In 1981 The United Nations passed a resolution in designating Sept. 21 as the International Day of Peace -- a day devoted to commemorating and strengthening the ideals of peace within and among all nations and peoples. Over 30 years later, we are still working for peace in an increasingly violent world. America still has troops on the ground in Afghanistan, while on-going conflicts in places including Syria, Libya and Iran mar world aspirations for peace. We know from experience that peace doesn't happen because official combat stops and troops depart -- peace happens when people have access to basic necessities (food, clean water and safe housing), education, jobs, health care, political participation and civil rights.
As we celebrate the International Day of Peace this year, members of the United States Congress can do their part to promote peace and real security in Afghanistan, and worldwide, by co-sponsoring the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2012 (WPS Act). This bipartisan legislation is designed to support the implementation of the U.S. National Action Plan on Women, Peace, and Security (NAP). This was launched by executive order last December when America joined the ranks of more than 30 countries in developing a NAP to promote the essential role of women in securing peace. The WPS Act recognizes that women's voices are essential in negotiating peace. When women's voices are not included, actions taken will simply be less effective.
We have seen dismal failure in attempts to negotiate peace agreements in the past. Women made up only 2.4 percent of all signatories to the 21 major peace agreements established over the past 20 years. Of these 21, more than half fell apart within the first ten years. What is missing? Women -- who are effective agents for securing lasting and just peace.
As Secretary of State Hillary Clinton highlights, "When women participate in peace processes, they focus discussion on issues like human rights, justice, national reconciliation, and economic renewal ...They build coalitions across ethnic and sectarian lines, and they speak up for other marginalized groups. They act as mediators and help to foster compromise." The participation of women is not only helpful, but is necessary if greater peace in the world is the goal.
As a woman state legislator, I know that my women colleagues often bring unique perspectives and plans otherwise not presented. As we see diplomacy play a greater role in conflict -- and the move towards ending these conflicts -- the strengths that women bring to negotiations will become even more important. The traditional methods of resolving conflict are no longer sufficient. We need to look beyond military actions and women will need to play a key role in these "non-traditional" methods to ensure their success.
Globally, women have continually offered innovative solutions that have improved peace outcomes. There are numerous examples over the past two decades where this can be seen. In 2002, Asha Haji Elmi led a group of women to the Somali Peace and Reconciliation conference, which prompted the Somali government to adopt a measure to assure that 12 percent of their Parliament seats be held by women. In Northern Ireland, women negotiators of the 1998 Good Friday Agreement secured involvement of youth and victims in the reconciliation process and accelerated the release and reintegration of political prisoners.
Recently, huge gains have been made by Afghan women including trained midwives supporting infant and maternal health, girls' education, and seats for women in Parliament. Women must continue to be at the table and engaged in civil society as U.S. troops leave Afghanistan in order to protect and further this progress and build towards long-lasting, sustainable peace.
With the Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2012, Congress can participate in recognizing and promoting the invaluable role women play in preventing, mediating, and resolving violent conflict and building peaceful communities. We can be a part of fostering a U.S. approach that will build sustainable peace and enhance our national security.
Therefore, the International Day of Peace is the perfect opportunity for U.S. Senators Amy Klobuchar and Al Franken, and U.S. Representatives Collin Peterson, John Kline, Betty McCollum, Tim Walz, Keith Ellison, Michelle Bachmann, Erik Paulsen, and Chip Cravaack to take a significant step toward actualizing global peace by co-sponsoring the bipartisan Women, Peace, and Security Act of 2012. I hope they will support this legislation and recognize the importance women have played and will continue to play as we work toward global peace.
Mary Jo McGuire is a state senator in Minnesota and the Minnesota State Director of the Women Legislator's Lobby -- a program of Women's Action for New Directions (WAND), www.willwand.org