WILPF’s participation at SIPRI’s 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development
Women have demanded and fought for inclusion in peace and political processes for decades. Today, to some extent, the international community have managed to adapt good legal frameworks at the international level. But still women are missing from peace negotiations and political discussions about their and their societies’ future.
In many cases, these challenges are due to a global lack of understanding about how to implement existing policies addressing gender equality and the inclusion of women. Working on incorporating gender perspectives into a male dominated and worldwide patriarchal systems and structures, wherein women are historically and systematically excluded, requires a considerable investment in terms of time, political will, capacity, and financing. In other cases, poor implementation of existing policies is part of a conscious effort to uphold patriarchal systems by those who benefit from them. Resolution 1325 and the attached Women Peace and Security (WPS) agenda have unfortunately to a large extent been used for military purposes and to justify military solutions in the name of women’s rights, instead of using it for its original purpose: to challenge militarism as a patriarchal system. The focus on inclusion of women solders, is just adding women to an already fixed military structure without challenging it. The WPS agenda does not aim to make war equal, it aims to build peace through prevention of armed conflict and equality.
Shrinking space, conflict and destructive impacts on women
Today, many countries are experiencing what is commonly referred to as ‘shrinking space’, a term that describes efforts to limit civil society engagement through restrictive legislation, human rights abuses and intimidation. Shrinking space is often associated with repressive political regimes. While shrinking space may occur over time as an indirect effect of other socio-political phenomena, such as increase of militarisation, weapons proliferation and extensive military expenditure, it is often used directly as a tactic to silence opposition leaders, human rights advocates and other change agents within civil society.
As a function of their exclusion from formal structures, marginalized groups largely organize, affect change and participate in society through civil society organisations. When civic space shrinks, marginalized groups are therefore the most affected. Because gender inequality compounds other types of identity-based inequalities (e.g. race, class, gender, religion), women are among the most exposed to the negative impacts of shrinking space.
Why are women still excluded?
Conflict and war exacerbate existing inequalities between genders due to the severe damage and disruption of daily life, which affect women and men differently because of their different social roles.
The physical violence inherent to armed conflict often reinforces so-called ’invisible violence,’ i.e. structural and cultural violence. The increase of structural and cultural violence has particularly severe consequences for women, since gender discrimination and gender-based violence are often legitimized by cultural violence, emerging from patriarchal norms and traditions. The ‘invisible violence’ therefore affects the way women are perceived in society.
Armed conflict transforms societal perceptions of women from active members of a community or household into passive victims requiring protection, often grouped with children and the elderly. This portrayal prevents women from being seen as ‘relevant’ political actors in peace processes.
If inaccurate perceptions of women and structural inequality are recognized and dealt with during peace processes, it is also likely a gendered approach will be applied to peace processes themselves or their implementation. Androcentric peace agreements, or those that reinforce patriarchal norms and practices, institutionalize violence and discrimination towards women and ensure their continued exclusion in the post-conflict period.
Peace processes must, therefore, address structural and cultural manifestations of gender inequality in order to adequately address women’s needs, concerns, and rights.
A holistic approach
The success of international conflict prevention, management and resolution mechanisms depends heavily on the inclusion of women and other marginalized groups. As peacebuilding actors, women play an important role in pushing for more inclusive and sustainable policies, as evidenced by the emergence and development of the Women, Peace and Security Agenda, the gender-based violence criteria in the Arms Trade Treaty and effective conflict prevention tools such as the Women’s Situation Room (WSR) in Liberia, Nigeria, Kenya, Senegal and Sierra Leone.
In addition to that participation and access to political processes is a universal human right extensive evidence have also demonstration the positive impact women´s inclusion have on conflict prevention and peacebuilding. Despite this women still remain excluded from forums where both formal and informal powers are exercised. The Women’s International League for Peace and Freedom (WILPF) aims to comprehensively address many aspects of women’s rights by eschewing the artificial compartmentalization of human rights, political participation, disarmament, justice and development. Its approach is rooted in the belief that violence should not continue to be employed as a means of conflict resolution and that coherent and practical alternatives to military action must be developed to prevent, manage and resolve conflict.
We must shed light on today’s barriers to women’s participation. The central obstacle is simple to identify, and devastating, the ones with power don’t want to let it go. We therefore have to develop concrete strategies but also ask ourselves whom we listen to and why? We don’t necessarily listen to the “real experts”. Women are often organized in civil society due to exclusion in other forums, and have experiences and expertise that is important for peace building. People in all positions need to stop talking about, or for women, and let women, with different experiences, talk for themselves.
Eight WILPF representatives from Burundi, Cameroon, Chad, Colombia, Democratic Republic of Congo (DRC), Ghana, South Africa and Zimbabwe, will be represented in the 2017 Stockholm Forum on Peace and Development, bringing diverse expertise and insights into the challenges and opportunities faced by women peacebuilders in their respective countries.