in developing the Swedish welfare state. She was a staunch champion of women’s liberation and equal rights.
Myrdal was the first woman to be appointed head of a department in the United Nations Secretariat, and she had served her country with distinction as a cabinet member and as ambassador to India. So glowing was her record in all her assignments, so many honors had been heaped upon her” said the Nobel Committee Chairman, Egil Aarvik while speaking at the awards ceremony in 1982.
“We can suggest that there are female leaders in society and historically that have demonstrated that through solidarity and dialogue with different stakeholders at the center of conflict have forged peaceful resolutions even if there was national interests at stake.” said Suzy Graham a South African international affairs academic during a telephone conversation.
While there are examples of women who have made significant contributions of proportional magnitude, there is need for women in politics, academia, civil society and public service to take an active role in local, regional and international matters and contribute and participate in peace, security, cooperation and improved international relations. Political gagging may indeed persist but women must charge relentlessly forward and demand that their voices are not censored and pacified. Furthermore, commemorating 16 days of activism against gender based violence should be a wakeup call for women to demand socio-political justice for populations in Ukraine that have suffered at the hands of the aggressor.