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Achieving Lasting Global Peace Requires Women’s Participation

The impact of war is felt by all but disproportionately affects women and girls. In particular, the presence of armed conflict increases the prevalence of sexual violence, displacement, maternal mortality, mental health struggles, and reproductive health issues among women. 

Often, women and girls are targeted during conflicts for purposes of exploitation. For example, in 2014, the terrorist group Boko Haram kidnapped 276 Chibok schoolgirls in Nigeria, many of whom were forced to convert to Islam and marry Boko Haram members. This also happens in Myanmar, where instances of sexual violence toward women by the military have become so common that it is treated like an institutionalized practice. 

For this reason, women need to be included in peacemaking efforts. Women’s political participation at all levels is necessary for a progressive and equal society. Yet, many countries still have deeply ingrained patriarchal values and barriers that prevent women from participating in political discourse. Even in progressive countries, men arguably dominate much of this discourse. These same biases and barriers exist even in international institutions like the United Nations.

The 2000 United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 addresses the impact of war on women and their essential role at negotiation tables, promoting peace, and preventing conflict. The four fundamental elements of UNSC Resolution 1325 include women's protection, presentation, participation, and reintegration. These acknowledge that women experience violent conflict disproportionality and promote measures to protect them. Moreover, the resolution emphasizes the importance of women’s participation in peacekeeping discourse while advocating for the integration of gender perspectives in all UN efforts.   

Unfortunately, world leaders have made minimal efforts to include women in peacemaking efforts since UNSC Resolution 1325 passed. The Council on Foreign Relations found that women were 13% of negotiators between 1992 and 2018. And in 2019, a study found that from 1990 to 2014, women were signatories to only 13 peace agreements out of 130

Women’s participation is needed more than ever in peace-building and conflict resolution. A 2015 analysis of forty post-Cold War peace agreements demonstrated that instances in which women had a strong influence in the agreement process were positively correlated with its implementation. It's notable that women’s participation makes peace agreements more “durable” and “comprehensive”. And we don’t just need successful peace agreements; we need the ones that last

While the short-term impact of Resolution 1325 reflects the value of women’s participation, its long-term implications are equally important. For example, the mere presence of women seated at a negotiation table can set a standard and solidify their roles in these contexts. This is especially important in patriarchal countries that are experiencing conflict or regime changes. In Afghanistan, for example, the Taliban’s takeover has erased much of the country’s progress for women’s rights since the 2004 constitution. In 2020, women made up only 10% of these negotiators in Afghanistan. 

Preserving women’s rights and ensuring a stable political environment is achievable with women’s participation. For example, both of these goals were established with the successful 2014 Comprehensive Agreement in the Philippines, which included one-third of women at the table and numerous women’s rights protections embedded in the agreement. The Comprehensive Agreement also helped to lessen tension and conflict in the Bangsamoro region. Research has demonstrated that since resolution 1325 was passed in 2000, references to women in peace agreements have increased from 11% to 27%. Women’s participation in peace agreements can be essential to preserve their rights while achieving conflict resolution. 

In 2015, the International Peace Institute found that globally, a peace agreement is 35% more likely to last for 15 years if it includes women’s participation. Women at negotiation tables are more likely to increase the durability of these agreements, but why? First, research has demonstrated that women are collaborative, promote community cohesion, and are empathetic. These traits are exemplified in the 1998 Good Friday Agreement in Northern Ireland, which was successful and long-lasting because women negotiators reached across party lines, promoted community cohesion and regularly interacted with the public, exercised impartiality, and included the underrepresented in dialogue. 

20% of the negotiators were women in the 2016 peace agreement between the Colombian government and the Revolutionary Armed Forces of Colombia. The contributions of these women were two-fold; they constructed an agreement that lessened violence and increased accountability while also creating a post-conflict plan that emphasized civilian reintegration into society. Moreover, the success of these agreements sets a precedent for future agreements globally. This precedent demonstrates the importance of having women at negotiation tables and their success in creating peace agreements. 

Countries currently in conflict can utilize the precedent women have set in creating and implementing successful peace agreements. For example, there is presently little evidence of women being included in the current Russia-Ukraine discourse. Women are currently at extreme risk in Ukraine, since many cannot access healthcare, and reports of sexual violence have surfaced. The lack of women’s participation in the Russia-Ukraine discourse may threaten the preservation of their rights if there is a future peace agreement in the making. 

Women's role in war discourse and peacekeeping can manifest in other forms, including those outside negotiation tables and not facilitated by governments. For example, the Russian feminist group “Pussy Riot” has routinely criticized the Russian state through guerrilla performances that have political messages. Currently, Pussy Riot is performing antiwar shows across Europe to raise money and spread awareness for Ukraine. 

Women globally have shaped politics and have contributed in ways that are instrumental to a country’s stability, even outside of negotiation tables. Women are inherently innovative, collaborative, and strategic—these qualities make them essential for crafting successful peace agreements in countries with conflict. Ultimately, the seats at negotiation tables should be reserved for women and uphold their leading roles on the drawing board. There is no hope for long-lasting global peace without the input of women in such dialogue.

Ava Mangold is a research intern at RepresentWomen and a rising senior at the University of Toronto with a double major in Political Science and Criminology. 

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