Thursday, 15 January 2015

Peace Needs Powerful Women

In 2015, violence against women continues to be of epidemic proportions worldwide. Women make up half the world’s population and yet represent 70% of the world’s poor. We still live predominantly under a patriarch paradigm, a framework of reference, where being born a woman is still felt and experienced as a social and economic disadvantage.

This disadvantage is contextually specific. Inequalities between the sexes can be found from the cradle to the grave. Depending on the country, religion and the culture women find themselves in. Some disadvantages are relatively minor such as hitting the economic glass ceiling in the west but others include denial of even the most basic of social and economic rights such as access to education, bank accounts, employment, personal transport and freedom to walk the streets without harassment.

As part of a progressive discourse, it is clear that peace builders, from the bottom up, need to continue to actively facilitate and support empowerment of women so that they can gain equal rights as afforded to men. A more peaceful world will only be achieved when sexual violence against woman is no longer a common indicator of impending conflict but rather an anomaly.

There is an old German proverb which states “When poverty comes in the door, love flies out at the window”.

As poverty destroys relationships, the oppression of women further adds to the deprivation of society, reinforcing the negative cycle of dependency and inequality. Any country that finds itself removing 50% of the labour force from participating in the workplace will forever be behind in the global race of capital.

Economic inequality in the UK still exists and this can be considered one of the main reasons that partners stay in abusive relationships, as they feel trapped or are unable to achieve what that want to through lack of means.

This predicament in the UK is worsening in low income families due to the new rollout of Universal Credit implemented by the Coalition Government. Universal Credit, is a welfare benefit which replaces six mean tested benefits and is only to be paid to one member of the family. In most cases this will be the man of the household. Consequently it will be even harder for woman wishing to leave to have immediate financial access and support from the government.

In the developing world the instance of rape and violence against woman is a massive problem. For example, in India according to the National Crime Record Bureau, crimes against women have increased by 7.1% since 2010. It is estimated that in India one woman is raped every 20 minutes. Violence is not just prevalent because of the attitude of men towards women, or just because of the gap between rich and poor but also because women do not tend to appeal to the legal system for fear of recrimination. 

One of the more extreme solutions to this has arisen on a grass roots level, in the form of the Gulabi Gang in India. They are a women’s movement that started in 2006. They intervene and campaign on behalf of women. Amongst their many functions they help women to set up cottage industries as a way of gaining financial independence. In the most extreme of cases they have been known to “Fight rapists with lathis (sticks). If we find the culprit, we thrash him black and blue so he dare not attempt to do wrong to any girl or a woman again” Sampat Devi Pai, the group founder said. Clearly this is a desperate response to series of policy failures that have resulted in the Gulabi’s being forced to take justice into their own hands.

Access to money is also a huge barrier for women in gaining equality in the developing world. The Grameen bank in India is one of the best economic solutions currently available. It has purposefully provided access to savings accounts, credit and investment opportunities for those who would not normal qualify for such financial tools. This has enabled and continues to enable women to develop their own businesses to lift them out of poverty.

Violence against women can take many forms. Some of the most influential world leaders marched for peace in Paris in solidarity after the 7th January terrorist attacks. Some ultra-orthodox Jews decided to photoshop the women out of the march. Although the internet responded to this in many humorous ways, it still highlights that to some groups around the world, women are still considered to be second - class citizens that don’t even have a right to be recognised in the public sphere.

There are many current campaigns and petitions to raise awareness and to enable an end to violence against women such as the aptly named ‘End Violence Against Woman Campaign’. Hearteningly, there is some success and movement towards women gaining empowerment and accessing the help that they need. Indeed The Grameen Bank and Gulabi Gang are just a few great examples of what can be achieved.

Emma Watson said famously in her speech to the United Nations: “If not me, who? If not now, when?” Inequality of gender, like that of race or creed, belongs in the middle ages. Let’s leave the past where it belongs.

Thursday, 8 January 2015

New Year’s Resolutions

Happy New Year from everyone at conscience – this year is set to be a very exciting year for conscience as we seek to promote non-military solutions to global conflicts. Every new year presents new challenges and new opportunities for growth. 

conscience will be no different, seeking to deliver a programme of campaigning, research and events to deliver real change to British foreign policy.

In 2015 we will launch the consultation of a Peace Tax Bill – enabling conscientious objectors to military taxation to redirect the military proportion of their taxes towards more effective non-military peacebuilding. This bill has the ability to radically alter our relationship with the state and to warfare in general – with the funding of the military then taken at an individual level rather a state level.

We will also be looking to kick off the year with our People’s Parliament event in February kindly hosted by long standing conscience supporter John McDonnell MP. Other guests will include Dylan Mathews incoming CEO of Peace Direct, Shahrar Ali Deputy Leader of the Green Party and Richard Reeve Director of Sustainable Security at the Oxford Research Group.

They all have extensive expertise in alternatives to military intervention and will add much to the debate about how we as a society can move away from ever-increasing militarism.

In March we will be sending out our spring newsletter – with a particular focus on the General Election and how to influence Parliamentary Candidates in your area to adopt policies that will contribute to a more peaceful world. We will be publishing ‘5 Peace Pledges’ as part of the upcoming general election as a tool to focus minds for those who wish to campaign or are interested in running for office.

After the election we are hoping to host a roundtable in Parliament working with Jeremy Corbyn MP to discuss the priorities in peaceful policy making for the next Parliament bringing together leaders in the peace movement with politicians to develop best practice in conflict prevention.

May will see the launch of the government’s Conflict, Stability and Security Fund (CSSF) a new £1 billion successor to the Conflict Pool that will seek to build on the approach of deploying resources that deal with the root causes of conflict rather simply applying military solutions to symptoms.  

While this is a welcome shift in strategy and an increase in funding, there are still concerns on the transparency and effectiveness of the money spent and conscience is currently working with DFID and the FCO to ensure that the CSSF is as successful as possible on launch.

After the summer the political conference season will be upon us and conscience will be seeking representation at the three main party conferences this autumn. We will be looking to promote our Peace Tax Bill which is to be read in Parliament in 2016.

We will be looking to develop relationships with the new intake of MPs and promote a peaceful shift in foreign policy towards more diplomatic and preventative solutions and looking at how peacebuilding organisations are working against terror threats and more conventional threats.

Finally we will be bringing together feedback from the party conferences and our public consultation to put together the final draft of the Peace Tax Bill to be presented before Parliament on the 100 year anniversary of the Military Services Act 1916 which brought in conscription in the UK and also gave Conscientious Objectors the legal right to refuse military service.  

This will send a powerful message to parliament that whilst we are free from bodily conscription, we are still conscripted financially into warfare through the tax system and this has always been and continues to remain unacceptable to people of conscience. 

That’s our plan for 2015 – thank you all for continuing to support us – if you’d like to get involved in our campaign feel free to get in contact at or if you like to join us at the people’s parliament get your free ticket here. 

Happy New Year and peace to all, from everyone at conscience.

Tuesday, 4 November 2014

You can’t ambush Ebola with a bullet

Since the Ebola outbreak, the major question has been how to stop the spread of the disease from causing any more havoc than it already has. Ravaged by civil war, tensions between ethnic, religious and tribal groups has blighted the international community’s efforts to contain the most deadly outbreak of the disease in human history. However, what has been ignored in all of this has been the work of peacebuilding in solving these conflicts and hence helping to solve the current Ebola crisis.

As the international community struggles to arrest the spread of the disease, the old ethno-political tensions that tore these countries apart threaten to do so again. At the turn of the century, the chronic civil wars across the border in Liberia and Sierra Leone led to refugees, rebels and further bloodshed to flood across the border into Guinea. Whilst there have been times of peace, civil war seems ready to return at any moment and internecine violence is still common throughout these countries.

Containing Ebola requires educating locals on how they can avoid the disease and reduce the chances of infection. This is a problem when large parts of the population are saying Ebola doesn’t exist and another part say it’s a conspiracy by the French government and mining companies. These conspiracy theories are so damaging that Médecins Sans Frontières medical staff were attacked by a mob in Guinea who blamed them for spreading the disease.

Peacebuilders in Liberia have already shown how they can help fight the disease and tackle misinformation. But if peacebuilding efforts had been properly funded and supported decades ago, these countries would be decades ahead of where they are now in their ability to deal with the outbreak. Medical treatment centres, hospitals, healthcare professionals, roads and a telecoms infrastructure that would have allowed quick and easy dissemination of information to stop the spread of the disease would have been in place. Instead, the international community is now having to play catch up by sending thousands of troops to try and stem the crisis.

Just one example of peacebuilders being effective at tackling Ebola are Liberia’s Pen-Pen drivers. They are motorcycle taxi drivers who are often former combatants who now educate locals on Ebola through loudspeakers and handing out thousands of factsheets. The public awareness campaign appears to be working. Not only are they disseminating accurate information about Ebola, they have set up hand-washing and sanitation stations and also reduce the risk of civil unrest against aid workers like those from Médecins Sans Frontières. The efforts of the Pen-Pen drivers is to be applauded. But they are stepping in to fix the international community’s lack of peacebuilding efforts in the country over the last few decades.

The damage done by the civil war is encapsulated in the story of former child soldier turned peacebuilder B. Abel Learwellie. Learwellie wanted to be a doctor as a child but had his life changed forever when he was captured and forced by a militia to fight for them. Many other would be doctors, nurses and healthcare workers have had their lives arrested and their potential careers destroyed by civil war. These are healthcare professionals now badly needed and which the international community is having to fill the gap. Had those thousands of healthcare workers been able to complete their training, Liberia, Guinea and Sierra Leone would have had the manpower to contain the crisis. As Learwellie says "You can’t ambush Ebola with any physical bullet".

The day will come when we will have to realise that prevention is better than cure. When we realise that building nations up via international aid and spending more on peacebuilding activities will, in the long term, not just save us money, but also save countless lives. Finding a more permanent solution to the problem of Ebola will be a result of supporting peacebuilders who will be able to build a more prosperous, stable and educated populace. A start would be funding peacebuilding projects through the UK Conflict Pool – a government mechanism put in place to prevent conflicts from flaring up again through non-violent means.

If we fail to do this, the next outbreak could be far worse than the one West Africans are having to suffer right now. Ebola does not respect national boundaries and it may not be confined to West Africa next time.

Thursday, 2 October 2014

Conscience in Conversation with John McDonnell MP - Paying Taxes With a Clear Conscience

On Monday the 29th of September our Campaign Manger Shaughan Dolan was in conversation with a long standing Conscience supporter John McDonnell MP. 

They discussed amongst many topics Conscientious Objection to Military Taxation, the recent bombing campaign in Iraq, peacebuilding and how people can get more involved in the work of Conscience.

The interview is below - thoughts and comments are most welcome.

Thursday, 11 September 2014

Conscience and Rotaract - Working Together to Build a More Peaceful World

conscience was proud to be drafted in as a policy expert for Rotaract Model United Nation on the 4-7th of September. Rotaract is the youth wing of Rotary International, a servicen organisation dedicated to making a difference in their communities.

With Participants from over 25 countries the conference was a massive success and brought insights from across the Americas, Asia and Europe. conscience was involved in the Peacebuilding Commission with our Campaign Manager advising the commission on  different approaches to conflict prevention also the different countries in which they might be effective and the role the governments and NGOs have in implementing them.
Shaughan Dolan with Peacebuilding Commission Chair Danai Beka and Secretary-General Adam McLaren
 The debate was vigorous and far ranging which included approaches in dealing with ending sexual violence in conflict, the proliferation of small arms and the recruitment of child soldiers. The commission after highlighting these key problems worked towards developing innovative solutions – using farming subsidies to incentivise opium farmers in Afghanistan to demilitarise, incorporating militia groups into state police and armed services to reduce instability and strengthening judicial systems to bring the perpetrators of sexual violence to justice.

This worked its way into becoming a resolution which was unanimously passed by the conference. This will now be presented by Rotary International to the United Nations Peacebuilding Commission in New York later this year. conscience is proud to help shape a document that will be presented to international decision makers.

Rotaract Model United Nations is only in its second year but is already a highly effective organisation securing representation at the UN, involving so many different countries and putting on such a professional conference. conscience sees tremendous potential in this effort to promote internationalism and peacebuilding amongst young professionals and hopes it will continue to grow.

conscience’s Campaign manager was the keynote speaker at the closing ceremony highlighting the success of the conference but also the challenges ahead too, telling MUN delegates:
Conscience Campaign Manager Shaughan Dolan Giving a Keynote Speech at the MUN Closing Ceremony

“War is a disease too - and in the 20th century it killed an estimated 187 million people. That’s more than smallpox, cholera and HIV AIDs combined. Since 1945, 90% of war deaths have been civilians. Despite this government efforts have been solely looking at treating the symptoms of warfare. In 2012-2013 the UK government spent 100 times more on military activity than it did on conflict prevention.

100 times. We think this an unbalanced approach. We think this an unsustainable approach. There is another way. Against this bleak backdrop enter conscience. We are campaigning to make peacebuilding front and centre of UK foreign policy. To show policy makers that prevention is better than war.”

conscience passionately believes that grassroots led organisations like Rotaract will be key in presenting an effective narrative around peacebuilding to decision makers across the world.

We hope this just the beginning of a future partnership with Rotaract and Rotary International and conscience wishes them the best in all of their future initiatives.

Monday, 11 August 2014

Britain Should Be Exporting Peace-- Not Arms

Saudi Arabia, Egypt, Bahrain, Russia.. these are some of the countries that continue to receive arms sales from the United Kingdom. With the breaking news that the UK has 250+ arms licenses with Russia still open, despite David Cameron’s claim that they were all closed, it’s now time once again to assess the ethically questionable nature of arms export.

In this case these licenses cover the sale of body armour, sniper rifles, and equipment for launching and controlling missiles, among other ammunition valued at a minimum of 132 million pounds which is ready for export to Moscow. This isn’t the first time the UK is under fire for their arms exports. Committees within the British parliament demanded clarification on 2004-2010 weapons licenses with Israel as well as with Syria in 2012.
The UK’s continued support of an arms trade with Israel has in part led senior Foreign Office minister Lady Warsi to resign, calling the way in which the UK approaches the Israeli-Palestinian conflict “morally indefensible”.

It’s difficult to imagine a country with as much colonial and capitalist history as Great Britain to function without exporting arms, but it’s a future that we must actively pursue. President of the Global Security Institute Jonathan Granoff says that first world powers need to face the very real, indisputable, twenty-first century reality that our security is interminably intertwined with everyone else's who shares our planet”. Compassion is a doing word. It cannot be an elementary idea tossed around a coffeehouse table but it must be a true and legislative action.

The UK has a bold opportunity to foster compassionate growth and turn it into decisive aid. The Conflict Pool [CP] is a funding mechanism for non-military conflict resolution and conflict prevention. The flexibility of the CP and its ability to respond quickly to escalating events makes it very effective in potentially hostile and unpredictable environments. Harnessing the power of the Conflict Pool would allow the UK to drop its inhumane and barbaric arms traditions for more peaceful and more effective solutions. UK governments alienation of compassionate peacebuilding has led to expensive nuclear hoarding programmes such as Trident. The UK has adopted a Cold War approach to military peacebuilding based on the imminent threat of nuclear devastation that no longer exists. This way of acting is abhorrently expensive with Trident nuclear missile costs reaching over £130 billion. Not only does the arms race cost a gross amount of money it is also utterly backwards thinking. It’s important to foster a nuanced and pragmatic approach that would allow the UK to blossom as a globally compassionate and humanist nation. Conflict Pool acknowledges that different countries have different problems that could escalate to conflict. We have seen success in different countries such as Sierra Leone, Yemen and Pakistan. The conflict pool has facilitated dialogues between the governments. In Yemen it has helped dissolve some of the tribal and ethnic conflicts that have happened between the groups that operate in that country. It has also worked hard to deliver an effective policing regarding the proliferation between small arms.

The Conflict Pool should be regarded as an opportunity to shift the focus of security from military security to non-military peacebuilding. Military peace building is simply not sustainable. Acting compassionately would allow the UK to ascend as a refreshed world power- one that exports peace, not arms.

Wednesday, 23 July 2014

Has America failed to learn the lessons of Afghanistan?

Last Thursday President Obama sent a request to congress to authorise $500 million to train and equip ‘moderate’ Syrian rebels.

The request is a significant development in US involvement in the Syrian civil war, which has already claimed an estimated 162,000 lives.


The funding request is part of the $1.5bn Regional Stabilisation initiative, established to provide assistance to Syria’s neighbours including Jordan and Iraq; where The Islamic State in Iraq and the Levant (Isis) last week claimed the establishment of a single Islamic state across territories in Jordan and Syria.

If approved, the funding will be a step closer to direct and public American intervention into the Syrian war. It has been reported that the CIA has been covertly training moderate rebels in Jordan, providing them with limited arms.

As yet however there is no detail given, regarding the targets of the training or the how the programme will work.

Undoubtedly the programme will face the same issues as those which have been encountered in the past. In Iraq and Afghanistan a lack of literacy among trainees became a barrier to the success of similar programmes, a problem especially prevalent in ‘training to train’ schemes

Crucially however, it is unclear how ‘moderate’ rebels will be selected and vetted to partake in the training. The wording is vague and the methods even more so. The CIA says it has been vetting those with whom they co-operate for a considerable length of time, however the methods and results of this process are yet to become apparent.

These arguments should be enough to second guess the chosen actions of the US government, however increasingly volatile and unpredictable situation in Syria has resulted in a separate wave of criticism against the proposed programme.

The Syrian opposition, in a moment of apparent internal political turmoil, fired its military council only to reinstate them shortly after. The actions, allegedly taken on the basis of corruption and a leadership struggle, cast further doubt over the reliability of those the US has chosen to support in the conflict.

History is not kind to American interventionism. In the 1980’s the US supported the Mujahedeen in Afghanistan, a decision for which it still receives criticism. The support provided is said to have influenced, and part-funded, Al Qaeda in the region. At the time, Pakistan’s head of state Benazir Bhutto, referring to Islamic extremism, told President George Bush Snr, "You are creating a Frankenstein."

However, in relation to Syria the concern about weapons falling into the wrong hands has apparently been disregarded a price worth paying. This is naive; the long lasting implications of stoking the fires of war are unpredictable and dangerous.

The situation in Syria in complex, volatile and carries huge significance both or the region and globally. The UN, in a number of diplomatic negotiations - most notably those led by Kofi Annan and Lakhdar Brahimi respectively, has failed. With no international mandate, America is once again going it alone to protect its own, but at what price for the rest?