As an individual working specifically on issues affecting women survivors of war, I was excited to see on the CSW agenda a UN-sponsored session on “The Price of Peace: Financing Gender Equality in Post-Conflict Recovery and Reconstruction,” hosted by UNIFEM and the United Nations Development Program, UNDP.
Introducing the panel, Winnie Byanyima, Director of the Gender Team for UNDP’s Bureau for Development Policy, referenced the progress that had been made in recognizing women’s unique experience of conflict and post-conflict. She cited landmark international accords that recognize gender as a security issue (UN Security Council Resolutions 1325, 1820, 1888 and 1889) as evidence of this. Significantly, these resolutions recognize that women shoulder the greatest burdens in war and must be protected; that they contribute enormously to peace building and recovery efforts and must be included in those processes; and that sexual violence and rape as a tool of war is a particularly destructive and common feature of war that must be prevented, combated and prosecuted. Yet, she acknowledged, we have far to go. Although women around the world have demonstrated time and again their strength as survivors of conflict who work daily to mediate between armed groups, keep food on the table and schools and clinics running in the midst of chaos, women have to this day served as only 6% of negotiators to formalized peace talks. There have been zero female chief mediators in the UN system.
It was against this context that the panelists considered how to tackle that seemingly intractable problem of closing the gap between policy and practice. Mary Robinson summarized the problem thusly: “Women in civil society are doing tremendous work on the ground, but they are not heard, they are not respected, and above all they are not funded.”
Robinson sees a window of opportunity, though: technology. Previously, she said, we have not understood that women are agents of change at the local level because they were fragmented and highly localized—women in one refugee camp would assess needs and strategize for the effective delivery of goods and services. Women in another village would work to negotiate with armed groups to ensure the continued provision of food and water amidst conflict. Now, with the emergence of mobile phones and the internet, women are able to mobilize, organize and elevate their efforts. But their efforts are still not supported, scaled, funded.
Robinson pointed to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, where women have suffered a conflict and associated campaign of sexual violence of epic proportions and developed an action plan to implement UN Security Resolution 1325 in response. But they aren’t represented at high-level decision-making tables where those plans can be nationally adopted, resourced and implemented. Indeed, customarily peace is negotiated by the armed groups that shattered it in the first place—by men with guns who are often more concerned with defining the terms of the power they will inherit in the new government or power structure than they are with, say, holding accountable human rights violations such as rape as a weapon of war. “Peace processes are bad men talking to bad government and other bad men,” Robinson said, offering the quota as a tool that has proven effective in electoral processes and could be adapted to the peace-building and recovery processes. “Let’s say that the United Nations will not engage a peace process without at least 30% women at table. That the UN won’t be involved without it. Let’s do it. It worked electorally--why not in the peace process?
A compelling idea, but certainly not one tracing to any past performance in global peace processes. See Liberia, where thousands of women organized across religious and political divides to demand peace and literally had to force themselves into the 2003 peace talks by sitting outside and locking the warlords in until they reached an agreement. See Sudan, where women’s civil society groups were not permitted by the World Bank to participate in the 2008 Oslow donor conference (although the Norwegian government did invite them to Oslow, organize a parallel conference for them, and negotiate an opportunity for them to deliver a brief statement to the boys next door doling out dollars). And see Afghanistan, where just last month the Afghan government’s delegation to a major donor conference in London did not see fit to send a female representative and civil society representatives were not invited until the very last minute.
As Ingrid Fisca, the Norwegian State Secretary for International Development, said, “War is a masculine pastime and money is power. Donors are often reluctant to overrule the [dominant] parties. Gender equality is often declared as a western imposition, and so donors are overly cautious.”
Therein lies the problem. As men move out of the home and into the frontlines (as Rosie the Riveter remembers) women take on new roles economically (supporting families and sustaining economies); socially (as community and household leaders); and politically (as advocates negotiating amongst factions for the basic necessities of daily life). As men return at war’s end, the clash of opposing gender norms and expectations often pushes women back to the margins, where their voices do not reach conversations about what peace looks like, and on whose terms. When raised, the concept of gender equality is dismissed as quaint, unnecessary or culturally irrelevant, and the women who were once actively engaged in the heart of community life and processes are silenced. As we look to the 10th anniversary of UN Security Council Resolution on Women, Peace and Security this September, we must rededicate ourselves to the idea that peace is not the absence of war but the presence of life, the resurrection of economies, the resumption of services, the serving of justice and the participation of all citizens in the public sphere. We cannot achieve this true peace without 50 percent of the population, and we cannot do it without a robust and sustained commitment of resources. As the title of the day’s session reminds us, we must be prepared to pay the price for peace.