What are the obstacles and opportunities for women to engage in peacebuilding activities, both at the international and at the local level?
It can be widely acknowledged that conflicts have a negative impact on both women and men in different ways. However, more negative effects can be seen on the most vulnerable groups in society such as women and children.
It has been well documented throughout the years that women and girls suffer disproportionately from violent conflict. Unfortunately, women and girls are strategically being targeted during armed conflicts and are exposed to rape and sexual violence in order to weaken families, break down societies, carry out ethnic cleansing and genocide and as a form of punishment and torture. Furthermore, women are not only subject to rape and sexual violence, which are recognised as instruments of war but are also subjected to disrupted livelihoods, loss of access to basic services, domestic violence and displacement.
A study by Plümper and Neumayer (2005) also finds that armed conflict has a more adverse effect on women in terms of male relative to female life expectancy. Women tend to live longer than men in peacetime but conflict reduces the gap in life expectancy.
However, women are not only victims during armed conflicts. There has been growing recognition in recent years of the varying roles that women can play during and after violent conflict. There is also a recognition that conflict can provide new opportunities for transforming gender relations and promoting more inclusive, equitable social, economic and political structures and conditions. Women are often caretakers during the war, becoming heads of their families. In addition to taking care of their families, they learn new skills and contribute back to rebuilding local economies and communities. These changes in gender relations, however, are usually short-lived and societies often return back to traditional gender roles after the conflict which also results in side-lining women in peace talks and reconstruction processes, and as agents of change. Regrettably, women’s rights and their participation are often overlooked or inadequately addressed in processes of peace building. This is due to a lack of political will and in some cases insufficient knowledge among policymakers on how to integrate gender issues into peacebuilding strategies. It can also be because of the perception that gender is not a priority issue to address during and in the aftermath of armed conflicts.
Truth is that there is an increased likelihood of reaching a peace agreement if women are involved in the peace processes and their participation is extremely important (O’Reilly et al., 2015). Therefore, it is essential that women’s peacebuilding is locally driven with international support to ensure women’s engagement in peace negotiations and peacebuilding. The UN, all governments and NGOs, therefore, have a lot to do to encourage and assist women in developing their role in post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities. Main obstacles for women to participate in peacebuilding must be recognised and improved. For example, patriarchal socio-cultural stereotypes of women as victims and uncritical advocates for peace, combined with a strict division of labour in the public and private spheres, prevent women from entering official peace processes. Moreover, there has been a lack of political will in international, regional and national organisations and mediation teams to promote and include women as local, informal mediators and as capacities for peace.
Even though there has been an international attempt to bring a solution to such obstacles, there is still a long way to go. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) on Women, Peace and Security addresses the impact of war on women. It mandates the protection of women and girls during and after conflict and the greater involvement of women in conflict resolution, peacekeeping and peacebuilding processes. United Nations Security Council Resolution 1820 (2008) extends SCR 1325 to explicitly recognise sexual violence as a security issue and tactic of war, demand parties to armed conflict to adopt concrete prevention and protection measures and assert the importance of women’s participation in peace processes. These resolutions have been an important step in bringing women’s rights and gender equality to the peace and security agenda. More than a decade after the endorsement of SCR 1325, the importance of women’s participation and leadership in conflict-affected countries has been increasingly acknowledged within sectors of the international community. Thus, the resolution has been successful in terms of norm-building. There has been much less success, however, in terms of implementation and impact on the ground. In most societies and regions, women remain disproportionately affected by armed conflict. They also remain drastically under-represented in peace processes, one of the least well-implemented elements of the women, peace and security agenda.