Drawing from cases of conflict and peacebuilding around the world, we examine the factors holding back women’s participation in peace and security efforts and consider what can be done to better protect women and girls from gender-based violence.
In the fall of 2000, the United Nations adopted Security Council Resolution 1325 on women and peace and security with the goal of involving more women at all levels of peace and security efforts and taking action to protect women and girls from gender-based violence.
Today, almost 20 years later, women remain largely invisible in international peacemaking, even though they are active and successful mediators at the grassroots level. According to an analysis by the Council on Foreign Relations, women made up just 2% of chief mediators and just 8% of negotiators in major peace processes between 1990 and 2017. Participation at high-level peace talks is often shaped by warring factions – they generate the violence, and they largely get to decide who sits at the table to end it. That categorically prevents half of their country’s population from having a voice, and reduces the leverage of civil society in forging peace, while holding fighters accountable for it. When we don’t have women at the table, we falter in the implementation of Resolution 1325, with a lower likelihood of peace, which holds up every other development goal.
At the Women & Peacebuilding Discussion Forum at the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations, News Deeply’s CEO and Executive Editor Lara Setrakian and panelists H.E. Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason, Ireland’s Permanent Representative to the United Nations and the Chair of the Commission on the Status of Women; H.E. Ambassador Lang Yabou, Permanent Representative of The Gambia to the United Nations; Mavic Cabrera Balleza, founder and CEO of the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders; and Dr. Bilqis Abu-Osba, assistant professor of Political Sciences and Gender at Sana’a University and head of the Awam Foundation for Development and Culture discussed what is holding back the implementation of Resolution 1325 and what needs to be done to include more women in the peace process.
“After now decades of our own peace process, watching the most translated U.N. resolution ever, 1325, find its way within the U.N. system and in many governments, what we need to emphasize is that you don’t add women and stir it and hope something comes out on the other end,” said Ambassador Geraldine Byrne Nason. “What we want to see is a meaningful participation for women.” She stressed the importance of sharing experiences in the same way that women from Northern Ireland did with Syrian and Colombian women in that very location, the Permanent Mission of Ireland to the United Nations.
According to Mavic Cabrera Balleza, a major challenge is that women’s viewpoints are often undervalued. While women were present in peace processes at the local level, that didn’t translate at the national and international level. “They disappear when it becomes formal and official. The decision-makers do not recognize women’s expertise,” she said. “We need to work harder [on] connecting the local and informal to the formal and official [level].”
Asked what could be done to bridge the local, grassroots role of women with policy, Ambassador Lang Yabou said that what was needed was conscious leadership committed to the issues, coupled with local ownership. “Quite often we tend to assume that we know what is good for [local stakeholders]. I think this has partly contributed to a lot of initiatives not achieving what they should have. The grassroots [groups] must be given the opportunity to tell us what they want and then we form policies based on their needs.”
Dr. Bilqis Abu-Osba, who has been working with the U.N.’s Special Envoy for Yemen, Martin Griffiths, to build a coalition of Yemeni Women for Security and Peace, called on the U.N. to honor Resolution 1325. “It’s very important for the international community to pressure the two delegations to add women,” she said, adding the women should be involved in discussing many matters and not only women’s issues.