Investing in women’s participation and rights for peace is both important because women are part of humanity and also because it is critical to preventing violence and conflict and promoting peace. Here are a few cases that highlight how far we have come, and how far we still have to go.
War is gendered. The Syrian conflict shows us this. Syrian women also show us women are organising during the height of violence and uniting to demand space at the so-called “peace table”. Syrian women advocates are demanding meaningful participation at the negotiation table.
Violence in Syria has affected all communities and women regardless of backgrounds or political views or whether they live inside or outside regime-controlled areas. Hundred of thousands have been killed and millions displaced. Women are differently affected by the war, and make up the majority of those displaced.
Sexual violence, including early forced marriage, is committed on a mass scale. Women no longer have freedom of movement, employment, or education.
War widows and female headed household struggle to survive. The systematic targeting of healthcare facilities and lack of humanitarian access also have a disproportionate impact on women. Syrian women’s voices are excluded from the decision-making at all levels.
Despite these barriers and obstacles, Syrian civil society groups have been able to organise inside and outside of Syria. They have formed coalitions such as the Syrian Women’s Initiative for Peace and Democracy. They have been able to unite and call for peaceful political solutions, independent status at negotiations, ceasefire, and release of detainees.
They are providing critical humanitarian aid to besieged areas in the ongoing crisis and are preparing for rebuilding a more equitable country. Syrian women groups have used the women, peace and security tools to support their work and vision.
Justice for crimes against women in conflict and post-conflict settings must be delivered to challenge cultures of injustice and inequality. Bosnia’s experience showed the world this and that we cannot be silent about impunity.
During the Bosnian conflict (1992-1995), thousands of women and girls were brutally raped, held in prison camps, hotels, or private houses where they were sexually exploited. Most of these women are still waiting for justice in Bosnia.
There have been some judicial advancements, including in the International Criminal Tribunal for the former Yugoslavia (ICTY), which for the first time recognised rape as a form of torture and sexual enslavement as crime against humanity. However, there remains huge challenges. In the Tribunal, more than 70 individuals were charged with crimes of sexual violence including sexual assault and rape, but only 30 have been convicted.
Rape was recognised as a powerful tool of war, used to intimidate, persecute, and terrorise. More prosecutions are required. Reparations are needed. Addressing sexual violence must be prioritised and this means impunity must end.
In Bosnia, as in other contexts, UN Peacekeepers, military and other international actors (including private contract firms) are amongst those exploiting women, perpetrated violence, resulting in serious concern about the role of the international community in conflict countries. The Women, Peace and Security agenda gives us the tools to ensure justice is not blind.
Women can make a difference. Liberian women showed the warring parties and the world this. After more than ten years of brutal civil war which had devastating impact on women, gross human rights violations and rampant sexual violence used as a tactic of the war, a group of unarmed women mobilised to demand an end to the violence that was tearing their country apart. “We want peace, no more war”, the simple but powerful message of the movement.
Dressing in white to express their unity despite various religious backgrounds, the women were able to exert pressure on the warring parties at the negotiation table and pushed them to sign a peace agreement (the Accra Peace Accord, 2003). Overcoming countless obstacles, they helped bring Liberia to the start of a process of building peace.
They played a critical in ending the civil war in the liberation of child soldiers, in disarmament, and in the decline of sexual violence. Women’s groups were also instrumental in the election of Liberia’s President, and Africa’s first female President, Ellen Johnson-Sirleaf.
Despite these successes, Liberia today still continues to struggle with equitable and gendered post-conflict reconciliation efforts, corruption and sexual violence against women. Civil society’s peace-making work continues. Peace is not a moment or a document, but a process.
Post-conflict peace-making requires inclusive dialogue including women’s voices and rights. Nepal shows us these opportunities in post-conflict countries and communities. While developing their National Action Plan (NAP) on Women, Peace and Security in 2011, Nepal made a significant effort to incorporate the voices of civil society organisations (CSOs).
The NAP developed followed the Nepalese civil war (1996-2006) which killed over 16,000 people and displaced 150,000. Women’s organizations were involved in the development of the NAP by directing Steering Committees, developing Action Group to strategise and unify civil society, and incorporating the views of 52 districts.
The Nepal NAP was developed out of one of the most, if not the most, consultative process including 52 district level consultations, 10 regional consultations, and separate special consultations with women and girls directly affected by conflict.
These consultations were attended by over 3,000 participants and generated more than 1,500 action points which were clustered under the five pillars of the NAP. These action points included participation and access to justice and reparation as well as women’s rights that were previously unaddressed. The ongoing engagement of women civil society is important for implementation and monitoring of this National Plan.