National Councillor Margret Kiener Nellen has championed women’s rights in international forums, the IPU Bureau of Women Parliamentarians and as president of the Swiss delegation to the OSCE PA. She has in particular highlighted the plight of women from war-torn areas, such as Donbass.

​Providing a voice for women

Margret Kiener Nellen was elected to the National Council in 2003 on the socialist ticket of the canton of Bern, and joined the Parliamentary Assembly of the Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe (OSCE PA) in 2013. The beginning of her mandate coincided with the annual session of the Assembly in Istanbul, which addressed proposed reforms to the OSCE. She was involved in efforts by the Swiss delegation to resolve tensions between the Parliamentary Assembly and the Office for Democratic Institutions and Human Rights, an OSCE body based in Warsaw.

When she became president of the Swiss delegation in 2017, Ms Kiener Nellen was ensured a voice in international conferences to advance the issues she considers to be priorities, particularly the cause of women. She recalls the UN Security Council Resolution 1325 ‘Women, peace and security: No peace without women’, which stresses that the success of any peace process hinges on gender equality and that women’s leadership is a fundamental step in conflict prevention.

Based on the experience of her missions in Ukraine, National Councillor Margret Kiener Nellen provides an alarming account of the miserable situation of women and children in Donbass, in the east of Ukraine.

Ms Kiener Nellen travelled to Donbass five times between December 2018 and July 2019: twice as the chair of the OSCE Parliamentary Assembly’s Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions; and three times as an election observer. She met with many local mayors and heard first-hand testimonies.

There is widespread damage to infrastructure; people who live there risk their lives every time they step out the door. Even funerals are shelled, says Ms Kiener Nellen. To spruce up homes damaged by gunfire, people replace broken windows with clear plastic sheeting on which they paint fake window frames.

The situation of women is especially difficult because men are away fighting or have fled to avoid recruitment into the armed forces.

The taboo of prostitution in war zones

Prostitution in villages in war zones is a taboo in Ukraine. This affords impunity to perpetrators of sexual abuse and violence, reports the president of the Swiss delegation. One of the roles of special missions is to listen to women and children.

«I have been approached by a network of women from the Mariupol region seeking to contact western networks to bring books into the conflict area.»

A report with an impact

The mission report of the Committee on Democracy, Human Rights and Humanitarian Questions chaired by Margret Kiener Nellen was welcomed by both the Russian Federation and Ukraine. Ms Kiener Nellen hopes that the investigations into the deadly violence in Kiev’s Maidan Square and in Odessa will be concluded and that the victims of these crimes will obtain justice.

Ms Kiener Nellen welcomes that fact, that following this report, progress is being made in demining the frontline crossing in the Lugansk region and that engineers have been contracted to rebuild the region’s only bridge. A temporary crossing point has been opened to the public. Elderly persons no longer have to risk their lives to get their old-age pension on the other side.

Ms Kiener Nellen also sees signs of hope in the fact that the exchange of prisoners between Ukraine and Russia is being speeded up. The Ukrainian sailors taken prisoner during the naval confrontation in the Kerch Strait have now been released. Ukraine has also pledged to improve its legislation on social rights.

A far-reaching strike

The Women’s Strike of14 June raised international public awareness of the gender inequalities that persist in Switzerland, says National Councillor Margret Kiener Nellen, who is also a member of the Bureau of Women Parliamentarians of the Inter-Parliamentary Union (IPU). Women in Switzerland did not get the vote in federal elections until 1971; its lag in respect of gender equality seems anachronistic in a modern democracy. Women in other countries have been inspired by the Swiss Women’s Strike, which was held in different locations at the same time, Ms Kiener Nellen added.

The new parliament elected on 20 October pushed the Federal Assembly about fifteen places up the IPU’s gender parity ranking. However, there is still some way to go to ensure that men and women have the same number of seats in the federal parliament and that sexual harassment and other violence against women are eliminated, remarks Ms Kiener Nellen, who will leave the Federal Assembly at the beginning of December 2019.

Pour le travail au sein de l’AP OSCE, voir également: Des Suisses pour la sécurité en Europe, sur ParlBlog