In the field of international development, decades of evidence of women’s positive impact on socioeconomic outcomes have changed the way governments, donors, and aid organizations do their work. Nevertheless, despite a crescendo of calls for women’s participation in decision-making linked to peace and security over the last two decades, change has been slow to follow. But a recent increase in quantitative and qualitative research has the potential to transform the status quo. It is well known that women’s inclusion helps prevent conflict, create peace, and sustain security after the war ends.
There is overwhelming quantitative evidence that women’s empowerment and gender equality are associated with peace and stability in society. When women influence decisions about war and peace and take the lead against extremism in their communities, it is more likely crises will be resolved without recourse to violence.
Statistical analysis of the largest dataset on the status of women in the world today shows that where women are more empowered in multiple spheres of life, countries are less likely to go to war with their neighbors, to be in bad standing with the international community, or to be rife with crime and violence within their society. The causal direction is not yet clear, but it is evident that gender equality is a better indicator of a state’s peacefulness than other factors like democracy, religion, or Gross Domestic Product (GDP).
Similarly, gender inequality has been revealed as a predictor of armed conflict in a number of empirical studies, whether measuring conflict between states or within states. Many studies show a direct relationship between women’s decision-making power with regard to peace and conflict and the likelihood that war will break out.
When it comes to preventing violent extremism, for example, there are countless cases of women in civil society adopting effective nonviolent approaches rooted in cooperation, trust, and access to communities.
Like men, women play a variety of roles when conflict threatens. They strengthen peacemaking.
Mediation is a more effective means of ensuring that conflict will not recur when compared to military victories. However, it still has a mixed record of success: an empirical analysis of eight decades of international crises shows that while mediation often results in short-term cessations of hostilities, this frequently comes at the expense of long-term peace.
New qualitative and quantitative research shows that women can change this picture. A study of 40 peace processes in 35 countries over the last three decades showed that when women’s groups were able to effectively influence a peace process, an agreement was almost always reached except in one case. When women did not participate, the rate of reaching an agreement was much lower. Once an agreement was reached, the influence of women’s groups was also associated with much higher rates of implementation. Statistical analysis of a larger dataset shows that when women participate in peace processes, peace is more likely to endure.
Some key ways that women improve both the process and outcomes of peace talks.
1. Women promote dialogue and build trust
Women are often perceived by belligerents as honest brokers in peace processes, and they act accordingly. Conflict parties may see women as less threatening because they are typically acting outside of formal power structures and are not commonly assumed to be mobilizing fighting forces. This grants women access to conflict parties often denied to male leaders.
Women’s roles as mediators are also reflected in community-level dispute resolution. Research across cultures demonstrates women are less likely to be discriminated against by virtue of their race, religion, or ethnicity than men making them well-positioned to move between conflicting parties. The trust in women as intermediaries comes due to the fact that men are more likely to act as competitors and aggressors in interpersonal and inter group relations compared to women.
2. Women bridge divides and mobilize coalitions
Beyond their roles as intermediaries, women are adept at building coalitions in their push for peace. They frequently mobilize diverse groups in society, working across ethnic, religious, political, and cultural divides cracked open by conflict. In addition to this horizontal bridge-building, women also bridge the vertical divide between elites and the grassroots, which may in turn increase the chances that peace will last by promoting buy-in and generating legitimacy.
In-depth studies of 40 peace processes show that no women’s groups tried to derail a peace process. Women’s coalition-building across divides may be explained by the fact that women are much more likely than men to reject hierarchies based on group belonging.
3. Women raise issues that are vital for peace
Like men, women play a variety of roles during the conflict, from peacemakers and political advocates to victims and perpetrators. Nonetheless, on average, women experience conflict differently from men. Perhaps because of these unique experiences during the war, women raise different priorities during peace negotiations. They frequently expand the issues under consideration taking talks beyond military action, power, and territory to consider social and humanitarian needs that belligerents fail to prioritize. Women frequently advocate for other excluded groups and address development and human rights issues related to the underlying causes of the conflict. These approaches help societies to reconcile and ultimately build a more robust peace. Indeed, when women are excluded from peace and transition processes, significant grievances and sources of instability are often overlooked.
4. Women prioritize gender equality
When women participate in peace processes they frequently raise issues of gender equality and women’s rights, which closely correlate with peace. This contributes to strengthening the representativeness and legitimacy of the new political order that follows. Even when women’s concerns are not ultimately included in peace agreements or new constitutions, women’s mobilization in contexts where gender roles and political power are in flux appears to have produced positive outcomes for the political institutions that follow.
5. Women rebuild more peaceful societies
When war is officially ended, women’s political and social participation can contribute to a more robust peace for everyone by reducing the likelihood of relapse into conflict and taking a more inclusive approach to post-conflict reconstruction.
6. Women break the conflict trap
The effect of women’s participation is evident when it comes to breaking the “conflict trap.” Once war has broken out, there is the risk that society will experience further violent conflict. But women’s empowerment is associated with a reduced likelihood that conflict will break out. The statistical analysis also shows that strengthening women’s political and social participation diminishes the chances of conflict relapse after the war has ended.
7. Women broaden societal participation
Research demonstrates that gender quotas in post-conflict contexts make it more likely that other disadvantaged groups will gain access to parliament, depending on the prevailing electoral system, which in turn correlates with conflict prevention indicators. Other studies show that women in politics are perceived as more trustworthy and less corrupt; a perception that is vital for maintaining the public’s confidence in its new political institutions in the fragile post-conflict setting. The empirical evidence is overwhelming where women’s inclusion is prioritized, peace is more likely particularly when women are in a position to influence decision-making.
Generally, the threat and onset of war can be used to reinforce and exacerbate women’s marginalization, or it can be used as an opportunity to empower women and increase the chances of a peaceful outcome for everyone. Because when women are included, it benefits entire communities, not just women.
Adapted from https://www.inclusivesecurity.org/