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Thursday, 1 October, 2009

Women's voices must be heard for Cyprus to become a more prosperous, secure and equitable society, writes Gro Brundtland.

One thing is clear - peace processes and governance should not be left only to men.

UN Security Council Resolution 1325 urges states to ensure increased representation of women in conflict resolution and peace processes. It is a resolution that my fellow Elders and I wholeheartedly support.

It was therefore important to us that we paid special attention to the role of women when we visited Cyprus recently. But I have to say that it was disappointing to see that women are almost entirely absent from the peace process on the island. Some women were involved in the technical committees that worked through the key issues under negotiation but these have now finished their work. Among the advisers to the leaders and others directly involved in the talks, the number of women is tiny - and their positions are relatively junior. In political life generally, few women hold senior positions: of the eleven Cabinet ministers in the Greek Cypriot government, only one is female, as are only seven out of 50 Members of Parliament - the lowest level in Europe. The situation is similarly disappointing in the Turkish Cypriot community: of 50 Members of Parliament only four are women.

The involvement of women in decision making is essential to ensure that issues affecting them are treated fairly and seriously. In Cyprus, the talks, if successful, will also shape the future laws and structures of a united island. If Cyprus is to be a more prosperous, secure and equitable society, women's voices must be heard.

Greater women's participation in conflict resolution and in governance is achievable - I have learnt this in my own career. At 35 years old, I became the Environment Minister in Norway. At the time only 15 per cent of those in parliament were women; by 1985 this number had increased to nearly 50 per cent.

The time is ripe for such progress to be made in Cyprus. There is plenty of positive work currently being done by women from both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot communities. During our recent visit, Lakhdar Brahimi and I met very impressive women: academics, activists, researchers, teachers, journalists. We were especially pleased to meet Elsi Christofia and Oya Talat the wives of the leaders - who are strong and articulate advocates for cooperation between the two communities.

We raised the issue of women's involvement in the peace process in our meetings with both the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot leaders. We also encouraged the Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot women we met to find more ways they can work together to inspire and encourage each other and add momentum to the wider peace process. We also encouraged them to take practical steps to put in place the ideas that women from both communities shared at our meeting.

Several discussed the idea of forming a gender consultative group to bring more women into the discussion about the future of the island. If women would like a greater say in the peace process and future governance, now is the time to take action.

A few principles are key to a successful peace process: all parties must communicate with each other; they must try to understand each other; and they must do their best to find a common basis for a settlement that both communities are able to support. By demonstrating their capacity to work together and find common ground, Greek Cypriot and Turkish Cypriot women can be true leaders of their communities - and set an example for all the people of the island to follow.

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