Global Initiative Discuss Role of Women in Conflict

Last week, 25 senior women leaders from different nations convened in Boston and Washington, D.C., for the Colloquium and Policy Forum held by the Initiative for Inclusive Security. Israeli retired Col. Etty Yevnin and Haitham Arar talk about the participation of women in the security sector.

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MICHEL MARTIN, host:

And now we want to turn to another part of the world marked by violence and strife: the Middle East. Over the past week, hundreds of thousands of Palestinian residents of Gaza have poured across the border between Gaza and Egypt in search of gasoline, heating oil, medicine and other supplies. These things have become scarce since Israel blockaded Gaza's borders to prevent rocket attacks aimed at Israeli towns.

Recently, 25 senior female policymakers from some of the world's most volatile regions in the world convened in Boston and Washington, D.C. to talk about ways to enhance women's participation in the military, the police and peacekeeping forces as a way to bring stability to these troubled regions. Among them were retired Israeli Colonel Esther Yevnin and Haitham Arar, the head of the democracy and human rights unit in the Ministry of Interior of the Palestinian National Authority. They met under the auspices of the Initiative for Inclusive Security Colloquium. They joined us from member station WBUR in Boston.

Ladies, thanks for joining us.

Colonel ESTHER YEVNIN (Retired, Israeli Army): Hi. How are you?

Ms. HAITHAM ARAR (Director, Democracy and Human Rights Unit, Ministry of Interior, Palestinian National Authority): Thank you.

MARTIN: Colonel, if we could - actually, if we could both start on this question, you asked President Bush, who was just in Israel and the Palestinian territories - he says he's hoping that a two-state peace treaty will be agreed upon by the end of his term, which, of course, is at the end of this year. Do you think that this is possible, Colonel?

Col. YEVNIN: I don't know if that's possible. I very much hope so. I think there are still a lot of things to talk about and discuss and agree upon. And it might just take a bit more time than that. But I really, truly, hope that we'll be able to get there.

MARTIN: And Director Arar, what do you think?

Ms. ARAR: Oh, I'm looking for the announcement of President George Bush as a push for the peace process in the Middle East, especially. And especially in the Palestinian-Israeli conflict, with hope that we will end this conflict very soon.

MARTIN: Colonel, if I could ask you, and I'd like to ask both of you, why do you think women need to be more involved in security issues?

Col. YEVNIN: My personal belief is that women have a different attitude to things. They tend to be less violent. They go for compromise. They discuss things. They manage to get a common agenda. They have a lot of things that they can promote all in all because of their intuition, because of their milder character, I will say. Everyone should only give women a chance to do something about this conflict.

MARTIN: But you were the first Israeli - the first woman to be elected to the international police network, Interpol. You're the attache for the Ministry of Public Security. You ran the international relations unit of the Israeli police. You got a lot of high-ranking positions in national security. I guess -clearly, you're qualified to do this work, or you wouldn't have been given those positions. It's just curious if you really think women are that different.

Col. YEVNIN: I think women are different. I think women - at least, when I saw them during my career - I think they did things differently. And they did the work, the police work, with a lot of dedication and a lot of concern and also a lot of humanity. And that's, for me, one of the main things. I think women prove themselves to be capable leaders and be capable of doing things much better than men in the same positions. And they are very innovative, too, because they can take things that were never tried before and they will develop and push them forward and make sure that they reach something, which is all in all positive.

MARTIN: Haitham Arar, what do you think?

Ms. ARAR: Women look at security as a strategic way and a strategic process for her life, not like men, who look for the security as a powerful tool to have more and more power and authority.

MARTIN: Director Arar, you work closely on Palestinian human rights issues. You're also a member of Fatah. I understand you're trying to increase the participation of women in politics. And one of your, I think, goals is to mandate that a third of the members of local Fatah committees are women. Are you close to achieving that? How is that proposal being received?

Ms. ARAR: It's a long process inside Fatah. But we are rapidly achieving our goals so that we have an intensive work inside Fatah to ensure that the women have their right position inside Fatah.

MARTIN: How are your male colleagues reacting to this?

Ms. ARAR: I can't say that they are rejecting or objecting the participation of women. But they want somebody to enlighten this region for them. Because I'm coming from a culture that the women, they have some specific and some regulated positions and rules. So it is very important to highlight that the woman can participate also in politics and can be leaders in that aspect.

MARTIN: Colonel, I wanted to ask you that - I think many people know that Israeli women, as well as men, must fulfill a period of military service unless there's some, I guess, religious exception that would preclude them from doing so. But do you feel that - are there enough women in command positions, say, in the military? Do you think that the presence of women is felt in the leadership structure of the Israeli military?

Col. YEVNIN: Unfortunately, not yet. But I think it's something that will come with time. I think because the army is a very male-dominated organization, women do not take their rightful place inside it - same for police, by the way. Although in the police, 25 percent of the whole force are women, and they are doing all the regular police jobs that can be done.

I think the army is a different matter whatsoever. And we've been having, in the public, in the Israeli public, a lot of discussions about the role of women inside the army, whether they should be integrated into a combat unit, whether they should be doing the combat unit. They somehow are patronized by men who think that they are more vulnerable in combat than men are. But I think we must prove to everybody that that's not true. And therefore, now there's going to be a very big change in the army involving women and involving their role within the army.

MARTIN: If you're just joining us, I'm Michel Martin, and you're listening to TELL ME MORE from NPR News.

And we're speaking with retired Israeli Colonel Etty Yevnin and Palestinian politician Haitham Arar about the role women play in enhancing security.

I wanted to ask you, you both have high-powered positions in areas that are sometimes considered nontraditional, you know, for women. I just wonder if there are moments when you felt challenged because of your gender. Director Arar, do you feel resistance in fulfilling your job because you're a woman, and how do you deal with that?

Ms. ARAR: I think it is very important to say that this is an ongoing process, and sometimes somebody will manipulate the achievement to take you back one step or two steps. For example, we have the quota in the Palestinian Legislative Council of 20 percent. But when it was the elections, most of the political parties, they were selecting the most weak woman, not the strong one, so that they have to show that a woman can't be in a decision-making position.

MARTIN: Do you think that the Palestinian Authority police, for example, do you think that they're responsive to women?

Ms. ARAR: There is no objection that the woman in Palestine join the police, but the number of woman, it is very low. This is because there is no program inside the police to encourage women to join the police. The second challenge is the Palestinian woman police is that they don't have the training to go to higher rank positions inside the police institution.

MARTIN: Are there religious objections on the part of people who are influential? I mean, part of what you're talking about is a struggle over the culture…

Ms. ARAR: Yeah.

MARTIN: …and what form the culture should take. And I just, you know, wonder, are there religious objections to women taking this role?

Ms. ARAR: No objection from the religion, because Islam, it is not restricting woman from working in the public arena. But I think there are some people who are interpreting Islam in a way that will stuck the woman in some place. What I mean by this is the Islamic parties, the Islamic parties, they have very non-progressive idea about the woman and the social aspects in Palestine.

MARTIN: Yes, it's interesting.

Colonel, I wanted to ask you - it does seem curious, though, that here is a country that had a woman prime minister years ago, but one does not see very many prominent women politicians rising to the fore subsequently. Of course, foreign minister, of course. But, you know? I mean, it seems odd.

Col. YEVNIN: No, I - yeah. I'll tell you what. I - whenever people mention Golda Meir, that when David Ben-Gurion presented her, he was presenting her as the only man in his cabinet.

(Soundbite of laughter)

Col. YEVNIN: So, I don't think that's very flattering, basically. She was a very tough woman, and she had her good things and her bad things. But maybe she left a legacy that other women don't want to take. I think women leaders in Israel, they just don't somehow get up to the top political level in political parties, and they'll get there, but it will take them time because they need to build their constituency. And they need to do many more things in the social arena before they can get somewhere.

You'll see. You'll see more and more women climbing up and getting there. And I'm sure they will make the difference. We'll see that also in Palestinian society, and it will happen sooner than we all expect.

MARTIN: Do you feel, Director Arar, that you are making progress - not as an individual, but in terms of moving toward peace in your country and in the region?

Ms. ARAR: Yes. I think we are going forward. I think more and more Palestinians, they are involved, and they are convinced that the peace process and the negotiation process, it is the only way for solving our problem and getting over the occupation.

MARTIN: Colonel, what about you? What do you think? Do you feel that progress is being made? Or how do you assess where we are?

Col. YEVNIN: I'm always optimistic. I say that we've had good times. We've had bad times. And then we'll have good times again. It's just a question of time.

MARTIN: Retired Israeli Colonel Etty Yevnin and Haitham Arar, the head of the Democracy and Human Rights Unit in the Ministry of Interior of the Palestinian National Authority, both joined us from member station WBUR.

Thank you both so much for taking the time.

Col. YEVNIN: Thank you.

Ms. ARAR: Thank you very much for having us.

MARTIN: And good luck to you.

Ms. ARAR: Thank you.

Col. YEVNIN: Thank you.

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