Increasing the Participation of Women in Peace Processes: Reaching a Sustainable, Durable Peace

Blog | June 20, 2018

By: Hannah Beswick

In 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325 (2000)) on Women, Peace and Security, formally acknowledging the changing nature of warfare and the disproportionate and differential impact of conflict on women. This resolution affirmed the importance of the participation of women and the inclusion of gender perspectives throughout all aspects of conflict prevention, mitigation and resolution, particularly in peace negotiations, humanitarian planning, peacekeeping operations, and post-conflict peacebuilding and governance. In the 18 years since this resolution was adopted, seven subsequent resolutions have been adopted by the Security Council on this agenda, further recognizing gender equality and women’s empowerment as critical to international peace and security.

Yet, the participation of women in peace processes is still lagging globally, despite qualitative and quantitative evidence demonstrating that security efforts will be more sustainable—and peace has a better chance of lasting longer—when women contribute to conflict prevention and early warning, peacemaking, peacekeeping, and post-conflict resolution and rebuilding. This is not simply a matter of representation, where women have a seat at the table because they constitute fifty percent of the world’s population. Rather, it is a matter of operational effectiveness: when women play meaningful roles in these processes, societies are more stable, secure and less likely to relapse into conflict.

Laurel Stone’s quantitative analysis of 156 peace agreements from 1989 to 2011 has demonstrated that peace agreements have a 35 percent chance of lasting fifteen years or longer when women are included in the peace process, in stark contrast to half of all such initiatives that failed within five years during the 1990s. Further, the meaningful participation of women contributes to both the longevity of the peace, as well as to the achievement of the peace agreement itself. These findings follow from a qualitative analysis of forty peace and constitution-drafting negotiations since the 1990s, which found that parties were significantly more likely to agree to talks and subsequently reach an agreement when women’s groups exercised strong influence on the negotiations, as compared to when they had little or no influence.

Why does women’s participation matter at the peace table?

It is widely accepted that women experience conflict differently than men. This understanding of the disproportionate and differential impact of war on women was codified in UNSCR 1325 (2000). Research from the International Peace Institute draws on the work of Pluemper and Neumeyer, reminding us that “men make up the majority of combatants during conflict and are more likely than women to die from war’s direct effects. Women are more likely to die from war’s indirect effects after conflict ends—from causes relating to the breakdown in social order, human rights abuses, economic devastation, and the spread of infectious diseases.” As such, women who have had the chance to meaningfully participate in peace negotiations often broaden the range of topics being discussed at the table, from one of security, to wider issues of human rights and development.

Further, as peace processes evolve from outlining ceasefires, dividing territory, and power-sharing, and to further incorporating the elements that make up a society’s architecture—education, healthcare, infrastructure, access to justice—women’s participation is critical, as they bring to the table a unique set of perspectives based on their life experience.

In peace processes, women are perceived by both men and women as honest brokers; tend to reach across religious, ethnic, cultural and party lines; promote trust; raise issues critical to achieving a positive, durable peace; and prioritize issues of gender equality and women’s empowerment both in the peace agreement and its implementation.

Strategies and Modalities of Women’s Participation in the Peace Process

In this context, women can play a multitude of roles. Women can be mediators; delegates to negotiating parties or members of all-women negotiating parties representing a “women’s agenda;” signatories; witnesses; representatives of women’s civil society with an observer role; in a parallel forum, consultation or movement; as gender advisers to mediators, facilitators or delegates; members of technical committees; or part of informal and/or grassroots groups advocating for peace and mobilizing communities throughout the peace process.

It is in this latter category that women tend to be disproportionately represented, pushing for peace at the margins, as they are often excluded from the formal peace process. In some cases, informal participation has proven to be the most accessible way to exert influence. Research from the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative has found that the main factors enabling or constraining women’s participation and influence are elite support, public buy-in and the influence of regional and international actors in peace processes. Therefore, it is incumbent upon these parties to enable women’s meaningful participation.

A sustainable, durable peace

Peace processes can be defining moments in a country’s history, where new political structures, institutions and often constitutions are re-written and re-imagined. This is a critical juncture where the perspectives and needs of all members of the population must be addressed if the method and outcome is to be truly inclusive.

It remains critical for parties to reach a sustainable peace that not only addresses the short-term cessation of hostilities, but also the longer-term sustainability of the peace—a peace that is not solely considered the absence of violence, but one that aims to rebuild society. Women’s participation has proven to be critical to creating a lasting, durable peace.

The peace process also provides a unique inflection point where existing power structures can be challenged, and gender equality provisions can be written into and adopted by different structures. This is a vital step, as evidence has shown that societies with higher rates of gender equality are less likely to break out into and/or relapse into conflict. An inclusive peace process has the ability to truly transform a society. 

Hannah Beswick is the Women, Peace and Security Adviser and Gender Adviser at the Permanent Mission of the United Arab Emirates to the United Nations in New York.

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The views expressed in this publication are solely those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the views of the Emirates Diplomatic Academy, an autonomous federal entity, of the UAE Government, or the EastWest Institute.

Image: "Workshop on UN resolution 1325" (CC BY-NC-ND 2.0) by UNAMID Photo