OKLA. CITY —
International Women’s Day has been observed on March 8 since the early 1900s. From factory workers to abolitionists, women began to speak out against women’s oppression and inequality. They organized to demand better working conditions, equal pay and the right to vote. As 50 percent of the world’s population, our foremothers realized they had a critical role to play in the political, social and economic life of their society and it was time for their voices to be heard.
Women today continue to raise their voices to bring attention to the most critical issues facing our communities, and our world at large. The Oklahoma Women’s Coalition recently led our great state in the fight against human trafficking. The U.S. State Department estimates 600,000-800,000 people are trafficked across international borders every year, and 70 percent of them are women.
The Oklahoma Women’s Coalition has worked to bring awareness to the issue and lobbied lawmakers to change this awful reality. In the past few years we have seen our state Legislature step up to try to stop human trafficking in Oklahoma. By uniting with others — or raising one courageous voice — women here and across the world are potent agents of social progress and change.
Recently, the bipartisan Women, Peace and Security Act of 2014 (S. 1942 / H.R. 2874) was introduced in the Congress to ensure that women are equal partners in preventing conflict and building peace. The WPS Act is an important step in integrating women into these negotiation processes. It empowers women to act as leaders and contribute their voices to achieving peace.
Modern peace agreements around the world have fallen apart at a startling rate because of the failure to include a broad range of stakeholders, especially women, in the peace process. Research and experience show us that, when included as meaningful participants, women are likely to expand the scope of agreements to include a broader set of critical societal priorities and needs required for lasting and just peace.
Of the five women present at last month’s Geneva II peace talks to end the four-year deadly conflict in Syria, none had a seat at the negotiating table. Despite Syrian women’s significant peacemaking and reconciliation efforts and support to victims of violence on the ground and in refugee camps, their voices were not heard.
This pattern of excluding women must be set aside in order to move forward in the right direction. We know that women play a crucial role in creating and implementing sustainable solutions. Oklahoma women recently have gained an ally in the fight for equal representation in our state Legislature. Only 12.8 percent of the members in the Oklahoma Legislature are women, making Oklahoma’s female representation one of the lowest in the nation. However, Sally’s List is determined to change those dismal numbers. With the sole mission of recruiting and helping to elect more women to the state legislature, Sally’s List has become a lifeline for many women seeking to be leaders for their communities.
This year, in recognition of International Women’s Day, join with me to urge our members of Congress to pass the Women, Peace and Security Act. Let us make sure that women’s voices are heard on the most important issue of all — peace.
JEANNIE McDANIEL is a state representative in Oklahoma and an active member of Women’s Action for New Directions and the Women Legislators’ Lobby.