In many conflict zones, men and women struggle the consequences of war. It is hard to tell which group suffers more – and it is a tough assessment to make across the board. The most logical conclusion, therefore, is that conflict leaves a lasting impact on men and women. The aftermath of a conflict often results in a peacebuilding effort – either at the behest of the conflicting entities involved, or with the intervention of an outside entity. In most such initiatives, the role of women has tremendous potential, but is seldom given importance.
No matter how many experts there may be at the peacebuilding initiative, it will not succeed fruitfully if a whole demographic is excluded from participation. Even with UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (2000) having been passed to the effect that women have a role to play in preventing and resolving conflicts, in most peacebuilding initiatives, women tend to be conspicuous by their absence – or at the most, they are under-represented.
The involvement of women in peacebuilding is driven by two key factors: that they are a sizeable part of the demographic structure that forms the stakeholder community in the future of a conflict-zone with lived experiences during and after the conflict that need to be addressesed, and, that they suffer discrimination, violence and violations on a large scale in a conflict-setting. Peacebuildinggenerally does better if and when women are actively involved in the process. Including women in the peace process brings many qualities to the negotiation table: inclusiveness, sensitization to the overall need for peace, and an attention to social and economic issues that are otherwise seldom taken into consideration. Women bring an alternative, gendered view to peacebuilding that leads to transformation at all levels.
The invisibility of women in peacebuilding initiatives stems from many factors. Primarily, the continual occurrence of violence and discrimination that occur in conflict and post-conflict societies isolate women continues to be a barrier in the path of including women in the negotiation table. A society caught in conflict and a society recovering from conflict focuses on survival – the challenge to survive keeps women occupied in a struggle of sorts as they try to bring back some semblance of normalcy for their families. In the process, they themselves do not give a process of peacebuilding priority, because their urgent need is to find a way to stay safe, secure and free of violence. Secondly, the general invisibility of women as a result of patriarchal tendencies in social structures tends to keep women away from the peacebuilding process. Many a time, the role of women is neglected because they are perceived as unimportant, or not valuable to the overarching peace process. This stems from a misconstrued notion built on the foundation-stone of masculinities of violence.
To address the former issue, the access to a peacebuilding process should be opened up more amicably and easily. Women should be given the right support in the form of training, funding, security and a sense of inclusion. Most women do not realize that peacebuilding is a priority – and that achieving a state of peace will give them the long-lasting security that they want for their families. Secondly, the men in the communities themselves must be sensitized to the greater cause of peacebuilding. A community cannot transition from conflict to peace if there is no means for half the population to make that transition with their rights, needs and requirements being duly accounted for.