By Kirthi Jayakumar
Source: The Global Observatory
Globally, and across time, most peace negotiations have taken place with the exclusion of women. This gap has been a motivating factor for the WPS agenda to focus on participation and to call on states to prioritize the increased inclusion of women in peace processes, negotiations, and post-conflict dialogues. Most of the 83 (at the time of writing) National Action Plans include gender provisions in the hope of addressing unique challenges that women face during and after armed conflict, and of including women in peace processes.
However, even as there was an increase in the number of references made to women and girls in peace agreements after Resolution 1325 (2000) was adopted – what with an increase in the number of peace agreements with such provisions from under 10% (1990) to 45% (2013) – by 2018, these numbers had gone back to 11%, before rising up to 29% in 2019 – the year when two resolutions under the WPS agenda were passed. It is fair, then, to say that only a few peace agreements are gender sensitive.
Even as the WPS Agenda calls on states – through Security Council Resolutions that bind UN member states under Article 25 of the UN Charter – to increase women’s representation in peace processes, several other factors go into determining whether a peace agreement will carry a gender provision at all. For instance, research has showed that the duration of the armed conflict, the role played by third parties, the extent of engagement on the part of civil society, and the degree to which women contributed toward or participated in the peace process itself will determine whether a peace agreement would carry gender provisions. The participation of women in both Track I and II peace processes can also determine such an outcome.
Do gender provisions in peace agreements make a difference?
The Peace Agreement Database by the University of Edinburgh indicates that In some post-conflict contexts, peace agreements have also carried gender provisions. For example, in Darfur, women were given land rights, while in Burundi and Nepal, quotas for political representation were included. In Colombia, post-conflict justice for survivors for sexual violence during the armed conflict was prioritized.
A study by the Center for Global Affairs and the Global Network of Women Peacebuilders examined the impact of gender provisions in peace agreements with respect to their impact on the political and economic participation of women in post-conflict contexts. The study found that peace agreements that specifically called for quotas predicted improved (9.2%) outcomes more than did gender provisions, for the increase in women’s political participation – where women increased the number of seats with each successive election. While reserved seats do guarantee the participation of women, they do not necessarily translate to expanded or sustained inclusion of women – much like it is true that the mere inclusion of women does not mean that gender equality is achieved. The study also found that gender provisions in peace agreements do not improve the participation of women in the labour force and their share of the gross national income for the five years following a conflict. Very few peace agreements really focus on the economic emancipation of women in the aftermath of conflict.
The deployment of gender provisions in peace agreements must transcend being tokenistic. To do this, it is necessary to start by understanding the structural and overt factors that informed women’s experiences in the particular armed conflict. From patriarchal cultural and traditional ideas informing society to fragile economies with poor governance and massive levels of corruption, the problems that serve as a backdrop informing and motivating violence in armed conflict are varied. Solutions, then, take on a commensurate character that speak to these unique challenges in ways that address them from the root. To this end, then, a quota or a gender provision would only go so far. Women may continue to face cultural violence that may prevent them from participating in political life or accessing a means of economic empowerment. The care burden in the aftermath of conflict, lack of skills/education, and social capital may prevent them from working. Violence at the home, stigma both in and outside the home after facing sexual violence, and heavy injuries prevent women from enjoying public lives or even achieving their full potential.
Even as the humanitarian-peace-development nexus is globally understood, the lived experiences of women in each conflict do not inform the peace agreements or the processes that culminate in those agreements. Not understanding the challenges of women across society in the context of an armed conflict effectively implies that no agreement to respond to those (insufficiently understood) challenges would be useful. Therein lies the need to include women: it is not about the essentialist argument that women are inherently peaceful or are naturally inclined toward values of motherhood and caregiving. Rather, it is that their lived experiences continue to involve narratives of exclusion, discrimination, violence, injustice, and stigmatization in the peacetime-wartime continuum. Unless that pattern is disrupted with both the inclusion of women in the processes toward peace and the dedicated comprehension of women’s experiences in armed conflict, no attempt at pursuing gender clauses in peace agreements will be wholesome.