International peace processes are dominated by men and men’s perspectives. In general the approaches used have changed little in many decades. The focus is invariably on bringing the conflicting parties to the negotiating table, where their claims to power and strategic positions are renegotiated and defined.
Amnesties for brutal attacks on civilian populations have been the rule rather than the exception, conveying a message that the route to power is through the actual or threatened use of armed force. People who distance themselves from the use of violence and endeavour to find alternative approaches to conflict resolution are seldom invited to participate in formal peace negotiations. Currently however more and more people are calling for new thinking about approaches to international peacemaking. At a minimum we need seriously to consider the potential benefits of involving more women in peace processes.
This week PRIO will play a central role in two important meetings that both aim to increase women’s participation in peace processes. One of these meetings convenes an impressive group of leading negotiators from the UN and other international organisations. They will meet in Oslo on 18-20 November to discuss strategies and measures to increase the proportion of women involved in peace mediation and ensure that women’s rights are addressed in ceasefire and peace agreements. The seminar is the fourth in a series of six, all of which have been organized collaboratively by PRIO, the UN Department of Political Affairs (UN DPA) and the Finnish Crisis Management Initiative (CMI).
Also in Oslo, on Sunday 24 November, leading Afghan women’s rights activists will meet representatives of their own government and international organizations in order to prepare an agenda for securing women’s rights over the next 10 years. The High Level Oslo Symposium on Women’s Rights and Empowerment in Afghanistan is being hosted by the Norwegian Ministry of Foreign Affairs in cooperation with the Afghan and US authorities, PRIO, the Afghan Women’s Network, and Georgetown University. After 13 years of targeted measures to strengthen women’s rights and position in Afghan society, it is time to take stock. What has been achieved? And what is the way forward for women’s participation in the Afghan peace process?
Will more women lead to sustained peace?
People often ask whether we have evidence that peace processes are more sustainable if women are involved. The answer is no, we do not. Mainly this is because there have been few examples of peace processes in which women have been significantly represented and played an important role. But the fundamental question is not whether we have “evidence”. The right to participate and be represented is fundamental, but the fact that women possess this right on a par with men is systematically ignored. What research does show however is a strong relationship between a country’s economic growth and political stability, and the societal position of women. Accordingly there is every reason to believe that peace will be more sustainable in countries that have recently emerged from war if women are more actively integrated into peacebuilding efforts.
In peace mediation men tend to focus on political powersharing and access and control over important sources of revenue, power and influence, such as natural resources. Where women have played a key role in peace processes, we see that their priorities for peace are different to those of men. Women attach greater importance to the needs for reconciliation, education and primary health services. They also prioritize reforms in the justice sector that may tend to make peace more enduring. Women are interested in reforms that secure them the right to inherit land and property. Also high on women’s agendas are measures to fight impunity for conflict-related sexual violence.
Over the past five to 10 years, an increasing amount of documentation has suggested that women are the foremost exponents of alternative approaches to conflict resolution. Although these studies involve different types of conflict situations, and systematic analysis remains insufficient, some interesting patterns and common characteristics do appear to have emerged. In particular, women are often directly involved in negotiations at the local level and tend to organize themselves into larger groups and networks that cut across religious and ethnic divides. In countries such as Liberia and Somalia, for example, women and women’s organizations have played a crucial role in enabling formal negotiations to take place. Nonetheless, once the formal negotiations commence, women’s real and potentially important contributions to long-term peace and reconciliation are overlooked.
The figures tell a clear story. In 2012, UN Women published a study of 31 major peacemaking processes between 1992 and 2010. The study showed that only 2.4% of the negotiators were women, that only 4% of the actual signatories to peace agreements were women, and that the proportion of women in delegations sent to negotiating processes was on average 9%. Although the UN Security Council approved a resolution in October 2000 to the effect that more women should be appointed as chief negotiators and special envoys, no woman was appointed to such a role until 2013. A review undertaken in 2010 by researchers from the University in Ulster indicated that only 16% of peace agreements mention women. And there was no guarantee that these referenced were favourable to women. Often you would find them to be vague and weak on commitments.
“Being nice” to women?
Hillary Clinton, in her time as US Secretary of State, defined women’s rights and equality as a key aspect of US foreign policy. Clinton has repeatedly emphasized that involving women in work to secure international peace and security has become a global security imperative. Women’s active participation is not something that the international society should strive for because we should “be nice to women” but because it is essential for creating sustainable peace, stability and development. We still need more knowledge about women’s roles and contributions to peace, and how international society, as well as national authorities, may best support women’s various peace initiatives. For this reason, we at PRIO during the past decade have made a strong commitment to research that inspires policy development in relation to women, peace and security. The two events in Oslo this week show not only that we have come several important steps further, but also that both research and policy face many challenges in the future.
Translation from Norwegian: Fidotext