Peacebuilding Manual/Women's Role in Peacebuilding

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Women's Role in Peacebuilding

Women can be either victims of conflict or agents of peace building. Many a time, women have averted conflicts and have been responsible for resolving conflicts. Peacebuilding needs the involvement of women. During violent conflicts and wars women are forced to assume new roles as heads of families, providers, combatants, and freedom fighters.

Women’s roles in peacebuilding across conflict areas, in the last decade, highlight the importance of moving women beyond the “humanitarian front of the story.” Women have and can continue to influence peacebuilding processes so that they go beyond defining peace as the absence of violent conflict and focuses on the principles of inclusion, good governance and justice. Women need to be present to discuss issues such as genocide, impunity and security if a just and enduring peace is to be built.

Women’s involvement in peacebuilding is as old as their experience of violence. Women are not “naturally” peaceful. Women have played a variety of roles throughout history that support war and other forms of violence, from warriors to supportive wives and mothers calling men to the battlefield. However, their gender identities allow them to do some forms peacebuilding that men cannot do. In addition, some women have found it advantageous to draw on skills, assets, and capacities that are available to them in oppressive patriarchal systems and harness these for productive use in peacebuilding.

However, communities that use all the talents, experience, and wisdom of both men and women are more able to address the needs of their members. If women are excluded from participating in community decisions and leadership, or are so busy with household responsibilities that they do not have time to go to community meetings, then the talents, experiences, and wisdom of half of the population will not contribute to community life.

In 1995, the United Nation’s Fourth World Conference on women held in Beijing, China created a rippling of new ideas and conversations among women involved in civil society around the world. The civil-society campaign on women in peacebuilding led to the October 2000 signing of UN Security Council resolution 1325 on Women, Peace, and Security. Resolution 1325, recognizes that civilians - particularly women and children – are the worst affected by conflict, and that this is a threat to peace and security. Resolution 1325 includes calls for women’s participation in conflict prevention and resolution initiatives; the integration of gender perspectives in peacebuilding and peacekeeping missions; and the protection of women in regions of armed conflict. Resolution 1325 has further mobilized women around the world to recognize the important roles women play in peacebuilding and to “mainstream gender in peacebuilding.” According to the United Nations, mainstreaming a gender perspective is the process of assessing the implications for women and men of any planned action, including legislation, policies or programmes. It is a strategy for making women’s as well as men’s concerns and experiences an integral dimension of design, implementation, monitoring and evaluation of policies and programmes in all political, economic and societal spheres so that women and men benefit equally.

It would be naïve to assert that all women respond in a similar manner in a given situation or that women are “natural peacebuilders.” Gender identity is performed differently in different cultural contexts. Sex and gender identity must always be viewed in relationship with an individual’s other identities such as his or her race, class, age, nation, region, education, religion, etc. There are different expectations for men and women in the home, marketplace, or government office. Gender roles also shift along with social upheaval. In times of violent conflict, men and women face new roles and changing gender expectations. Both biological and sociological differences affect violence and peacebuilding.

Below are the some widely accepted reasons why inclusion of women in peacebuilding is vital. These reasons were highlighted by Lisa Schirch and Manjrika Sewak in their paper on "The Role of Women and Peacebuilding” (2005), written for the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict:

  • Because women are half of every community and the tasks of peacebuilding are so great, women and men must be partners in the process of peacebuilding.
  • Because women are the central caretakers of families in many cultures, everyone suffers when women are oppressed, victimized, and excluded from peacebuilding. Their centrality to communal life makes their inclusion in peacebuilding essential.
  • Because women have the capacity for both violence and peace, women must be encouraged to use their gifts in building peace.
  • Because women are excluded from public decision-making, leadership, and educational opportunities in many communities around the world, it is important to create special programmes to empower women to use their gifts in the tasks of building peace.
  • Because women and men have different experiences of violence and peace, women must be allowed and encouraged to bring their unique insights and gifts to the process of peacebuilding.
  • Because sexism, racism, classism, ethnic and religious discrimination originate from the same set of beliefs that some people are inherently “better” than others, women’s empowerment should be seen as inherent to the process of building peace. Like other social structures that set up some people as superior to others, the sexist belief that women’s lives are less valuable than men’s lives leads to violence against women. When women engage in peacebuilding, they often challenge these sexist beliefs along with other structures that discriminate against people.
  • Because the United Nation’s Security Council Resolution 1325 created a mandate to include women in peacebuilding, women now have the opportunity to use this policy to open doors to new opportunities for women in peacebuilding.
  • Because women have already proven themselves to be successful peacebuilders, basing their strategies on the principles of inclusivity and collaboration, and producing peacebuilding outcomes that are broad-based and sustainable, their efforts should be acknowledged and expanded.

As activists and advocates for peace, women ‘wage conflict nonviolently’ by pursuing democracy and human rights. As peacekeepers and relief aid workers, women contribute to “reducing direct violence.” As mediators, trauma healing counselors, and policymakers, women work to “transform relationships” and address the roots of violence. As educators and participants in the development process, women contribute to “building the capacity” of their communities and nations to prevent violent conflict. Socialization processes and the historical experience of unequal relations contribute to the unique insights and values that women bring to the process of peacebuilding.

Following are some lessons learned about women and peacebuilding, shared by Lisa Schirch and Manjrika Sewak on "The Role of Women and Peacebuilding” (2005), in a paper written for the Global Partnership for the Prevention of Armed Conflict:

  • Women and men experience conflict and violence differently. The costs of conflicts are borne disproportionately by women and children. Since women pay the primary price when peace is absent, they are important stakeholders in peacebuilding.
  • Women play important roles in peacebuilding and are essential to creating long-term, sustainable peace. Women’s peace initiatives have facilitated multi-track interaction and have transcended the boundaries of nationality, religion, class, and socioeconomic background in their work for peace. Women’s peace initiatives have a track record of producing turnarounds in conflict negotiations by conceptualizing agreements that are more inclusive, community-based, and more likely to be successful in the long-run.
  • Direct violence against women is an important dimension of civil unrest, and therefore needs to be included in peacebuilding programmes.
  • Structural or cultural violence against women in the form of unequal access to education, jobs, and leadership opportunities, for example, is an obstacle to building peace and therefore needs to be included in peacebuilding programmes. The presence of trained gender advisors for all peacebuilding organizations and staff, in addition to training in and opportunities for gender analysis by other staff, can help institutionalize a shared responsibility for ongoing gender analysis of all programs.
  • When groups try to infuse a gender analysis into their programmes by hiring gender advisors, they often inadvertently ghetto-ize gender issues, leaving them isolated rather than integrated into programming. Gender training programmes for entire organizations, on the other hand, empower everyone to be involved in gender mainstreaming. Creating gender units within the U.N. programmes was among the first generation of attempts at gender mainstreaming in peacebuilding.