Ms. Magazine

spring 2003
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this is what a feminist looks like

Features
The Feminist To-Do List by Gloria Steinem
Ms. Poll Feminist Tide Sweeps In as the 21st Century Begins by Lorraine Dusky
Affirmative Action on Trial by Teresa Stern
Women on Death Row by Claudia Dreifus
In the Thick of Life at 70 by Jessica Chornesky

Special Action Alert
Women Take Action Worldwide
Listing: Coalitions and Groups
National Council of Women's Organizations Statement on War with Iraq
NCWO Partial Members List
Why Peace is (More Than Ever) a Feminist Issue
by Grace Paley

Writing of War and Its Consequences
Ghosts of Home by Patricia Sarrafian Ward
Tales from an Ordinary Iranian Girlhood by Marjane Satrapi
Snow in Summer: LA, CA, 1963 by Helen Zelon

News
Pat Summitt's 800th Victory
Augusta Golf Club's Red Face
National Map of Priest Abuse
Women Warriors
Lesbians with Strollers
Kopp Trial
Trouble in Herat, Afghanistan
Reproductive Rights in Poland
Health Clinics in Guatemala
Congolese Women for Peace
Global Good News Round-Up
The Opposite of a Nuclear Bomb

Departments
Lower Breast Cancer Risks by Liz Galst
The Making of an Activist by Gloria Feldt
Nature Conservancy Gains by Rachel Rabkin
Harvard Stumbles on Rape Rules by Lorraine Dusky
The Bush Overhaul of Federal Courts by Stephanie B. Goldberg
My Friend Yeshi by Alice Walker

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Marithe Kapinga is a journalist in Kinshasa at national network Radio Okapi.


Women in Congo Form Common Front for Peace
A peace accord hasn't ended war but w omen are doing all they can to see that it does.

By Marithe Kapinga

Women and children the Democratic Republic of Congo have paid a heavy price since the outbreak of what has been called Aftica's first world war. Significantly, women have also been first to formally defend the values of peace and push for dialogue as the means to reunify the country.
Sign the Accord. Women keep pressure on during peace dialogues. Photo by Alexander Joe/AFP.

Since August 1998, the Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC) has been torn apart by a civil war pitting the government of Kinshasa-- the capital-- against two principal rebel groups, the Congolese Liberation Movement, or MLC, backed by Uganda, and the Congolese Rally for Democracy, or RCD, backed by Rwanda. Government forces have been allied with Zimbabwe, Angola, and Namibia.

The war has left 2.5 million civilians dead and sent nearly as many refiigees and displaced persons fleeing into exile. This has left thousands of children orphaned or separated from their families and roaming the streets unaccompanied. Many of them have been enlisted as soldiers by the various armies. Women are systematically raped after seizure of their towns and villages, many becoming de facto heads of their families, forced into hard labor or prostitution to provide for them.

On December 17, 2002, a peace accord was signed in Pretoria between the warring parties, under the aegis of the United Nations and the government of South Africa-- an important step in seeking a diplomatic solution to the Congolese crisis. The UN Mission in the DRC boosted its ground troops to observe adherence to the cease-fire and to help in the demobilization and repatriation of armed foreign groups.

Early on, women formed a lobby group alongside human rights organizations to bring politicians around to such a peace accord. Women have spearheaded initiatives leading to coordinated marches, written memorandums, and foreign trips to plead the cause of a war that that was being ignored due to its complexity.

All along women have been developing plans for their vision of the political management of the country. This initiative came from a collective of women's groups known as Women as Partners for Peace in Africa (WOPPA) led by Ellyse Dimandja. "We fought on two fronts," said Dimandja. "We had to convince men that political negotiation in the Congo was imperative and that women had the right to their say." These women agitated for and obtained a female quota at inter-Congolese peace dialogues set in motion by a 1999 Lusaka cease-fire agreement. All through the political negotiations, women lobbied to convince politicians that peace was necessary in order to reconstruct the nation and relieve a population living in misery in such a wealthy country.

At the grassroots, women organizers of NGOs have poured efforts into familiarizing women with the peace process and informing them about electoral basics. Roughly half of all Congolese women are illiterate and do not participate in any decisions affecting their society. Women hold an insignificant number of decision-making positions: three female ministers out of 30 in the government, a lone female president of a political party, no female administrators of public enterprises, a scant few in parliament. Small wonder that women in political, religious, and civil sectors are demanding a greater role for women. That said, the priority today is building a culture of peace. Clashes in the northeastern Ituri region between three armed factions call into question cease-fire accords and hold back implementation of the Pretoria political accord. Women's organizations are actively engaged in keeping the DRC moving toward peace. In February a diverse group of 300 women, representing women's groups that had united to pressure warring parties to abide by the power-sharing pact, blocked traffic in the center of Kinshasa as they held a prayer vigil to protest reports of cannibalism in Ituri. "We condemn all crimes, no matter who committed them, said one of the demonstrators.


Worth Noting

The Hague, Netherlands In a stunning victory during the first round of elections for the International Criminal Court (ICC) in February, six of the seven judges elected were women. Gender balance provisions of the ICC statute required that at least five men be elected in teh next round! (In the end, the ourt has 18 judges-- 11 men and 7 women.) The ICC is the first permanent, global court capable of trying individuals accused of genocide, war crimes, and crimes against humanity.

Afghanistan Women are slowly returning to the workforce in Afghanistan, and like their Iranian sisters, some will once again be joining the polic force. In March more than 60 women will graduate from the national police academy to serve in Kabul. Afghan women were last allowed to train as polic officers in 1992 before the civil war, and currently 600 of the 8,000 Kabul police officers are women.

Bangladesh Bangladesh now has its first female military officers. Women will be working in the army, navy, and air force, but not in combat positions. Previously women were only allowed to serve as doctors adn nurses in the military. --Karen Rose

Copyright Ms. Magazine 2009