Women can bring lasting peace, security to the table

Two decades on from the signing of an international agreement on women in conflict, Samoa’s United Nations Resident Coordinator Simona Marinescu sees little cause for celebration.

Less than a quarter of signatories to the agreement are seriously making progress towards improving life for half the population, she notes. 

And since 1990 just two women have ever been chief negotiators on a peace deal while just nine per cent of negotiators in conflict situations have been women.

“These are very, very low numbers, so we cannot actually claim success,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“20 years later, it’s very sad to see women have not been benefiting from all the commitment that came around the resolution.”

The Women Peace and Security resolution was written in 2000. For the first time, the weight of war on women and girls was acknowledged, and asked members to include them in peace-building and conflict resolution.

Ms. Marinescu said the resolution is for member states and the United Nations itself.

“You cannot be convincing when trying to determine a change at the member state level if you as an organisation do not adopt those principals,” she said.

“We have made a lot of progress on our side but we cannot see that progress in the life of too many member states unfortunately.”

Out of 193 United Nations member states, just 37 have written plans to realise the agreement’s goals, to include a gendered perspective in all peace and security work, and to better protect women and girls from gender based violence.

And despite growing awareness of how insecurity affects women, just 19 per cent of 1187 peace agreements signed between 1990 and 2017 reference women, and only five per cent mention gender based violence.

“All our researchers say one of the reasons which we don’t get long-lasting peace is because not everybody is around the table. We always put at the table the people who created the war in the first place,” Ms. Marinescu said.

“Participation of women as a voice of society, factoring in drivers of peace that benefit women, is both an obligation and, I think, an enabler for peace, honestly.

The first statistical study on whether peace became more sustainable if civil society was included in the peace process found its involvement in a peace agreement made it 64 per cent less likely to fail. When women participate, an agreement is 35 per cent more likely to last at least 15 years, the study concluded.

But a women, peace and security academic said regional and international agreements are not enough to create real change for women on the ground.

Sharon Bhagwan-Rolls, the Chair of the Global Partnership for Prevention of Armed Conflict, says women around the Pacific have proven they have answers to conflict related issues, and can lead peacebuilding efforts.

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They are no longer a vulnerable group needing protection, Ms. Bhagwan-Rolls said, but the drivers of solutions and preventative strategies.

“It’s very easy to say we will protect the women but actually, recognise the leadership potential,” she said.

In Bougainville, women led the ceasefire and the peace process that ended one of the worst civil wars in the region, which lasted nine years and claimed fifteen thousand lives, she noted.

The female-led peace process began with a week-long meeting of 700 Bougainvillean women in Arawa, which set off women working activity to forge peace in their communities.

But that example has not pushed other Pacific Islands to recognise women’s strength in peace-building, Ms. Bhagwan-Rolls said; Governments instead continue to see the resolution as a ‘soft’ policy issue, and leave it up to women’s departments or ministries.

“For me, having tracked the implementation [the resolution] since its adoption in 2000, I really hope we can get into some really practical [forms of] action that are well resourced at the country level," she said.

"To some degree [we need to] redesign the table so we are not just saying let’s invite a few women to the table.

“It’s taking gender equality and women’s rights into security sector governance, into policing, into defence, national security policy to drive that prevention agenda.”

Too often, the agenda has been relegated to the women’s departments which are historically under resourced, and cannot hold the security or defence sectors accountable, Ms. Bhagwan-Rolls said.

“If you look at the Security Council resolution it’s actually about integrating gender equality and women’s rights and it’s that accountability for national governments who have made gender equality commitments to regional intergovernmental [organisations].

“They have to get over it being a ‘soft’ issue, this is peace and security, and for an equitable and just result we need to have everybody working together.”

All different kinds of women need to be included in decision making, so that disaster and conflict response plans meet a diverse set of needs and reflect a diverse set of opinions, she added.

“The national disaster management structures also need to be able to think about how do we start to integrate gender equality and women’s rights commitments," she said.

"[We should not just be] talking about women as vulnerable groups but women as leaders; as first responders; women who have solutions; women whose participation will ensure there is better early warning, better preparedness and better protection.”

Ms. Bhagwan-Rolls is also part of the Shifting the Power Coalition, a Pacific network of women’s rights and disability organisations focused on disaster preparedness, response and recovery. It is operating in six countries, including Samoa, and is preparing to research the lived experience of women working in the humanitarian sector.

The group wants to know how much Government is including the voices of women and people with disabilities in disaster preparedness planning, Ms Bhagwa- Rolls said.

“We have some very important research that is linked to women’s experiences, to contribute to how we can shift the power within all of these disaster climate change management systems," she said.

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