Women Building Peace
By Kirthi Jayakumar
Even as Resolution 1325 paved the way for the inclusion of more women in peace processes, very few instances have actually done so. Admittedly, the early phase of the WPS agenda relied on strategic essentialism to wedge a foot in the door at a time when neither harms against women in armed conflict were addressed nor were women included in post-conflict peace processes (Pratt 2013). However, in the time that has passed, much of the dialogue and global research – especially by women – around the WPS agenda has transcended essentialist arguments for the inclusion of women, male led structures have oscillated between excluding women in entirety to including women purely on essentialist grounds.
That women must be included in peace processes is a no-brainer. As human beings, as people affected (disproportionately, no less) by armed conflict, and as people with unique lived experiences, they bring to the table a dimension that others without such a lived experience can neither hope to address nor claim to enough about.
Being woman, doing peace
Vishaka Dharmadasa, the founder of the Association of War Affected Women in Sri Lanka, mobilized several mothers (and fathers) with sons who were missing in action during the Sri Lankan Civil War, like herself, to establish the first ceasefire to be brokered through a Track II Diplomacy channel. Not very far away, in Yemen, a group of women called the Mothers of Abductees Association (MAA), continue to call for the release of people who have been abducted and detained by the Houthis and others engaged in the war, looking to implement a ceasefire agreement that was signed in Stockholm in 2019. Even as the UN is the one in charge of negotiating the release of these detainees, families look up to the MAA for support. From demonstrating outside detention centres to using social media, these women amplify the call for accountability and the end of war. Another group in Cameroon, the Southwest/Northwest Women’s Task Force is devoted to resolving the conflict in both regions, to call for the meaningful participation in decision-making processes at all levels.
Leymah Gbowee was one of the pioneers in an endeavour that mobilized women on interfaith lines to build peace following the Liberian Civil War. From withholding sex from their husbands until they impressed upon the government for peace (a la Lysistrata) to surrounding the room where the peace negotiations took place and holding the leaders to account to broker peace, these women stood strong in their quest for peace.
Women are at the forefront of peace efforts in Syria, at the grassroots, through their engagement in dialogue-building. The women of Srebrenica were major catalysts in bringing international attention to the massacre.
Women Wage Peace is a broad grassroots movement, the largest in Israel, that was founded in the summer of 2014 following Operation Protective Edge. The movement has tens of thousands of members from the right, the center and the left of the political spectrum, Jews and Arabs, religious and secular, from the center of the country and the periphery, women from kibbutzim and from settlements, all of whom are united in a demand for a mutually binding non-violent accord, agreeable to both sides.
The Abuelas of Sepur Zarco have played a significant role in bringing peace back to Guatemala after the 36 year-long civil war, by taking their case to the highest court – a move that culminated in the conviction of two former military officers of crimes against humanity on counts of rape, murder, and slavery, and 18 reparation measures to women survivors and their communities.
Mobilizing for peace
Women have come together on several occasions throughout history to build peace. The dedication, focus, and determination women bring to the larger goal of building and keeping peace has a very valuable place in history. There are views that women’s “inherent” qualities – that of being mother-like, nurturing, predisposed to empathy and kindness, and peaceful – make them “inherently” capable of peace. These arguments tend to present a limited idea of who a woman is – especially seeing as her identity is reduced to these attributes, which implies that any woman who does not fit into these prongs in the mould are not to be included in the process. This has both been used to exclude trans women and women who simply do not perform these “inherent” qualities (Gibbings 2011). That women choose to mobilize on common grounds does not render their efforts essentialist or limited to particular attributes: it simply speaks of a course of action women chose to take at a time that was most appropriate. In most instances, despite fighting hard to build peace, women are kept out of the final stages of the peace process: oftentimes, this has culminated in the bartering away of their right to justice in exchange for amnesty for former leaders who acted with impunity.
The Women, Peace, and Security Agenda has placed the participation of women in peace processes as a significant component in its focus. In the twenty years that have passed since then, even as women have made peace – or at least the path to it – possible in several of the world’s conflict zones, their inclusion in official peace processes remains limited at best. This needs to change.
Anderlini (2020). Where are the women peacemakers? https://mondediplo.com/2020/08/04peacemakers
Gibbings, S.L. (2011) No angry women at the United Nations: political dreams and the cultural politics of United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325. International Feminist Journal of Politics, 13 (4), 522-538.
Pratt, N. (2013) Reconceptualizing gender, reinscribing racial–sexual boundaries in international security: the case of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on “Women, Peace and Security”. International Studies Quarterly, 57 (4), 772–783.
UN Women (2019). The power of women peacebuilders. https://www.unwomen.org/en/news/stories/2019/10/compilation-the-power-of-women-peacebuilders