Incomplete resolution: the problems of excluding women from peace processes

10 years ago, Resolution 1325 was signed at the UN, recognising the devastating affects of conflict on women and making women’s involvement in peace-building processes from their earliest stage an absolute imperative. Despite this, not enough has been done to involve women in the politics of post-conflict resolution. The involvement of women is essential to building stable societies; it has been shown in countless studies that women are more likely than men to spend development money on their communities and research demonstrates links between gender inequality and increased levels of violence within a state; where there is acute gender discrimination and abuses of human (and especially women’s) rights, countries have been shown to be more likely to be unstable. Women provide vital insights into community security, can be vital in creating an effective dialogue and responsive politics, supporting national recovery.

In Liberia, for example, women were a powerful force for positive change. Despite being excluded from formal peace talks following the civil war, a group of women were instrumental in bringing peace to Liberia. They took action, refusing to accept what appeared to be failing talks. They created an extensive and effective campaign for disarmament and demobilization, targeting ex-combatants, particularly, and volunteering to contribute to the peace process in whichever way they could. They also formed their own cooperatives, started in refugee camps, to begin to rebuild agricultural infrastructure and create food for their communities and families in a post-conflict era of extreme poverty. The UN later gave them funding in order to expand. Women’s involvement was pivotal in ending the conflict. Liberia has now elected the first African female head of state, President Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf, who has been praised for maintaining peace and rebuilding the nation.

In other countries where women have had less involvement, peace processes have been shown to be less effective. In Angola, for example, the post-conflict negotiations failed to address prominent issues such as rape and human trafficking and overlooked women’s health and education. The agreement also forgave the parties for atrocities committed against women during the conflict, which arguable creates a nation where violence against women is condoned. Failure to understand women’s experience has also been devastating in Sudan, where women were not considered in the creation of refugee camps which meant that they were forced to leave the camps to collect water. In this unsafe environment there were numerous reports of sexual violence and harassment. Peace building that fails to recognise the different experiences of women and men threatens to erode women’s rights and put them at increased risk of violence, abuse, poverty and loss. Women are also more affected by destruction of infrastructure, as they are often primary carers in the family. The experience of widowhood is also vastly affecting. Women’s inclusion in peace building means that their experiences and the particular forms of violence they face during conflict can be addressed. Failing to address women’s security during and after conflict has been shown to undermine longer-term national security. Women’s participation is vital to reducing violence and inequality and building stable societies.

Our government has signed up to this treaty and recently revised its National Action Plan but has yet to act assertively in practical terms. Additionally, Lynne Featherstone has been appointed as the new Champion for tackling International Violence Against Women. It is imperative that women affected by conflict are primary in her plan and that, in this era of cuts, she is given adequate resources and authority. Beyond this, there must be effective and lasting changes in peace building processes and international politics; a peace that considers only half the population will be incomplete. No women, no peace.

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