Global Human Rights Defence

The Importance and Limitation of Women’s Role in the Peace-building Process

The Importance and Limitation of Women's Role in the Peace-building Process
Illustrations by center almasdary for thought, source: ayyamsyria.net, 2021

Author: Linda Osman

Department: Women’s Rights Team

Introduction

The international community has tried hard to include women in the political process of their societies, especially in the aftermath of civil wars and violent conflict. The United Nations, for example, has set “a range of measures targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels of conflict management and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development” (United Nations, 2021). Resolutions 1325 and 1889 of the Security Council links the international society and the importance of including women in both the formal and informal peace processes. The informal process includes the activities and negotiations taken by the participants in the conflict, world governments and the international organisations, whilst the informal peace process includes all peace activities that have taken place outside the formal negotiation process (Mason, 2009).

The first attempt to include women in the peace-building process was Resolution 1324 of the Security Council (2000), which stressed the importance of social inclusion of women in the formal peace process through three pillars. Pillar One highlights the importance of women’s participation in all the phases and levels of decision-making to build a sustainable peace process and increase participation. Pillar Two necessitates the inclusion of women as representatives and decision makers across all institutions. Pillar Three offers mechanisms and indicators for conflict resolutions in terms of protecting women’s political, economic, and social rights, specifically during conflict (Ackhurst, 2014). The second attempt to better include women is reflected by Resolution 1889 of the Security Council (2009), which re-emphasised the necessity of the equal representation of women in the informal peace building process because of the importance of their role (UN Women, 2021).

However, despite these efforts, women still suffer from marginalisation and exclusion from participating in the peace-building process, especially in the countries of the Global South (UN Women, 2021). This paper will first discuss the importance of women’s role in the peacebuilding process. It will then go on to discuss the obstacles in place which hinder this participation.

 

The Importance of Women’s Role in the Peace-building Process

Women are usually the direct victims of the violence occurring during civil war and conflict, thus, their participation in the following peacebuilding process is very important. The following section explains further why the inclusion of women is essential.

 

  Women are direct victims of conflict

     A study conducted by Diaz and Tordjman, on women’s participation in peace negotiations in Zimbabwe, Congo, and Nepal has emphasised the relationship between building sustainable peace within societies in the Global South and the effective role of women in terms of participation (Diaz, et al, 2021). The same studies have emphasised that although women are less likely to become part of the fighting groups engaged in civil wars, they are usually the direct victims of these conflicts. Women are mainly prone to becoming directly involved in the conflict when it becomes centered around sexual violence, which is a tactic used by fighting groups to humiliate their enemies. For instance, Yezidis women in Northern Iraq were the victims of sexual violence; they were sold as slaves, raped, and forced to change their religion. In Sierra Leone, 49 percent of the displaced women during the civil war were victims of sexual violence. In the Rwandan genocide of 1994,  between 250,000 and 500,000 women were raped (Klein, 2012). Other threats to women during conflict include injury, death, loss of family members, displacement and the deprivation of health care, education, and employment.One of the reasons for the women suffering in their societies during conflict is the loss of their economic resources and the scarcity in resources which may lead women to take up illegal work such as adultery. The effect of extremist groups in increasing violence against women and the violation of their rights is another threat that women face in these societies (Klein, 2012).

 

 Exclusion of Women in terms of Gender Inequality

Women are excluded from societal participation and in the participation to achieve peace in their societies. Although women in most countries of the world make up at least 50 percent of the population, they are less represented politically and economically in their societies, especially in      developing nations (Fox, 2004). There are few women who participated in all the phases of the conflict resolution process. According to O’reilly (2020), women made up only two percent of the mediators and nine percent of the negotiators in the peace building process during the period from 1992 to 2011. In the aftermath of the Bosnian war, for instance, women were deprived from participation in the Dayton negotiations and only one woman participated in the Kosovo negotiations in 1999 (Porter, 2008). A study undertaken in 2008 found that in 33 peace negotiations only 4 percent of the negotiators were women (Democratic Progress Institutions, 2014). Gender equality and participation of women is important not only because of the percentage of women to the population in their societies, but also because gender inequality may lead to internal conflict, or it may further hinder conflict resolution. (Capriole, 2005). Moreover, scholars believe that ensuring gender equality in participation in the peace process will lead to the spread of the values of tolerance, respect, and equality, which are all essential  to achieving peace.(O’reilly, 2020, Capriole, 2005).

 

  Recognising the Increasing Chances of Reaching Agreements: Through the Engagement of Women

Women are often more capable than men in dealing with conflicts because fighting groups do not suspect the intention of women who are engaged in resolving the conflict. Additionally,  they have the ability to facilitate the difficulties that come along with the negotiation process because women are more capable than men in building coalition between diverse groups (Domingo, et al 2012). For example, a study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries between 1989 and 2014 showed that when women are engaged in the peace process it was easier to reach an agreement than in a negotiation that does not include women. Other studies showed that when women participate effectively in the negotiation process there is a high possibility that the peace agreements will last for at least two years (Barsa, 2015). In Sri Lanka, for example, when talks were foundering and leaders of the Liberation Tigers of Tamil Elam refused the negotiation with the government, the activist Visaka Dharmadasa, the founder of Parents of Servicemen Missing in Action and the Association of War-Affected Women, was chosen to be a messenger between the Tamil and the government (Zelizer, 2013).

Women are usually more capable than men in using nonviolent methods to solve the internal conflict. Indeed,there are countless examples of women who are active in civil society and in adopting effective non-violent methods based on building cooperation and trust among the fighting groups. For example, Mossarat Qadeem from Pakistan is a good example of the success women can achieve in reaching agreements with extremists through the cooperation with the legislature and the religious leaders and speaking to young males in schools and spreading awareness  about the lies of the extremist group. This was also done through her civil society organisation PAIMAN Alumni Trust, where she trained almost 1000 mothers and made them capable to avoid the radicalisation of 1024 young men and helped them to reintegrate into society (Domingo, et al 2012).

Women are not only more capable than men in reaching peace agreements, but they are also more capable in lessening further conflicts because they play many roles during the participation in conflict, such as monitoring the cease fire, facilitating human aid activities, mediation activities , and addressing issues that have been neglected by the male negotiators (O’reilly, 2020). All these activities will lessen the intensity of conflicts and increase the possibility of peace. This is what happened in Sudan when female delegates to the Darfur Peace Agreement pushed for achieving peace and addressed the issues that had been neglected before such as displaced persons, refugees, food security and gender-based violence (Page et al, 2019).

 

Obstacles to women’s participation in the peace-building process

Although the Security Council Resolution 1325 attempted to improve the percentage of women in the peace-building process by urging governments all over the world to take all the needed measures to implement the Resolution by implementing it in their national legislation, only partial and slow progress has been achieved regarding female participation in the peace process in countries of the Global South (UN Women, 2021).  The following part of the paper will explain the factors which hinder female participation in the peace-making process.

 

 Cultural factors

Most of the developing countries could be described as societies with a patriarchal culture which positions women  lower than men in society(Welby, 1997). The patriarchal cultures include the subordination of women, which means the humble situation of women and their limited access to economic and political resources. In other words, it entails the powerlessness of women and discrimination against them. Subordination of women means that men dominate women because they view women differently than men, and this makes them always dependent on men (Sultana, 2012).

The patriarchal culture also plays an important role in preventing women from participating in the peace-building process. One of the obstacles that this culture creates is the difficulty to balance between a woman’s duties towards her family and her effective engagement in the peace process activities. Women in traditional societies are seen as responsible for running the household and raising ther children because, according to the norms and values of the patriarchal culture, the only accepted role of women is to be mothers and wives. This leaves little time for women to participate in politics or in the peace-building process (Bari, 2005). The patriarchal culture is the main obstacle to female political participation and its role during conflicts. Usually, their family will refuse their participation in the activities to end the conflict because they include a high degree of uncertainty and because of the risk that women could become victims of the violence. Subordination of women will affect women by depriving them of the experience they need to be able to participate in the activities that aim to end violence, especially in decision-making and leadership positions. Women in traditional societies are usually marginalised and also lack the societal support and acceptance of their efforts and participation in the peace-building activities. The patriarchal system of leadership still refuses to accept women as leaders and will face the idea with hostility. The marginalisation of women in political leadership and their continued exclusion from decision making positions make lots of women doubt  their abilities and prevent them from participation in any political activities (Potter, 2008).

 

Political factors

In  developing countries, if women want to participate in politics and the peace-building process, they should do so through political parties. However, usually political parties prefer men over women in their activities because they believe that the men are more capable than women in the political arena. They also do not prefer to choose women over men because of the cultural constraints that believe in the physical and mental superiority of men over women (Bell, C. et al 2012). Many women did not have the chance to participate in peace negotiation unless they participated through political parties. For example in Somalia, women were excluded from the official peace negotiations in 2002 regardless of their participation in informal activities in promoting peace. As a result, women formed the six clan’s alliance that succeeded in merging the Somalian division, and in addition, they participated in the Somali Peace and Reconciliation Conference in Djibouti (Karuru, 2001). One of the reasons that make the political parties to exclude women is due to their lack of experience in participating in the peace-building process (Bell, C. et al 2012).

During conflicts, the national and international actors concentrate in ending the conflict and this usually means sacrificing other issues like women’s rights and gender discrimination. Although it is very important to address women’s rights issues and equal citizenship during the negotiations to establish the new political system and to increase the legitimacy of the new system, but, usually the negotiations lack attention given to the role and rights of women. These negotiations do not offer any plans to improve women’s situation or to promote women’s empowerment and equality in post conflict societies (Bell, C. et al 2012).   One of the solutions to overcome obstacles hindering women’s political participation developing countries is the ability of officials to design inclusive frameworks to engage women in peace building processes as negotiators, advisors, consultants and observers within formal delegations, this framework should encourage the influential participation of women to achieve their equal participation. The political and legislative support in post conflict societies is one of the most important steps to increase female empowerment and gender inequality through institutionalising the required methods to achieve the inclusion of women in politics and in activities involved in ending the conflicts and achieving peace (Bell, C. et al 2012).

 

 Economic factors

      In most of the developing countries women are deprived from equal access to economic resources such as credit and land; limited co-ownership of small and medium enterprises and low access to technology. The percentage of women in the work force all over the world is increasing, but still this does not change their situation or end the economic discrimination against them. Women still suffer from marginalisation in the economic sphere and the lack of training and education opportunities which deprive  them from economic empowerment. Women in developing countries, due to the lack of economic empowerment, suffer from poverty which limits their choices. For example,  the preliminary elections in many of the independent countries’ elections, became a chance to help women get money to feed their children. As a result, women will vote for the candidate who will pay them more and not necessarily in their best political interest (Diaz, et al. 2021).

The patriarchal culture that dominates  developing societies play an important role in creating economic discrimination. Within this culture property in most cases belongs to men, and women will be denied of this right. Women are also assigned to specific jobs such as teaching or working in the public sector with low wages (Diaz, et al. 2021). Many women are less economically secure than men as a result of many factors such as low rates of education and working in the informal sector. In Egypt for instance, 46 percent of all working women have vulnerable or informal jobs, compared with 21.3 percent of men. In addition, women who are working in this sector are paid less than men who are working in similar jobs in this sector (O’reilly, 2020). Moreover, women in developing countries are different from men in their attitudes towards entrepreneurship. Most women do not have the courage or the trust in their capabilities, and they fear failure in this field which keeps them away from entering the business world. Poverty and unemployment in developing countries increased women’s dependency on men and hinder their political participation.

Lack of economic security is one of the reasons that hinders women’s participation in the peace-building process. For example, in northern Uganda women participated in rebuilding their societies after war but they could not increase their participation due  to their poverty and their dependence on men to fulfil their own and their kid’s needs. This poor participation led to the marginalisation of women and their concerns like sexual violence and the absence of promoting economic equality plans (Diaz, et al. 2021).

Economic inequality and the disadvantaged socio-economic circumstances affected women’s ability to participate in the peace building process. With limited access to economic resources, financial constraints, lesser earning compared to men and division of labor on sex classification, women do not find time or effort to participate in politics or in conflict resolution. The economic inequality affects women’s participation negatively and prevents them from reaching leadership positions in peace activities. This will further keep them marginalised without any real participation in building their societies after conflict and this will lead to more exclusion of women in the political system (Diaz, et al. 2021).

 

Conclusion

The peace-building process guarantees the stability of countries that have suffered for long periods of war. However, for this process to succeed, all segments of society must participate. Women, who usually suffer from marginalisation and exclusion from political participation in developing  countries, should play an integral part in the peace-building process. 

Despite the importance of the role that women play, there are many cultural, political, and economic factors that still play a role in excluding women from participating in this process, which needs urgent solutions to ensure societies achieve lasting peace. These solutions are political solutions represented in legislation and the allocation of percentages for women’s participation in the peace process, especially in leadership positions. They also include economic solutions and an increase in financial resources, thus enabling women to participate effectively. These solutions also require that countries make efforts to change the societal view that rejects women’s participation in the public sphere and try to create a culture that encourages and neutralises women’s political work.

 

References:

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