What about the Women: The Missing Voice at the Peacemaking Table

By Sthelyn Romero

As war and conflict continue to plague our world and the international community attempts to negotiate peace, an important question to ask is where are all the women? It is clear that what is missing from the negotiating table is women. This highlights the growing gap between global commitments to peace and the harsh realities of the peace process itself. Many countries are starting to incorporate women into peace negotiations but is female participation effective? Can women influence the language that goes into these peace agreements?

The answer is yes. I study the effect of women participation on the content of peace agreements and peace processes signed after the Cold War through present day. The post-cold war period is an important time to study peace agreements because the end of the Cold War and the beginning of the twenty-first century has sparked a growing interest in the study of peace processes. This period also marked the first time gender issues were seriously considered as part of the conflict resolution process.

The goal of having peace agreements is to consider the grievances of all affected parties and hash out solutions. However, the grievances of women are often not addressed in peace agreements and this is alarming because women are disproportionately affected by conflict. It is recognized that women experience violence and mortality comparable to male combatants during conflicts. Women also tend to represent the “virtue” of a group, and those wishing to weaken the ethnic or cultural pillars of a community will target their women. Due to the significant harm conflicts inflict on women, it is essential that women participate in negotiations. Women have the capacity to form their own agenda, which not only addresses the needs of society, but also focuses on the grievances of the female population.

The findings of this study suggest that female participation does affect whether or not the grievances of women are addressed in peace agreements. When women participate in the negotiation process of peace agreements, there is a much stronger likelihood that gender content will be present in peace agreements. Women as signatories, in particular, yield the most influence on the content of peace agreements. The findings show that including women in the peace process increases the probability of gender-friendly language to appear in peace agreements by 46%.

This means that the most productive way to address women’s grievances is to include women holding positions of power into peace negotiations. In order to do this member-states need to ensure that more women are incorporated in their government structures. A simple way to ensure female participation is a quota system. The quota system automatically builds female participation directly into the government and gives them the opportunity to be promoted into positions of power. This can give women the ability to promote gender policies in the international sphere. Many member-states have adopted National Action Plans that express their priorities when it comes to women, peace, and security and have coordinated policies to implement Resolution 1325. Out of 192 countries that are part of the United Nations, only 44 countries have developed National Action Plans. This represents a solid step forward, but there is still a ways to go.

A solid step in the right direction would be to include women in the peace negotiations of the Syrian government with the opposition. Syrian women have expressed interest and have been advocating to be included in the peace process. Syrian women have recently met in Geneva and have adopted a working document which calls upon the United Nations to uphold its commitment to implement Security Council Resolution 1325.

The United Nations, specifically, the Security Council, needs to put pressure on the rest of the member-states to develop these national action plans to address women’s issues on peace and security. In 2015, there will be a high-level review of Security Council Resolution 1325. It is crucial that the Security Council looks at these issues and take serious action against states that have not implemented Security Council Resolution 1325. If these issues are addressed, the impact of women at the negotiating table could be stronger and their issues could be more effectively addressed. 

Sthelyn Romero is a Master of Arts candidate at the School of Diplomacy and International Relations in Seton Hall University.  She specializes in human rights and global negotiations. She has previously interned with the U.S Mission to the United Nations where she worked on women, peace, and security issues.


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