Why are we STILL talking about inclusion of women in peacebuilding?

It has been 15 years since the international community resolved to include women in peacebuilding, but what has actually changed during this time?

To many, even in my native country of Sri Lanka, I have a funny sounding name. In my mother tongue, Sinhala, Thiyumi means sweet-natured and sharp in mind, but in other countries it has come to mean exclusion. Exclusion from job opportunities, friendship circles and simple conversations. The fact that I am also a woman has meant that during social interactions my contribution is often not expected to extend beyond all things related to boiled rice and curry, reducing me to a one dimensional-ethnic-woman.

The issue of my identity—and specifically my gender, and where it intersects with race, ethnicity and class—has made my inclusion in the societies I have encountered complex. Though these are my own subjective experiences, when exclusion stretches beyond our personal experiences, and steps into public arenas, then it starts to cause bigger problems.

Giving women a voice

The evidence is all around us, at the global level, where exclusion from social, political and economic power is not only driving violence and conflict, but also leading to inadequate solutions to these conflicts. Having a voice in preventing or ending a conflict, a voice in determining how peace should be built, how a democracy should be built, how a state should be rebuilt, is a right that should be enjoyed by everyone. Including women. Including marginalised women.

So, why do we need to talk about this now? Or rather, why are we still talking about it? Didn’t we resolve to include women about 15 years ago through United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 and several other UN resolutions (six to be exact)? Don’t these resolutions agree to let women in to those arenas, reaffirming and ensuring their role in peace and security as well as their right to security from gender-based violence? Didn’t the international community provide provisions like gender quotas to make sure that women are included in peacebuilding processes?

Well, to give a simple answer, yes we did. But we have not done enough. When only 9 per cent of the major negotiations that have taken place since Resolution 1325 have included women as negotiators, we can say we are not doing enough. When less than one-third of the agreements signed since then even mention gender, we cannot speak of success. But inclusion should not only increase in numbers but in quality as well. In order for inclusion to be substantial and not be reduced to mere window dressing, many aspects should be taken into consideration. This includes not reducing the role of women to a matter only of gender, but also a matter of race, ethnicity, religion, class and socio-economic factors.

Meaningful inclusion

We, the international actors, can ensure the right kind of inclusion by ensuring the agency of the women who are involved—or trying to be involved—in peacebuilding processes. Women, just like men, are reflections of the societies they live in. They have the capacity to be both peaceful and violent. Research has shown that women can play many roles, in conflict (as genocidaires in Rwanda, active combatants in Myanmar and the Philippines) as well as peace (Hutu women protecting Tutsis, Kachin women joining forces with Bamar women to build informal peacebuilding networks). Among many lessons, we are also learning from a recent study of Resolution 1325 by the UN that harmful gender stereotypes that are already present in cultural and legal structures cannot be undone by simply increasing the number of women.

Meaningful inclusion in peacebuilding, as well as reform and development processes, also means providing conditions, such as ensuring physical security as well as socio-economic security, that allow women to enter these processes. This not only increases the efficiency of a peace process but also ensures its longevity by addressing potential problems, such as failure to establish long-term commitment or spoiling them due to personal agendas or gains, that can stem from failing to address grievances and inequalities specific to women.

Inclusivity and local ownership

At the end of the day, who carries the responsibility for making sure this happens? International actors working with these issues? Or local organisations? Local ownership is an essential element that should be factored into the process of establishing inclusive peace processes. Recognising and finding informal entry points for international actors, such as traditional conflict-resolution mechanisms that encourages gender equality, and supporting locally led multi-ethnic women’s movements for conflict resolution are just two suggestions that can establish inclusivity whilst ensuring local ownership. We have seen it work in the Philippines where female community leaders have adopted an active role in resolving inter-clan violence.

International actors need to find broader and more innovative ways to include women in peacebuilding. Focus must be shifted away from the negotiating table and towards inclusivity in all phases of a peace process. With such a long way to go, we have to keep talking — and doing more—about inclusion of women in peacebuilding, don’t we?