This paper argues that paying special attention to the different experiences of women and men is critical in designing successful conflict management and peacebuilding programmes. It examines the role women play and the obstacles they continue to face in post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding. Conflicts often force women to organise themselves to safeguard basic necessities and to carry out activities related to, for example, education and healthcare. These activities have a role to play in ensuring lasting peace and governments must ensure women are included in key peace negotiations at all levels.
There are obvious reasons why women are important to the peacebuilding process. For example, they constitute half of every community and the difficult task of peacebuilding must be done by men and women in partnership. Women are also the central caretakers of families and everyone is affected when they are excluded from peacebuilding. Women are also advocates for peace, as peacekeepers, relief workers and mediators. Women have played prominent roles in peace processes in the Horn of Africa such as in Sudan and Burundi, where they have contributed as observers.
However, efforts to foreground the perspectives of women in peace processes and to prevent gender-based violence have met with limited success. Women’s participation in conflict resolution and peacebuilding is limited by a number of factors, including:
- The prevalence of rape and sexual assault, as in Rwanda, Bosnia and Kashmir. This form of abuse generates fear and helps to silence campaigns for social, economic and political rights.
- Women are most likely to have fled conflict, and take on responsibilities such as primary carers and providers for dependants, which makes participation in peacebuilding more difficult.
- Cultural pressures against women putting themselves forward, that pressure women to refrain from travel, and not to engage in important public arenas. Where women do participate, they may not have the required education or training.
- A lack of resources such as a lack of access to employment opportunities and to productive assets such as land, capital, health services, training and education.
- Women’s movements do not have established mechanisms to monitor and evaluate the implementation of the gender agenda in post-conflict settings. For example, in Somalia male-dominated structures have not seen the need to implement agreed affirmative action.
The UN, all governments and NGOs therefore have a lot to do to encourage and assist women in developing their role in post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities. Governments and the UN should:
- Ensure that women play a key role in the design and implementation of post-conflict resolution and peacebuilding activities.
- Support and strengthen women’s organisations in their peacebuilding efforts by providing adequate and sustained financial and technical support.
- Strengthen the protection and representation of refugee and displaced women by paying special attention to their health, rehabilitation and training needs.
- End impunity and ensure redress of crimes committed against women in violent conflict and enforce and bring to justice culprits involved in rape as a war crime.
- Establish mechanisms for enforcing and monitoring international instruments for the protection of women’s rights in post-conflict situations.