Women Are The Key To Unlocking Peace

The adoption of UN Security Resolution 1325 was supposed to be a turning point for women as it affirmed that women hold a unique experience during and after times of conflict. The resolution called for the strengthening of women’s and girls’ protection from conflict-related sexual violence and women’s equal participation in all stages of the prevention and resolution of conflict. However, 19 years on, women are still struggling to gain equal representation in all stages of the prevention and conclusions of conflicts. Yet, significant research provided by the Council of Foreign Relations has shown that when women are involved in peace negotiations those negotiations and agreements are 64% less likely to fail and are 35% more likely to last at least 15 years. Therefore, changes need to be made to ensure that the inclusion of women in peace negotiations is no longer the exception but the norm.

According to the Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security, as of 2015 women made up only 2% of mediators, 5% of witnesses and signatories and 8% of negotiators within peace processes. However, that is not to say that women have been passive observers of men’s efforts of conflict resolution. Rather, women are often engaged in what negotiators have termed ‘Track II’ processes. These efforts often accompany formal peace negotiations (Track I), however, they are more informal in nature. An example of this can be seen in Liberia in 2003. Following the civil war, the 2003 Accra Peace Agreement was signed, but there was no female representation amongst negotiators or mediators involved in the formal processes. Rather, women in civil society such as Leymah Gbowee and The Women of Liberia Mass Action for Peace led campaigns which were instrumental in demanding formal talks, holding belligerents accountable to negotiation timetables, mobilizing national support for the process and facilitating the disarmament of former combatants. Thus, women have to push harder and with louder voices to have their views represented at all in these negotiations, and even to have their own perspectives of conflict heard.

Conflict completely changes the role of women in their families, the community and in the public domain. It pushes women into unconventional roles such as becoming the household heads and breadwinners as it becomes their job to take over the activities that have traditionally been carried out by men. Women become responsible for earning a livelihood and supporting their families financially, often by working the land. This is often difficult in many societies where rights to inherit land from deceased male relatives are lacking or ignored. In Bosnia-Herzegovina, women, particularly widows, were disadvantaged by gender-blind domestic laws and property rights, in which men are considered the primary owners of the land. Hence, the denial of women’s voices in peace negotiations denies the unique circumstances they are faced with post-conflict. The intention of resolution 1325 was to highlight this and enrich the methods of peace-building through the inclusion of the neglected. It was also aimed at empowering women post-conflict as they tread into these often new and unconventional roles. However, the reality of the matter is that little has changed. Women continue to work harder to have their views represented. Consequently, it is essential to connect the formal and informal tracks to ensure that the voices of women are heard. This relies on the mediator in peace negotiations to have a rounded view and ensure that a balanced perspective is being provided at every stage of the negotiating process.

For women to succeed in general—but also within this field—, there has to be a levelling of the gender disparity. Various sources including the World Bank have stated that higher levels of gender equality are associated with a lower propensity for conflict both between and within states.  Therefore, for women to find solutions to their communities’ problems they require access to education, yet parts of the world continue to deny this. Afghanistan’s female literacy rate currently stands at 18%. Yet, the participation of women is crucial not only to protect their rights but also for a successful peace process to occur. For without the inclusion of women, the amount of gender-sensitive language that is then provided is limited. Gender-sensitive language is often critical in setting a foundation for gender inclusion during the peace-building phase. Data has shown that a downward trend has persisted in this case since 2015. Only 27% or only three out of eleven peace agreements signed in 2017 contained gender-responsive provisions. Similarly, the language should not only be inclusive of gender but of all religious and ethnic groups that are affected by conflict. The inclusion of women envisages more cases of women working collaboratively with other diverse minority groups; for example, Israeli and Palestinian women have for many years created coalitions across national, ethnic, and religious lines to lead nonviolent efforts to promote security and access to basic services. Similarly, the women’s advisory board to Syrian negotiations includes many members from a range of religious, ethnic and political backgrounds whilst continuing to find consensus on many contentious issues. Research provided by the Council of Foreign Relations suggests that this approach incorporates the concerns of diverse demographics which are affected by conflict and have an interest in its resolution. This increases the prospects of long-term stability and reduces the likelihood of state failure, conflict onset, and poverty. Furthermore, it demonstrates how women are capable of gaining access to critical information that may otherwise be overlooked. Therefore, higher levels of gender equality need to be achieved for women to have a seat at the formal negotiating table for without these skills a long-lasting peace cannot be achieved.

But progress is happening. Ivanka Trump, in a roundtable discussion with lawmakers from both parties, recently called for more women to be involved in conflict management, negotiation and resolution around the world. She has announced that the administration has hired a Director of International Organizations to work on a strategy for the National Security Council. Furthermore, she stated that new metrics would be announced in the next 90 days to track progress from various development agencies. If the U.S. commits to improving the gender disparity within peace negotiations then perhaps other nations will take notice.

Nonetheless, more still needs to be done. Supporting civil society should be a necessity, therefore, providing grants which have requirements to include UNSCR 1325 would be facilitative of peace-building. Similarly, it would fund the meaningful work of women’s grassroots movements globally. Alongside this, international organizations should nominate and include more women as mediators. A simple change in selection criteria to prioritize experience and skills over prestige would allow for more women to participate.

Research has proven that the inclusion of women is a necessity for a more peaceful and stable world. The gender divide needs to be closed and education offered for women in order to have their voices heard and their experiences understood. For ignoring the other 50% of the world is proving that it offers more harm than good. Now it just needs to be taken in to practice so nations can begin to heal and benefit from the involvement of women.

Isha Tembe