On 31 October 2000, the United Nations Security Council passed Resolution 1325[i] on women, peace, and security, recognizing the role of women in peacemaking and peacebuilding, as well as mandating their meaningful inclusion in male-dominated spaces where peace and security decisions are made. It was a resolution to address the disproportionate impact of armed conflict on women and girls and to protect them from gender-based violence, including sexual violence, and include a gender lens in policy formulation and implementation.
However, as per UN Women, in peace processes between 1992 to 2019, women were only 13% of the negotiators, 6% mediators, and 6% of peace agreement signatories were women.[ii] The inclusion of gender equality provision in peace processes grew from 14% in 1995 to just 22% in 2019.[iii] These are very low numbers despite all the policy frameworks that are in place both at the national and international levels.
What is Preventing Women’s Participation in Peace Processes?
There are a number of conundrums in the peacemaking landscape that are preventing women from participating. The first challenge is determining the end goal of a peace process.[iv] Is the purpose to put an end to violence or to build sustainable peace? Research indicates that both mediators and belligerents tend to make a compromise between the short-term goal of ending violence and the long-term goal of achieving peace. Peace processes often prioritise the short-term goal of ending violence over a longer vision of building peace in the region. This argument feeds into the exclusion of women because it is the belligerents who are at the forefront fighting the war to end violence and that belligerents are hardly women.[v] However, if the goal of the process is long-term peacebuilding then it should be the people representing the diversity of society who have to be made part of it. This would also ensure the inclusion of diverse perspectives in the process.
The second issue is that the women’s priorities[vi] for peace are actually at odds with the dominant understanding of peace and security in the international system today. Women experience conflict differently from men. The majority of victims on the battlefield are men as they suffer from the direct effect of conflict. However, women are much more likely to die and suffer from the indirect effect of war after the conflict is over. The authors of Women and War: Power and Protection in the Twenty-First Century[vii] point out that the toll on women is disproportionately high once hostilities are over. However, the dominant understanding of peace is the end of battle-related deaths. It again brings back the debate on the short-term goal of ending the violence versus broader understanding of peace for women, which has to be not only about what is happening in terms of the direct effect of conflict but also what is happening in terms of indirect effect. Focusing more on the direct effects hampers the participation of women and the consideration of women’s security.
The third concern is the shifting landscape of the mediation processes. Today, there is a proliferation of mediation actors and very often the UN and some other organisations though have prioritised women in a number of their frameworks, are not acting as lead mediators in the process. So, very often with so many different organisations- Non-government or Government, sometimes countries take the lead. It, therefore, can make it difficult for those who are seeking to prioritise and implement frameworks to empower women to participate.
Much deeper, however, is the resistance to change. Societies will require to change their mindset on women. Traditionally allocated gender roles in society also impact women’s engagement and influence. Stereotypes about women must change.
Feminist scholars have been writing about the inclusion of gender considerations in Peace Processes. In her 1990 book Bananas, Beaches, and Bases, Cynthia Enlow[viii] argues that international relations should be seen through a “gendered lens,” but that this isn’t done because it undermines existing power structures.
Why should women be included in peace processes?
Taking into account women’s perspective, in reality, is a conflict between effectiveness and normativeness.[ix] A report titled “Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes” published by the International Institute of Peace, suggests that when women’s groups under two conditions; their visible presence in delegations, consultative forums, etc, and they have influence, statistically the likelihood of agreements being implemented for a longer time period to establish durable and sustainable peace is much more when women are involved as compared to not involving them.
The graph below shows women’s participation and peace agreement duration.
However, mere presence at the table or the mediation setup is not enough. Take for instance the case of Afghanistan; despite the many symbolic reservations for women[x], they are yet to embrace a new era. They have been unable to put their issues on the agenda. The same goes for Yemen’s National Committee on Women. They too have not been able to put their issues on the table. On the other hand, consider the examples of peace initiatives in Liberia, Northern Island, or Kenya, where Women’s groups were extremely active in putting their issues and viewpoints across[xi]. In fact, in Kenya Women groups have put land rights and power-sharing issues to the agenda, which is the core issue of the conflict in the region.
The idea that a woman can successfully negotiate between hostile men in armed groups can be understood from the role of the Philippine’s Office of the Presidential Adviser on the Peace Process. Two recent peace processes took place in the Philippines.[xii] Both the processes; first, between the Government and the National Democratic Front (NDF) signing the Oslo Joint Statement in 2011.[xiii] The Second process between the Government and the Philippine Moro Islamic Liberation Front (MILF) resulted in a major peace agreement in March 2014. Throughout these two processes, the office was led by a woman. Miriam Coronel-Ferrer was appointed to oversee peace talks with the insurgent Moro Islamic Liberation Front, making her the first woman chief negotiator to sign a peace agreement with a rebel organisation[xiv].
Both the processes witnessed record levels of women’s participation in negotiations. However, the quality of their participation varied. In the first process, Women were 50% of the Government’s negotiation team and 26% of the signatories.[xv] In the second process, Women were 35% of the delegates to the process and 33% of the signatories.[xvi] Baldly stating, broad participation of women has a direct impact on the final outcome. However, a deeper analysis of these two processes reflects a varied influence of women. In the 2011 Oslo Joint Statement, there was no selection process to appoint delegates. Many women who got to the table were wives and relatives of political leaders, which undercut the independence and ability of women to voice their own unique perspectives. Therefore, numbers do not automatically equal meaningful participation. A legitimate representation is the result of women’s rootedness in their wider networks, such as civil society organisations, political groups, or social groups. This highlights the importance of a credible selection process. There can be elections, for example, the Northern Island. There could be publicly informed consultations and nominations. The most important thing that should be the process is that it should be transparent and participatory.
What is the “additional value” that women bring to the table?
Apart from the positive results that their presence tend to give out, women have some unique skill set that makes their involvement crucial. Women account for at least half of the world’s population; hence they are not a minority. When it comes to involving more women in peace processes, however, there is frequently a slew of issues that all boil down to one central question: “why women?” Women’s participation in peace talks and their effect on them do not follow simple logic. Women, according to advocates of more female representation, are critical to peace processes because they bring a more holistic peace plan to the negotiation table by addressing societal issues rather than focusing simply on what would make the warring parties happy. Women are more likely than men to bring up gender concerns, bring up other war experiences, and establish alternative goals for peacebuilding and rehabilitation. Women’s strategies include working with elders, commanders, and warlords on the ground to push for clemency and negotiate solutions.[xvii] In general, women use all of their resources to exert influence on peace processes, such as hosting prayer meetings, marches, and vigils, and distributing anti-violence petitions. For example, in Somalia, women used their traditional poetry skills to persuade male elders and political negotiators to reconcile. Women’s objectives in peacebuilding have been to better society as a whole as well as women’s status within it. They have always seen these two objectives as inextricably linked.
There is a perception within conflicting parties that women’s involvement does not align with the ultimate goal of a peace process that is reaching an agreement. This perception is a result of the traditional male dominance in such processes. The evidence provided in this article suggests that women’s participation increases the likelihood that an agreement will be reached. With conflicts and humanitarian crises becoming more complicated, violent, and protracted, and as new dangers emerge, like the COVID-19 pandemic, women’s leadership is more important than ever. It is critical to create conditions to help women make their voices heard. Stronger legislations could facilitate women’s mandatory representation in all forums and places of decision making.
[i] Landmark resolution on Women, Peace and Security. Office of the Special Adviser on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women (OSAGI). Accessed on 02 January 2022. https://www.un.org/womenwatch/osagi/wps/
[ii] Women, peace and security annual report 2019–2020. UN Women. Accessed on 07 January 2021. https://www.unwomen.org/en/digital-library/publications/2020/10/women-peace-and-security-annual-report-2019-2020
[iv] Reimagining Peacemaking: Women’s Roles in Peace Processes. International Peace Institute. Accessed on 12 January 2022. https://www.ipinst.org/wp-content/uploads/2015/06/IPI-E-pub-Reimagining-Peacemaking.pdf
[vii]Gender, War and Peace Building. United States Institute for Peace. Accessed on 19 January 2022. https://www.usip.org/sites/default/files/files/NPECSG12.pdf
[viii] Women, Peace and Security: Moving Implementation Forward. War on the Rocks. Accessed on 15 February 2022. https://warontherocks.com/2021/07/women-peace-and-security-moving-implementation-forward/
[x]Women, War and Peace: The Independent Experts’ Assessment on the Impact of Armed Conflict on Women and Women’s Role in Peace-building. United Nations Development Fund for Women (UNIFEM). Accessed on 18 February 2022.https://www.unfpa.org/sites/default/files/pub-pdf/3F71081FF391653DC1256C69003170E9-unicef-WomenWarPeace.pdf
[xi]Making Women Count – Not Just Counting Women: Assessing Women’s Inclusion and Influence on Peace Negotiations. UN Women. Accessed on 10 January 2021.https://www.peacewomen.org/sites/default/files/Making%20Women%20Count%20Not%20Just%20Counting%20Women.pdf
[xii] The Philippine peace process has transformed more than 15,000 lives. Office of the Presidential Adviser on Peace Process (OPAPP). Accessed on 16 January 2021.https://peace.gov.ph/2020/07/philippine-peace-process-has-transformed-more-than-15000-lives/
[xiii] Peace Agreements Database. University of Edinburgh. Accessed on 20 January 2021.https://www.peaceagreements.org/wview/99/Oslo%20Joint%20Statement
[xiv] Pragati KB.. By denying women justice and equal opportunity. The Hindu. Accessed on 24 November 2021. https://www.thehindu.com/society/by-denying-women-justice-and-equal-opportunity-india-falls-far-short-of-the-uns-women-peace-and-security-agenda/article37706278.ece
[xvii]Accord Insight: Women Building Peace. Conciliation Resources. Accessed on 19 February 2022.https://rc-services-assets.s3.eu-west-1.amazonaws.com/s3fs-public/Women_building_peace_Accord_Insight_1.pdf