In the aftermath of violence, fractured societies must pull together to build a stable social order. To effectively move forward, it is crucial that peacebuilding include the voices of all citizens, including ex-combatants, civil society leaders, governmental actors, representatives from minority groups, and more. However, there is one sector of the population that is routinely disregarded in peacebuilding processes—despite making up half of the population, women are often left on the sidelines of state sanctioned peacebuilding. This marginalization has serious ramifications for human rights, the ability of societies to heal holistically, and long term stability. Women experience conflict differently than men, and excluding them from peacebuilding discussions leaves society susceptible to threats that women are better able to identify than their male counterparts. According to the UN, women’s inclusion in peace processes increases the chances of agreements lasting more than two years by 20 percent, and increases their chances of lasting at least 15 years by 35 percent.
Despite the clear advantages to including women in peacebuilding, there are substantial challenges to realizing this goal. Women are often thought of as helpless victims rather than agents of change despite frequently being at the forefront of civil society organizations that create structure, aid, and valuable services during conflict. This perception leads to women’s exclusion from economic and political dialogues. Stigmas about women’s abilities and existing patriarchal power structures lead to women being ignored and excluded further. Logistical barriers such as lack of child care, household responsibilities, distance and cost of attending negotiations also pose very real barriers to female participation in peace processes.
Nevertheless, women continuously contribute to peacebuilding efforts. In Northern Ireland, the women of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition bridged political and ideological divides to promote peace, obtaining hard-won space in peace negotiations. Somali women involved in grassroots organizations overcame interclan violence to discuss possibilities for peace and solutions, the first conduit for diplomacy and dialogue in the conflict. In Sri Lanka, mothers who lost their sons to violence dared to make contact with guerrilla leaders, paving the way for eventual peace talks. In many places and in many forms, women display bravery and ingenuity that makes peace possible. Despite the barriers to female participation in peacebuilding, many individual women have been leaders in official governmental processes, working to build strong foundations for the future.
In this conversation, we aim to explore women’s inclusion in peace processes. We will examine and assess the various forms that this participation can take, share strategies for combating sexism in official processes, and discuss the disconnect between perceptions and reality of women’s participation to open paths for women’s political inclusion. Through engaging with the practical realities of creating women’s space in peacebuilding we hope to inform and inspire women’s participation in peace processes.