Women are often disproportionately affected by armed conflict, yet are also often excluded from peace processes and seen as helpless and vulnerable victims in need of protection. This month we mark International Women's Day 2015 by celebrating women's progress toward greater political, social, and economic freedoms. But also we mark the fourth anniversary of the Syria crisis that has displaced millions and led to the loss over 200,000 lives. Now is a time to highlight the unique (often overlooked) role women can play in developing inclusive and sustainable peace. Women are not solely victims of conflict and war - they are powerful peace brokers and catalysts of change.
We can work to shift the paradigm at this month's fifty-ninth session of the Commission on the Status of Women, and through this year's Post-2015 process. We must create comprehensive peacebuilding that includes stakeholders from all sectors and levels of society. Women have played a crucial role in peacebuilding for decades through mobilizing across ethnic, religious, and linguistic groups; capitalizing on their unique access during the negotiating process; wielding influence within their communities; bridging political divides; and moderating extremism.
In Syria, women place their lives on the line as they continue to advocate for peace. Despite their current lack of local and international voice, women-led groups are working to ensure that women are strongly represented in formal peace negotiations and play an active role in civil society. To adequately represent women in peacebuilding, we must confront gender-based political and social discrimination that is entrenched in many communities. Women-led grassroots movements need greater political space to organize and wield influence. Communities must also explore methods that link women-led grassroots organizations to high-level peace negotiations. The negotiating parties must provide various avenues of participation for multiple actors at all levels of the decision-making process. In addition to advocating from the outside, women should have adequate representation at the table and actively participate in formal negotiations.
As the international community addresses crises in Syria, Central African Republic, South Sudan, Iraq, and Ukraine, we must leverage the power that women have proven to hold in successful peacebuilding and reconstruction efforts. This year, we must advocate for increased participation of women in the peacebuilding process and #MakeItHappen.
Lindsay Coates is the acting CEO and President of InterAction -- the largest U.S. alliance of nongovernmental organizations working on global poverty issues. Coates also serves on boards of the Episcopal Relief and Development as well as the World Bank Global Partnership for Social Accountability.