- Males dominate the majority of leadership structures in conflict situations, leaving women’s voices largely sidelined in the areas of community leadership, political participation, conflict prevention and peacebuilding efforts. Even when there are structures in place that address the interests and concerns of women, they are typically viewed as less important and hold little weight in the political arena (UNHCR, 2001).
Leadership includes any area in which women can act as change agents and decision-makers in their societies. This includes leadership in NGOs and community agencies; governments, parliaments and other political decision-making bodies; economics and livelihoods; legal and justice systems; police and national defense; healthcare; and education, among others.
Peacebuilding involves “a range of efforts targeted to reduce the risk of lapsing or relapsing into conflict by strengthening national capacities at all levels for conflict management, and to lay the foundations for sustainable peace and development”.
Source: Policy Committee, PBC, as cited in Moser, 2007, p. 1.
- As of 2011, women comprised less than 8% of the peace negotiatiors for which there is data available – and these negotiations rarely address sexual violence (USIP, 2011.). Women’s active participation in leadership and peace-building efforts is crucial not only preventing VAWG, but also in the overall recovery process (Moser, 2007). Failing to involve women negatively affects not only women, but entire communities.
Consequences of excluding women from leadership and peace-building efforts
Benefits of involving women in leadership and peace-building efforts
- Ignoring women’s experiences prior to conflict can result in missed warning signs, decreasing a community’s preparedness for emergency.
- When women are not included in the leadership of their communities, their concerns – including sexual violence – are marginalized and ignored. If they are not given a say in camp management procedures, for example, their particular vulnerabilities to violence are often overlooked and they can be put at unnecessary risk.
- Peace negotiations that fail to take into account a gendered perspective risk perpetuating violence against women. For example, Truth and Reconciliation Commissions – commissions established following a conflict to examine past wrongdoings of government or non-state actors in an effort to resolve conflict and negotiate peace (See Section VII on Security Sector Reform) – often fail to effectively address violence against women and girls. Amnesties may excuse conflict-related atrocities such as sexual abuse, perpetuating a culture of impunity in which violence against women goes unpunished (Steinberg, 2007).
- Active participation of women affected by crisis in identifying needs – and designing and implementing relief programming to address those needs – has been shown to substantially improve the effectiveness and sustainability of programmes, including programmes aimed at preventing VAWG (IASC, 2006).
- Women in leadership positions, especially when trained, can play a critical role in raising awareness and prioritizing issues of gender and violence (Bouta & Frerks, 2002). Women’s participation can:
- highlight VAWG as a serious problem and increase prevention efforts.
- improve support and services for local women, especially those most vulnerable to violence.
- encourage women to voice their needs and counter the culture of silence surrounding sexual violence (UNHCR, 2001).
- create a critical mass of women in power who can support passage of legislation that benefits women (USIP, 2011)
- Studies have shown that women’s participation in peace talks can:
- introduce new conflict resolution skills and styles
- reduce inappropriate use of weapons or force
- garner more support for peace processes from the local population
- bridge challenging ethnic or cultural divides based on women’s shared interests (Bouta & Frerks, 2002).
- While international and national policy frameworks such as UNSCR 1325 recognize the importance of women’s participation, women’s ability to access areas of leadership and peace-building processes is nevertheless often severely limited in conflict-affected settings. Women face many obstacles when they engage in leadership roles, including resistance and hostility from their families, communities, and local and national governments. The threat and experience of violent backlash can keep many women out of leadership positions (Moser, 2007).
For a ten-year impact study on the implementation of UNSCR 1325, see United Nations Department of Peacekeeping Operations, Department of Field Support. 2010.
See a compendium of National Action Plans (NAPs) to implement SCR 1325.
- It is essential that efforts to engage women in peacebuilding and leadership do so in ways that are safe, participatory, and minimize potential backlash. The following principles and strategies constitute a base of practice used in various conflict-affected settings to engage women in leadership and peacebuilding.
Source: Excerpted from Moser, A. 2007. “Women Building Peace and Preventing Sexual Violence in Conflict-Affected Contexts.” NY: UNIFEM, p.2.