The Aftermath of September 11:

Investing in Democracy for a More Cohesive Society

Dialogue with NGO leaders 21 January 2002, Council of Europe, Palais de l'Europe:

Laura Finne-Elonen
President of ECICW-CECIF


Thank you for inviting me to be with you today. I am pleased to be here and to represent the European Centre of the International Council of Women which has member organisations in 21 countries, the newest ones being in Central and Eastern Europe.

September 11th 2001 will be a date everyone of us will remember as long as we live. It is imprinted in our memories as one of the turning points in world history. We have not yet recovered, the wounds still smart. We don't know how to handle the aftermath of that day. We have to rebuild again our optimism and faith in the future. It is extremely difficult to find the right way to do this, to build bridges of trust throughout the world to strengthen the work for peace.

I wish to commend the Council of Europe for organising this discussion with the Non-governmental Organisations, it shows its faith and trust in the civil society and the work of NGOs also as "partners for peace”.
We know the world will never be the same again but peace will never be achieved if we ourselves remain the same as before. We have to change our ingrained attitudes, feel more responsible for each other, we have to get rid of xenophobia, racism, prejudice and ignorance.

This is not done overnight. This requires work for generations and that is why it is extremely important to give children a good start in life so that they will be able to feel empathy and responsibility. Albert Schweitzer was once asked why he gave up his splendid career and went to Africa to work as a doctor. He answered: "This I owed the mankind because of my happy childhood”. I want to stress that peace education starts in the homes as well as education in equality between women and men.

We have to listen to young people who are worried about the world situation. In many schools in Finland discussion groups were formed because pupils wanted to discuss and understand what has happened, why it did happen and whether there could be another solution than war.

After the events in September the discussion on the political level has been quite one-eyed and black and white. There has even been an intention to form clear frontiers against terrorism. As the target is impossible to define this has again led to more suffering of innocent people. The war always leads to sufferings of civilians and especially of women and young girls who often are victims of rape, sexual slavery and forced pregnancies as well as intentional contamination with HIV.

Elisabeth Rehn, the rapporteur of Unifem, recently visited Congo. She says that almost every woman she met had had some experience of rape. She also reports that e.g. in Balkan the peace-keeping operations themselves tend to create prostitution and in some cases even the peace-keepers themselves seem to have been engaged in trafficking. In organised trafficking the girls and women usually are told that they are going to get a job but instead they are sold like cattle. In Skopje at a market like this women were forced to undress so that they could be examined if they were good or poor "cattle". In Pristina ten women were arrested at one of these occasions, not the sellers nor the buyers. The violence against women in armed conflicts creates deep hatered and persistent desire for revenge between ethnic groups and nations. This passes on for generations. The circle is very hard to break.

Trafficking in human beings is one the worst insults against human rights and dignity. It is estimated to affect 2.5 million women and children every year. Many other types of crime are linked with trafficking. All possible actions ought to be taken against it. This requires co-operation between the national governments, international bodies, such as the Council of Europe and the United Nations, as well as between the NGOs. One of the keys to combat trafficking is the education of girls and raising the awareness to this issue in the countries affected.

Although a great number of states signed the Bejing Platform For Action and pledged to involve women in conflict resolution at decision-making level, the absence of women in peace talks has still been a practice until now. Maybe that is why in many cases the peace process has failed. During the war in Afghanistan women networks all around the world required that women should be engaged in the peace negotiations and also in the future government. The Ministry of Foreign Affairs in the USA has never before received so many e-mails on any issue. This action really had an impact on the negotiations in which also women finally were invited to take part.

The post war situation in many countries requires special attention as to the position of women and children. It is positive that the UN recently has appointed also councellors on children's issues in the peace troops. The number of women among the peacekeepers has to be raised as they are more readily able to serve as a resource to women who have been sexually assaulted and get more easily into contact with them. The Council of Europe ought to ask the member countries which send peacekeeping troops, to raise the amount of women in their troops. The peacekeepers ought to be informed on the vulnerability of women and girls and educated to take this into consideration on their missions. The operations ought to be bound by all United Nations norms and international human rights principles.

Francis Fukuyama states in the book "Trust" that it is the number of NGOs which shows how healthy the civil society is: "As citizens join together into organisations they unconsciously build up a capital of social trust which is not only the basis of democracy and guarantees the equality of justice, it also furthers economical growth". Fukuyama describes societies which foster crime as societies where the civil society is very weak, there are only a few organisations, democracy is undeveloped whereas the loyalty to the family and church are very strong. These societies also suffer from low economic growth.

Also Robert Putnam tells in his book "Making democracy work. Civil tradition in Modern Italy" that the more people are engaged in the local NGOs the better democracy seems to work.

When we look at the world today: there are so many cultures, languages, histories and religions. How can we ever get the grassroots in one country to understand the way of thinking of the grassroots in another country as there is so much illiteracy and lack of mutual contacts? On a level like this where the participants have the same "language" it will perhaps be possible to understand each other. This is why also occasions like this conference are of utmost importance.

In many countries due to one cause or another the whole system has broken down. One of the biggest challenges now is how to build up a functioning democracy and to strengthen it. The civil society including NGOs has a major role and input in these endeavours. Very often, however, the national governments lack experience in communicating with the civil society. The co-operation between governments and international bodies is most important as is the co-operation with and between NGOs; they can all learn from each other. The non-governmental organisations ought to be recognized by the national governments as noteworthy partners. NGOs themselves ought to be aware of their roles and tasks in the society and that especially on the grassroot level in creating possibilities for better understanding and peace.

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The Aftermath of September 11:
Inversting in Democracy for a More Cohesive Society

Dialogue with NGO leaders 21 January 2002, Council of Europe, Palais de l'Europe

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Dialogue avec des dirigeants d'ONG,
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