Does the incorporation of women in formal peace processes pose a threat to the possible achievements of women's grassroots peace organizations in the transition from conflict to peace? Should women insist on joining formal peace negotiations, or maintain feminist resistance from outside? These questions are part of a developing debate concerning the potential of women's peace activism in times of armed conflict at the beginning of the 21st century, in light of the adoption of United Nation SCRs 1325 and 1889.
Many peace activists and scholars around the world have acknowledged that the public engagement of the Security Council with gender issues has opened the door for new forms of understanding the marginalized placement of women in peace processes. Resolution 1325 has outlined a strategic path to claim women's protection and participation, promoting an underlying assumption that women's inclusion in formal peace efforts is a means of achieving gender equality and sustainable peace. As a result, local and international mechanisms ensuring equal representation in peace negotiations were rapidly encouraged during the last decade. But many have also experienced how overcoming the gendered construction of peace negotiations is a difficult task. Currently, the most documented difficulties that women who are involved in formal peace efforts face are: lack of funding, capacity and experience; a dominant masculine political culture and the prevalence of militaristic values among political elites; and the need to overcome gender stereotypes and traditional gender roles.
This is why a decade after Resolution 1325 women's participation in peace processes still remains a utopian struggle. As stated by the Secretary General in a report submitted to the Security Council in September 2009, "A persistent cause of concern is that women continue to be virtually absent from the peace table and to be severely underrepresented as third-party mediators or even as representatives of the United Nations in most conflict-affected countries. Women’s activism at the grass roots rarely translates into official recognition during peace processes, where they are seldom included in formal negotiations."
At the International Gender Justice Dialogue held in Mexico last month I wanted to share with participants the limitation of local attempts to implement and interpret international norms concerning gender, peace and security, based on the Israeli experience during the last decade. This is a chronicle of a paralysed women's movement trying to face the aftermath of a 'failed peace process'.
On July 2005 the Israeli Parliament passed an amendment to the existing Women's Equal Rights Law, in the spirit of Resolution 1325 mandating the representation of women on public committees and 'national policy shaping teams' including 'in any group appointed to peace-building negotiations'. This amendment was initiated partially by local women's NGO's, especially by Isha l'Isha-Haifa Feminist Center, which meant to introduce a gender perspective amidst the renewed outbreak of violence that followed the collapse of the Oslo Peace Process in 2000. To date, as in most other conflict zones, the legislation has had little impact. Israeli women are not a significant number of those making foreign policy decisions.
Although the attempt to engage the Israeli government by securing a commitment to give women a place at the table has failed, local women's groups have also tried other strategies. With the help of international organizations (foundations, agencies, research centres and ngo's) from Europe, the US and the UN, local women's organizations have made various attempts to work on issues related to gender, peace and security. These have included mapping local women's organizations, compiling lists of women specialists, creating dialogue groups, skill building seminars, fostering networks, research, organizing international conferences, initiating local campaigns and even engaging in international diplomacy on Track II. Unfortunately, although many of these initiatives have enabled local women's organizations to keep up their everyday work (which is of great importance) they have not promoted the inclusion of women in peace negotiations, nor have they promoted conflict resolution in general. On the contrary, the political situation in the region has only deteriorated since 2000 - and so has the ability of women to oppose militarism, racism, violence and sexism.
Why is it so difficult to implement SCR 1325? Every armed conflict is unique, generating very specific forms of oppression, discrimination, violence and injustice. That is why international strategies and campaigns need to address solutions and remedies that are also embedded in specific political and social contexts. The Israeli context provides an example of the ways in which local politics and feminist traditions both structure and limit the ability of women to create effective conflict resolution strategies on the national level.
The first reason for women's marginalization in the peace process derives from the inherent linkage between 'peace' and 'security', historically fostered by Israeli policy makers. This linkage serves to justify the growing involvement of military personnel in planning, negotiating and implementing peace agreements; it reproduces a hierarchy in which security issues are more important than civil affairs; and it determines who is to be credited as suitable for the task of negotiation and who is to remain invisible. In many respects a 'security based' approach to peace is antithetical to a 'justice based' approach to peace. And since a justice based approach is more likely to incorporate gender dimensions, one needs to ask whether it is it possible for Israeli women to challenge the underlying assumptions concerning the linkage between peace and security.
This leads to a second reason why Israeli women are having such difficulties in creating an affective political voice that would combine feminist issues and clear demands for peace. The ongoing conflict alongside processes of neo-liberal privatisation and the de-politicisation of local ngo's have minimized the space for critical public debate. Also, fear from terror and violence has been politically mobilized in order to maintain obedience and loyalty, especially among the Israeli Jewish population. Consequently, women's issues and ngo's have been so co-opted into local political and economic projects that their dependence on the State has minimized the opportunities to introduce a clear political voice..
Israel serves as an example for a democratic society with a long tradition of commitment to gender equality. However, the ongoing conflict, accompanied by a steady process of 'securitization' under the 'war on terror', and 'privatization' by neo-liberal demands has resulted in an overall depoliticised women's movement. This movement has neither a power base nor public recognition. In this a reality, some Israeli feminist peace activists such as the Coalition of Women for Peace, claim that any attempt to incorporate women into official negotiations will not change existing frameworks, nor will it bring new forms of knowledge. There is, they say, a need to reframe security, to challenge militaristic notions of peace and to stimulate a public debate about the gains and losses of the ongoing occupation.
The debate amongst Israeli women about the appropriate place for women in conflict resolution can be roughly summarized along the lines of 'liberal' versus 'radical' feminism. The first position, drawing from SCR 1325, calls for full participation and recognition while broadly accepting existing definitions of peace and security; the second position, advocated by local peace activists, insists on the creation and maintenance of a clear feminist resistance outside formal politics. Realizing that the failure to achieve peace after a decade of negotiations in an environment of increasing militarization and securitization has alienated feminists from formal peace negotiations, is a necessary step to understanding gendered politics in Israel and women's political inability to transform the reality of today's conflict.
A decade after the adoption of Resolution 1325 it is necessary to acknowledge that instead of designing ready-made programs based upon standardized manuals. it is time for a more embedded approach that will acknowledge the variety of concerns that face women living under armed conflict. Promoting women's participation in peace processes may be one of them, but working towards global feminist solidarity and resistance may also prove to be effective.