Women are critical to peace building and conflict resolution. While war affects everyone, women are especially affected.
War and conflict tear away the social fabric that supports women and families, creating instability. When men go to war -- voluntarily or not -- women are either left behind in shattered economies struggling to keep families intact or on the run from violence. Increasingly rape is deliberately used as a weapon to humiliate the enemy, fracture communities, and inflict lasting trauma. Social stigma resulting from unwanted pregnancies and rape babies are a hurtful legacy. Women are also often left to take on new roles that create new opportunities -- think of Rosie the Riveter -- which can exacerbate tensions when war ceases.
Yet, research shows that women are critical building blocks for a country post-conflict. Including women and civil society means it is more likely that agreements will hold. (UNIFEM/UNWomen, "Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations," p. 2; Anthony Wanis-St. John and Darren Kew, 'Civil Society and Peace Negotiations: Confronting Exclusion,' International Negotiation 13, 2008, 11-36.) The views, concerns, and perspectives that women have are more often taken into account and addressed when there are women involved in the peace process and women's voices are heard. (UNIFEM/UNWomen, "Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations," pp. 7-9, 22)
Women raise different issues and have different perspectives on the causes and impact of war. Women have raised the need for agreements to address war related sexual violence; accountability and justice; creating more economic opportunities for women; reintegration of men into a changed family dynamic and social structure. (For a list of the provisions advocated by women, see charts in UNIFEM/UNWomen, "Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations," pp. 13-15, 17, 22-23).
Despite all of the evidence, the statistics of exclusion are daunting:
• Fewer than 3 percent of signatories to peace agreements are women;
• No women have been appointed Chief or Lead negotiator in UN sponsored peace talks;
• Only peace agreements in 10 of 45 conflicts addressed sexual violence.
(UNIFEM/UNWomen, UNIFEM research, www.womenwarpeace.org).
But, over the past 20 years, women have been courageous and fought for the right to be part of peace building. Their efforts have been joined by a commitment by the international community, as evidenced by five UN Security Council resolutions passed unanimously during the past 10 years. Resolutions 1325 and 1889 address women's leadership in the peace process, and urge women's involvement in peace negotiations and as mediators. Resolutions 1820, 1888 and 1960 outline numerous measures, including the designation of rape and sexual violence as war crimes.
In addition, there are examples of women's courageous involvement in the peace process as negotiators, witnesses, and signatories, and it has made a difference.
Northern Ireland: When negotiations began to end to the long conflict between Protestants and Catholics, there was one all-woman negotiating party to the peace talks representing a women's agenda. In fact, they successfully built bridges between Catholics and Protestants and promoted reconciliation and reintegration of political prisoners.
Liberia: The Women's Peace Initiative helped push resolution of the 14-year conflict by working together. Christian and Muslim women pushed for disarmament; threatening to wait outside the negotiations until a deal was done and threatening to take their clothes off to make their point.
Congo: Women advocated for inclusion in a convention on reconciliation with participation by all parties, which initially excluded women. Eventually 36 of 300 delegates were women, and they were able to create a commission "with the mandate to denounce all forms of violence specifically perpetrated against women and children, the elderly and [disabled] persons." (UNIFEM/UNWomen, "Women's Participation in Peace Negotiations," pp. 2, 22).
Today, these concepts are critical in places where there has not been war but there has been conflict -- such as the Middle East and North Africa. The U.S. government, as well as other international actors must continue to ensure that more women are involved, whether at the peace table or building new societies. As Secretary of State Clinton so aptly stated,"you cannot claim a democracy if half of the population is silenced."