Towards gender-equal peace: Ensuring women's meaningful participation in peace processes
Agnieszka Fal-Dutra Santos, the latest winner of the Oslo Forum's Peacewriter Prize, proposes solutions to close the gap on women’s meaningful participation in peace negotiations. Below is an extract from her award-winning paper. It is published by our content partner, the Centre for Humanitarian Dialogue.
omen’s meaningful participation in peace negotiations and implementing peace agreements is a key tenet of the United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325 on Women, Peace and Security (WPS), which celebrated its 20th anniversary in 2020. Beyond being a right – enshrined in the WPS agenda and other international laws – women’s participation has been shown to positively impact the likelihood of achieving a peace agreement between the parties, the durability of the agreement, and the quality of the provisions – in particular, the inclusion of gender-responsive provisions.
Still, women remain largely excluded from official peace negotiations. Between 1991 and 2011, they constituted only 2% of chief mediators, 4% of witnesses and signatories, and 9% of negotiators. Women are routinely excluded from pre-negotiation stages of peace processes, where parameters and agendas for future negotiations are set. Similarly, even in contexts which boast high levels of women’s participation during peace negotiations – such as Colombia – women are often marginalised during implementation, which contributes to delays in the implementation, especially of those provisions designed to ensure a gender-equal peace.
"Between 1991 and 2011, women constituted only 2% of chief mediators, 4% of witnesses and signatories, and 9% of negotiators."
A range of challenges contributes to women’s exclusion from peace processes. In 2018–2019, I led a global research project, coordinated by the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders (GNWP) with support from UN Women, on the meaning of ‘sustaining peace’ to local women. The research, which consisted of focus group discussions, targeted key informant interviews and a global, multi-lingual survey, reached over 1,600 women and men from civil society organisations and community groups working on peacebuilding in nearly 50 countries. When asked about barriers to women’s meaningful participation in peace processes, research participants identified the uneven share of unpaid domestic and care labour, mobility restrictions (e.g. not being able to leave home without a male guardian), insecurity and targeted attacks on women. Moreover, women pointed to the lack of access to information about peace processes (fuelled by their secret nature and lack of reliable coverage in the media) as a key constraint. This was aggravated by the digital divide and lack of access to the internet and traditional media, which is often gendered. Women who took part in the research also emphasised that persisting patriarchal norms underlie most of these challenges. A research participant from the Philippines stressed that women are ‘regarded as non-political beings’, and thus denied access to the peace process.
Increasingly, researchers, activists and policymakers have also recognised that, even when women do participate in peace negotiations, they might not be able to exert influence. In 2018, the UN Secretary-General recognised both the ‘poor level of representation’ of women in peace negotiations and ‘corresponding challenges in measuring how women contribute their experience and ideas and assert influence amid consistently male-dominated processes’. For example, in Nepal, although women constituted over 33% of the Constituent Assembly, they had little influence over the content of the Constitution due to entrenched patriarchal norms and resistance to discussing ‘women’s issues’ and gender equality among the male political elites.
"A research participant from the Philippines stressed that women are ‘regarded as non-political beings’, and thus denied access to the peace process."
These findings paint the exclusion of women as a structural problem, which requires a structural solution – ‘redesigning’ the table, rather than merely having women at it. Building on ongoing policy discussions, existing research on women’s meaningful participation, and my own experience of working with women peacebuilders, mediators and activists from around the world, I discern three critical components of women’s meaningful participation:
1. Participation at all stages of a peace processes, beginning with the agenda-setting and ceasefire and other security arrangements negotiations, and ending with the implementation and monitoring of a peace agreement.
2. Participation at all levels and in various modalities. Direct participation of women at the peace table – as negotiators, mediators and signatories – cannot be replaced by consultations with women or the establishment of women’s advisory boards. The examples of Syria and Yemen demonstrate that, while such solutions may offer an improvement on previously completely exclusionary processes, they ultimately fail to ensure women’s meaningful participation.
3. Participation of women in all their diversity. In order to ensure meaningful participation, it is necessary to recognise that women are not a homogenous group of ‘non-political beings’, but rather ‘political actors influenced by political agendas, group interests, as well as the trauma and hardship of civil war’.Thus, meaningful inclusion of women requires applying an intersectional lens to identify and understand the often overlapping layers of exclusion, and make sure that diverse women – including women civil society activists, women refugees and internally displaced persons, women veterans and ex-combatants, war widows, young women, women with disabilities, women of various ethnicities, and lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, among others – can participate.
In this paper, I propose three solutions, which – if implemented – could help close the gap in women’s meaningful participation across the three above-mentioned components:
- Institutionalising the requirement for women’s participation at all stages and levels of a peace process.
- Resourcing women’s networks to create accessible and flexible platforms for diverse participation.
- Strengthening coordination and cohesion between formal and informal peace processes.
The opinions expressed in this article are those of the author(s) and do not necessarily reflect the views of SAIIA.
(Main image: Then president of the Central African Republic, Catherine Samba-Panza, speaks during the second World Forum of Francophone Women at the People's Palace in Kinshasa on March 3, 2014. Several African women political leaders called on women and children in African francophone countries to work for peace across the continent in response to growing unrest in several countries. - Junior D. Kannah/AFP via Getty Images)