Sen: Women Participation Essential in Peace Agreements

Event Video

Marking the one-year anniversary of the global study on the implementation of the landmark Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, IPI held a policy forum on October 26th to consider the influence of women’s participation in peace processes—from negotiations to peace agreements, power-sharing arrangements, and throughout political transitions.

Panelists discussed the challenges, opportunities, and prospects for improved gender representation in three countries where peace processes are ongoing: Colombia, Syria, and Yemen.

Purna Sen, Director of the Policy Division, UN Women, said that the benefit of women’s participation in peace processes had now been quantified, producing a “wide and deep base of evidence that supports the conclusion that women’s participation enhances the effectiveness of efforts to build more peaceful and inclusive societies.” This evidence will be the link that makes it possible to achieve peaceful and sustainable development through the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, she said.

The global study found that “when women serve as peacekeepers, peacekeeping missions are seen as more accessible and credible by the local populations, and we also see lower rates of sexual exploitation and abuse.” The same year UN Women was drafting this report, she said, the UN was investigating allegations that peacekeepers sexually abused civilians in the Central African Republic.

Thomas Schieb, a minister at the Permanent Mission of Germany to the UN, lamented that women’s participation is still seen by many as a box to tick. “Positive examples of real involvement of women in decision-making, such as Colombia, are still too rare,” he said, calling for more meaningful participation. He added: “Germany is proud to support some 40 mediation support processes worldwide financially or through training, and we are working here in New York to strengthen the institutional framework on 1325.”

Thania Paffenholz, Director of the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative, Graduate Institute of International and Development Studies in Geneva, said that across forty case studies of mediation processes, women’s inclusion only came when women themselves exerted pressure.

“If you have a women’s only delegation at the negotiation table, these are usually the activists. From them, you can expect more [of a] push on [the] deep roots of conflict, [and] gender issues,” she said.

The key point, she said, is to get these activists into positions of decision-making power, which they often do not have. More women do not equal more peace automatically. In order for inclusiveness to translate into the intended results, better peace process design and a consideration of the social, cultural context is necessary.

While all female delegations are important, Christine Bell, Professor, University of Edinburgh, said that diverse coalitions add a different kind of value. “Rainbow coalitions are powerful because different communities speak to different communities, and you’re building a broad-based consensus,” she said.

Virginia Bouvier, Senior Advisor for Peace Processes at the United States Institute of Peace, spoke about what has been seen as s a significant achievement for global peacebuilding—the final peace agreement between the Colombian government and Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia (FARC) guerrillas what waws signed in Havana on September 25 but then rejected by a narrow margin in a national popular referendum a week later. She said there remains hope for a revised peace deal.

For one thing, she explained that the referendum “was very rushed,” having been put to a vote within one month’s time.

The deal itself is “a 297-page accord that’s very complicated and has many controversial ideas for transitional justice.”

She said that for such a complicated deal to “be accepted and digested by the population, most of whom don’t vote, most of whom feel disaffected, most of whom are not connected or have had little contact from the state, would suddenly say ‘Yes, we love this,’ within a month’s time without more time to educate the public about the content, is a huge jump.”

This, coupled with a dedicated misinformation campaign on social media that the “no” campaign did not have the infrastructure to counter, precipitated the rejection of the deal. These are factors “the international community needs to grapple with more,” she emphasized.

Having caught a glimpse of peace, the people of Colombia must be the ones to salvage the deal, she said. “There’s a very capable young generation that’s not willing to let this chance for peace go. Women are also trying to be on the front lines of this.”

Andrea Ó Súilleabháin, IPI Senior Policy Analyst, moderated the conversation.

The event was co-organized with UN Women and the German Mission to the UN.