Women's 'Balkan Link' to Aid
Rape Victims, Establish Peace
By Jeremy Lovell
BRUSSELS, May 31 (Reuters) - A group of women, declaring themselves to be the best hope for a durable peace in Bosnia, agreed on Friday to set up a special "Balkan Link." The link, announced at the end of a two-day conference of more than 60 women from the Balkans and elsewhere, is modelled on the 20-year-old all-female "Jerusalem Link" that arguably laid the foundations for peace in the Middle East.
"We are very happy to have made these steps," conference co-organiser Simone Suskind told reporters. "We really feel that women will make the difference."
The Balkan Link will comprise a network of critical services -- particularly for the thousands of victims of the systematic rape that epitomised the Yugoslav war and put women firmly in the front line. It will also include educational networks to promote in particular ethnic tolerance, the encouragement of human rights and putting women in the forefront of decision making.
Anne-Marie Lizin, the other conference co-organiser, praised the progress made during the two days but cautioned that a long road lay ahead. "We have made big strides but still have further to go," she said, making particular mention of the tensions in ethnically divided Kosovo. Opening the conference on Thursday Belgian Foreign Minister Eric Derycke said women often had peace in their hearts but, because of systematic rape, the fruits of war in their bellies. "Never before in history have the rape and abuse of women and girls assumed such proportions," he told the meeting.
He cited a 1994 United Nations report that said 23 million people in the world were refugees from violence -- 80 percent of them women and children.
European Commissioner for Humanitarian Aid Emma Bonino said one of the first tasks had to be to make men realise that women should have equal rights and equal status with men. "Perhaps I was naive. I used to think that common suffering would remove the heirachy between men and women. But when I go to refugee camps I still find that women have less power than men," she said.
Derycke agreed the need for rapid and fundamental change. "Women must be given a greater say and a more active role, especially when it comes to working for peace," he said. "The influence of women should not be underestimated.
Women for Women in Bosnia
Rape: A Strategy of War in the Former Yugoslavia
Role of Women in The Balkans War An Index
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