By Angelina Kaneva
International Women's Initiative Staff Writer
Where are the female peace-builders?
As Syria and its neighbors continue to be blighted by conflict, forcing millions of civilians to flee for their lives, many Western countries are dealing with heightened anti-refugee rhetoric while their governments introduce greater restrictions to asylum and contemplate military action. Amid these developments, where are the women in negotiation talks?
While stories of Syrian, Afghan and Iraqi women do, in fact, get significant media coverage, these women are almost exclusively portrayed as the casualties of war or as the displaced and distraught survivors fleeing with their children. We do not see them at command centers, peacekeeping missions, or any other places where solutions are being debated at the highest levels. In these forums, women are largely, and noticeably, absent.
How has the international community addressed this gap?
In 2000, the UN Security Council called upon countries “to increase representation of women at all decision-making levels” through the adoption of Resolution 1325, which was the first international instrument to recognise the essential role of women in the prevention and resolution of conflicts, as well as in peace negotiations, peace-building, peacekeeping, humanitarian response and post-conflict reconstruction.
Fifteen years on, however, this rhetoric seems to have failed to keep pace with reality. Progress in fulfilling the UN agenda on women, peace and security has been too slow and sporadic. A UN study of 31 major peace negotiations between 1992 and 2011 showed that less than 4% of signatories to peace agreements and less than 10% of negotiators at peace talks were women. More recently, not a single Afghan woman was found to have taken part in peace talks with the Taliban. These statistics highlight the disturbing gap between the spirit of countless regional and international commitments and the reality of peace processes.
Despite a few recent steps towards gender parity in this area, as part of which 49 states published National Action Plans to encourage women’s inclusion and protection, barriers to their equal participation and fuller involvement in the maintenance and promotion of sustainable peace still exist.
Why is women’s involvement in peace processes so important?
Violent conflicts often have a disproportionate impact on women and girls, who are at greater risk of sexual assault, exploitation, trafficking, and early and forced marriage. Against this backdrop of heightened vulnerability, attempts to tackle these issues are bound to be self-limiting and result in gender-blind agreements unless women’s perspectives are properly integrated into efforts to prevent and recover from conflicts.
Advocates for greater female representation in peace talks point out that women can help to shape more comprehensive peace plans by addressing societal needs rather than focusing solely on satisfying the warring parties.
Sadly though, the message of women as active agents of change in peace and security has been largely lost in the 13 years since the adoption of Resolution 1325. Their roles in these discussions have been largely confined to what are typically seen as “women’s issues” such as the prevention of gender-based violence; rarely are women included in more comprehensive efforts at conflict prevention and resolution.
Laurel Stone’s analysis of data on Uppsala’s Peace Agreements argues that “women do have a positive and significant impact on peace, as encouraging their participation increases the probability of violence ending within a year by 24%.” However, she also mentions that including women from outside the conflict, such as representatives from the UN or the African Union, does not necessarily result in more durable peace. Rather, local women – those most immediately affected by the conflict – are the ones whose presence at the negotiating table is vital.
What can be done to achieve gender equality in peace processes?
Since the meaningful integration of gender in peace processes necessarily involves the inclusion of local women most directly affected by conflict, one way for the international community to encourage female participation is to invest greater resources in building the leadership capacity of women residing in conflict zones. Institutionalising gender equality by ensuring local women’s participation in the creation and implementation of peace plans and establishing electoral quotas for women can increase the likelihood of quicker conflict resolution and lasting peace.
Only through more inclusive policies that encourage female participation can the international community fully appreciate the vital role women occupy in conflict resolution. Building meaningful representation in the form of local female leadership is a key ingredient in creating the conditions for peaceful societies.