The dream of creating a system that would lead to the prevention of war and conflicts was realized with the establishment of the United Nations as a multilateral system in which nations would discuss political solutions to entrenched problems instead of drawing their weapons on one another.
In addition to greed, arrogance, claims of sovereignty and historical rights, and thirst for more power, the political economy of war and peace is at the root of most conflicts throughout human history and the 21st century, as is inequality between peoples and nations. Honor, in its various and multifaceted perceptions, is also seen as a reason to fight. These are the reasons why the rise of militarism as well as the reliance on violence by states and peoples to address any threat — internal or external — seem unstoppable. History has taught us that this kind of behavior always escalates out of control and results in an erosion of human rights and more widespread violence.
The unbalanced militaristic response of major powers to any attacks has led to the spread of violence and vengeful agendas throughout most of the world, leading to even more damage and the endangerment not only of many basic rights such as freedom of religion, association, and speech but also, of humanity itself.
To this day, the recurrent way of thinking has been, and remains, a military one. Militarism is still considered the only way to resolve all of these issues, the only way to protect privileges and resolve inequalities between peoples and nations. Hostility and conflict have continued for centuries, erupting like a dormant volcano, all because the ones sitting around the big table are a handful of men with a specific mindset. They negotiate peace while threatening war by keeping the “sword of Damocles” hanging over the necks of their enemies as much as on each other’s necks, and out of these situations they always create a range of bombastic names, great causes, and far-fetched descriptions such as “cold wars,” etc.
Why am I telling you all of this? Because the solution to all this turmoil can start with one easy and simple step: making sure women are more involved in every facet of every decision-making situation in every part of the world. Why? Because, unfortunately, the establishment of equality in our modern-day society, far though it may have come, has not developed enough to show us the true potential of what we can transform this world into if women and men were equally in charge. Because if men are explosive volcanoes, then women are tsunami waves — both forces of nature to be reckoned with in their own way. Because absolute harmony lies in balance, and there is no greater balance than the one we can achieve by allowing women to use the strengths at their disposal that men may not have, and vice versa.
In less philosophical terms, one could say that those who are most concerned about having peace are those of us whose lives and bodies have been marked by war, and we can be certain that women have far more often been marked than men. That is but one of many reasons why a woman’s perspective is needed anywhere we can have it.
Why Does the World Need More Women at the Negotiations Table?
Including women in peacemaking processes adds a broader range of perspectives and enhances the ability of peacemakers to address the concerns of a wider range of stakeholders, which, in turn, leads to more sustainable peace. According to studies by women in the United Nations, when women sit at the negotiations table for peace talks, it is 20% more likely for this peace to be sustainable for up to two years and 35% more likely to last for up to 15 years. The latter may only be a set of loose statistics for those
who like to hear proof in numbers, but these statistics have the potential to become more accurate if more attention was given to this situation.
The UN, along with experts in peacebuilding, is requesting that regular consultations with female representatives and groups be organized, so that all concerns and priorities can be brought to the table and discussed. The chances of achieving lasting peace would greatly increase if female representatives from different groups in civil society were to take a seat at the negotiations table. This should include everyone and not just the parties in conflict. Having women at the negotiations table will change the dynamic
and address the root of the conflict.
From Victims to a Transformative Power: Will the World Have the Courage to Change?
Changing the dynamic of peacemaking means changing the whole image and perception of it: the image of a woman handing out flowers to soldiers and encouraging wars rather than fighting to stop them; the image of a “proud” mother burying her son rather than the joy of keeping him alive; the burning candles in honor of our fallen rather than the fiery warmth of a hearth at the center of a community kept alive by the glow of a lasting peace. These images and perceptions have been engraved in the human mind. The entire ruling “system” was built upon these images: men are the protectors; they represent the protecting force. They are the defenders, while women are the victims whose honor must be protected, as though they are defenseless property, and used against the enemy as a weapon of war — kept as hostages, violated, tortured, killed, among many other ways they are simply used to hurt the enemy.
Many Changes Were Made by the UN, and Here Is the Reality
Let us follow with some more information and statistics to make this argument slightly more concrete.
Women are often underrepresented or excluded from official peacerelated initiatives. It is true that more women are at the head of peacekeeping operations than ever before, and the number of female peacekeepers have nearly doubled during the last decade. The frequency of women’s participation in negotiations, however, has not changed; it remains minimal. Women’s voices have yet to be heard at the head of negotiations tables; their voices do not have the power to influence the mechanisms and operations that directly spin the gears of peacemaking decisions.
What has also not changed is the lack of resourcing invested in women’s activism for peace and security. Women sign fewer than 4% of all peace agreements, and fewer than 10% of all negotiators are women.
Peace matters, especially to communities and individuals living in conflict regions. It concerns deeply those with painful memories and wounds that will stay with them forever, having seen their relatives killed, their houses demolished, their families torn apart.
Former U.S. President Jimmy Carter, who has dedicated his life to women’s rights through faith, says that the more gender equality found in a country, the less likely it is for that country to go to war.
And according to a World Bank report from 2011, most peace agreements fail, and conflicts erupt anew only a few years after. This comes as no surprise to female activists who have argued for decades that peace processes need to include women in order to be sustainable.
Yet, despite global initiatives and commitments, the number of women involved in formal peacemaking processes remains low, and many peace agreements do not include gender provisions that sufficiently address women’s security and peacebuilding needs.
Increasing the effective participation of women in peacemaking and conflict prevention efforts by the UN Department of Political and Peacebuilding Affairs (DPPA) is important to the future of humankind. This issue first made it onto the Security Council’s agenda back in 2000, with the adoption of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 on women, peace, and security (WPS).
According to the UN, as part of DPPA’s special political missions in the field, gender advisors or gender focal points and the secretary general’s special envoys and special representatives provide advice and support to the mission’s leadership on ways to promote women’s political participation. They also advise on how to make peace processes and prevention efforts more inclusive and insert a gender perspective into the UN’s political work. Contacts with civil society, especially women’s groups, can help prevent or resolve conflict, as they often have intimate knowledge of the dynamics on the ground, given their networks and access to restricted areas. They can assist officials involved in peacemaking to address grievances and identify root causes of conflict from an early stage before a conflict further deteriorates.
Gender advisors help organize consultations with civil society and women’s groups within countries where the UN is supporting a peace process and provide advice on effective ways to include women and their views in that process. One example is the establishment of a parallel consultative mechanism, such as a women’s advisory board. The department also promotes women’s political participation in elections by, for example, requesting advice on temporary special measures, such as electoral quotas during electoral support.
To assist mediation actors and member states in their efforts to make peace processes more gender-responsive and inclusive, the DPPA developed two guidance documents for mediators and mediation experts — one addressing conflict-related sexual violence in Cease-fire and Peace Agreements (drafted in 2012) and one on Gender and Inclusive Mediation Strategies (drafted in 2017).
The DPPA established the Gender, Peace and Security Unit (GPS) in 2016. The GPS, aside from overseeing the implementation of the WPS agenda through developing policy, will build and improve the capacity of those involved in peacemaking and support DPPA’s mission and headquarters staff in implementing Security Council resolutions on WPS and conflict-related sexual violence. The WPS’s agenda is progressively intriguing: They seek to incorporate gender mainstreaming, among other things, to further their goals. Gender advisors, however, are not the only ones responsible for the advancement of the WPS’s work. Every member of the DPPA, all the way from the leadership level to team assistants, is contributing.
What Needs to Be Done
Mediators need to promote understanding of the value of the participation of women among parties in conflict and address the importance of women's full, equal, and meaningful participation in peacemaking efforts among other international issues, such as an effective response to a global pandemic, if we were to discuss more pressing current events.
In May 2020, UN Women undersecretaries general for political and peacebuilding affairs and for peace operations made a joint call to ensure women are central to global cease-fire efforts. This is yet another step forward and should be enforced and ensured.
Great women do not always stand “behind” the greatest men. We are being ushered into a new era now — an era in which both great men and women are standing side by side, creating a better world together.