That women have been invisible to under-represented in most peacebuilding initiatives – whether private or organisational – is no longer news. Participation of women in decision-making and policy drafting is crucial to the advancement of any peace process, and to the transition from a state of conflict to a state of peace. And yet, there are too many barriers for women in their access to peace processes that continue to thrive unaddressed.
The challenges that women face in their attempt to access participatory involvement in peace efforts, as Judy El Bushra explained, are largely fourfold – challenges from the international community, from the national political milieu, from the social structure, and from the issues that women themselves face.
At the international level, there are institutional structures constituted for the process of peacebuilding – the United Nations is the macro-fount of all peacebuilding, peacekeeping and peacemaking initiatives. While on the one hand, there are several resolutions that testify to the role that women have to play in peace initiatives, on the other hand, implementation is found wanting. While UNSC Resolution 1325 emphasises on the need for change, the implementation of the provisions it brings forth is still lacking.
At the national level, most governmental structures do not have room for peace and policies relating to post conflict reconstruction. In the aftermath of a conflict, national structures are invariably struggling to work hard to reconstruct themselves from scratch – or at the very least, from the ashes of the conflict. In the process, their attention to gender as a component in peacebuilding remains frugal at best. The emerging entities retain power, and the dominance that patriarchy infuses in power dynamics of this sort continue to keep the gender divide alive. In the process, therefore, women are not given importance.
The third level is structural and societal – for patriarchy is a form of structural violence. Built into the social set up through its cultural and social outlook, patriarchy manifests itself in the greatest forms of discrimination: violence and exclusion. Women are not considered important enough to be included in the process of building peace. Consequently, therefore, 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.
Finally, the everyday microaggressions of challenges that women face – which most often, are a confluence of patriarchy, traditional or cultural social roles, and even the lack of opportunity. Women themselves are not able to prioritise peace because of imminent needs of security for their family. In the process, they opt for the quickest solution for peace. For instance, in the trade off between justice and peace – where women are often forced to relinquish a choice for justice because of a fear of reprisals, or a reopening of conflict, and thereby opt for a temporary state of peace that is unsustainable.
The challenges to women and their participation in peacebuilding processes are not insurmountable. They are largely structural and institutional – and require a shift in mindsets to effect lasting change of a practical kind.