Around the world, women make peace in their homes and communities on a daily basis. But when it comes to negotiating and signing peace deals on a national or international level they are almost universally shut out, according to a report that calls for a more balanced approach to resolving conflict.
A 2000 UN security council resolution that called for equal participation for women in “the maintenance and promotion of sustainable peace” has been almost totally ignored, not least by the UN itself, says the report. There have been no female chief mediators in UN-brokered peace talks and fewer than 10% of police officers and 2% of the soldiers sent on UN peacekeeping missions have been women.
Fewer than one in 40 of the signatories of major peace agreements since 1992 have been female, according to the UN development fund for women, Unifem. They played a bit part in settlements in El Salvador, Guatemala, Northern Ireland and Papua New Guinea, but in 17 out of 24 major accords – including Croatia, Bosnia, Sierra Leone, Burundi, Liberia, Sudan and the Democratic Republic of Congo – there was zero female participation in signing agreements.
A report published by the Institute of Development Studies, funded by ActionAid and Womankind Worldwide, argues that this near total absence of women from official peacekeeping is not only a waste of a powerful resource for conflict resolution but also means formal peace deals are seriously flawed, taking a narrow definition of what constitutes enduring peace that mostly ignores the needs of women and girls.
The report, From the Ground Up, surveyed Afghanistan, Liberia, Nepal, Pakistan and Sierra Leone and found that in local settings women took a broader view of peace that included basic rights such as freedom from violence in the home, as well as education and healthcare.
“In contrast, men have a greater tendency to associate peace with the absence of formal conflict and the stability of formal structures such as governance and infrastructure,” the report said.
The difference in perception means that in Sierra Leone, for example, which is generally classified as post-conflict, most women did not consider themselves to be living in peace. “This is attributed by respondents to the high rates of poverty and violence against women, including domestic violence, mental abuse and abandonment.”
“We’re not talking about a big war,” said one woman from Afghanistan, “but peace for us also means no domestic violence.”
The survey of the five countries found that women and girls had a tendency to form groups and coalitions to deal with problems and got on with resolving conflicts up to the point when the process became formal, when the men took over. The higher and more formal the level of peace-building, the smaller the degree of female participation, the study found.
Shalah Farid, a lecturer at Kabul University said Afghan women were largely excluded from official attempts to find a political settlement.
“In the high-level peace council there are only seven or nine women – they don’t have real power and time to engage in a real peace process,” she said. “They are just symbolic. People use security as a way of denying women the right to participate. People are saying women cannot keep secrets so we cannot involve them in confidential discussions.