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Investing in a feminist peace

NEW YORK — During the COVID-19 pandemic, public life in much of the world has largely ground to a halt. For the two billion people living in conflict-affected countries, however, there has been no lull in violence and upheaval. Some of the world’s conflicts have even escalated or been reignited during the crisis, dealing devastating new blows to infrastructure and health-care systems that were only beginning to be rebuilt. Globally, we continue to invest far more in the tools of war than in the foundations of peace. guest column:Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka As the world awaited the outcome of the US presidential election, no one doubted the stakes. But, even if Joe Biden emerged victorious, Americans must reckon with the fact that nearly 70 million of their fellow citizens voted for a candidate who lacks any capacity for ethical reasoning. Of course, some are working for peace. On March 23, at the outset of the pandemic, United Nations secretary-general António Guterres called for a global ceasefire, in order to enable countries to focus on the COVID-19 crisis and allow humanitarian organisations to reach vulnerable populations. More than 100 women’s organisations from Iraq, Libya, Palestine, Syria, and Yemen quickly joined the appeal with a joint statement advocating a broad COVID-19 truce, which could form the basis for a lasting peace. It should come as no surprise that women were among the first to support the call for a ceasefire. Last week, governments and civil society came together to mark 20 years since UN Security Council Resolution 1325 first recognised women’s pivotal roles on the frontlines of peace-building efforts. It is women — including young women — who do much of the painstaking, long-term work that underpin high-profile formal agreements, which are still often reached in talks that exclude them. For example, in Syria, women have negotiated ceasefires to allow the passage of humanitarian aid, worked in field hospitals and schools, distributed food and medicine, and documented human-rights violations. In South Sudan, women have mediated and resolved tribal disputes to prevent conflicts from escalating to violence. Women also spearhead the critical work of campaigning for peace, including through education programs, which teach young people that conflict is never inevitable. Feminist organisations have long called for nuclear disarmament, arms control, and the reallocation of funds from the military to social investments. These appeals are essential. But they have gone unanswered. So has the UN’s call for a COVID-19 ceasefire: according to the Norwegian Refugee Council, in the two months following Guterres’s appeal, armed conflict in 19 countries displaced at least 661 000 people. Unless we listen to women, and shift our investments from war toward peace, the devastation will continue. Enjoy unlimited access to the ideas and opinions of the world’s leading thinkers, including weekly long reads, book reviews, and interviews; The Year Ahead annual print magazine; The Green Recovery special-edition print maga

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