Women make real difference to peace

Change agents: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says countries must do more to get women involved in peace-making. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

Change agents: Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka says countries must do more to get women involved in peace-making. (Goran Tomasevic/Reuters)

We recently celebrated the peace deal struck between the government in Colombia and the main guerrilla group. The deal reached represents the clearest sign yet of a possible end to five decades of conflict.

Less is said about the multiple constructive ways in which Colombian women have participated in, and influenced, these negotiations or mobilised for peace, including the many meetings held by women ­survivors with the women in both negotiating teams.

Similarly, few people know that last year also saw the end of another decade-long conflict in the Philippines between the government and the Moro Islamic Liberation Front. In the peace talks, more than a third of the negotiators were women – far above the norm in official peace talks. Their participation was built on a long history of women’s leadership at local and national levels in the Philippines.

As tensions threaten Burundi’s fragile peace, Burundian women have organised themselves in a nationwide network of mediators to quell or mitigate the myriad local disputes and prevent escalation.

In 129 municipalities countrywide, they addressed, by their count, approximately 3?000 conflicts at the local level in 2015, including mediating between security forces and protesters, advocating the release of demonstrators and political prisoners, promoting nonviolence and dialogue in divided communities, and countering rumours and exaggerated fears with verifiable information to prevent widespread panic. United Nations Women has been proud to support these efforts.

These are not isolated stories. A comprehensive study prepared for the 15th anniversary of UN Security Council resolution 1325, a landmark resolution recognising gender equality in international peace and security, makes the strongest case to date: gender equality improves our humanitarian assistance, strengthens the protection efforts of our peacekeepers, contributes to peace talks’ conclusion and peace agreements’ sustainability and accelerates economic recovery after conflict.

The study compiles evidence accumulated by researchers demonstrating how peace negotiations ­influenced by women are more likely to end in agreement and to endure.

When conflict-affected communities target women’s empowerment, they experience the most rapid economic recovery and poverty reduction, as well as greatly improved broad humanitarian outcomes, not just for women and girls but for whole populations.

In a world where extremists place the subordination of women at the centre of their ideology and war tactics, the international community should place gender equality at the heart of its peace and security interventions. Beyond policies, gender equality must drive decisions about who to hire and on what to spend money and time.

We must strive for tangible changes for women affected by war and engage the underused capacity of women to prevent those conflicts.

Countries must do more to bring women to the peace table. Civil society and women’s movements have made extraordinary contributions to effective peace processes. When civil society representatives are involved in peace agreements, the agreements are 64% more likely to be successful.

It is time to put a stop to the domination of peace processes by those who fight the wars while disqualifying those who stand for peace. It is time to stop underinvestment in gender equality. The percentage of aid to fragile states targeting gender equality as a main goal in peace and security interventions is only 2%. Change requires bold steps, and it cannot happen without investment.

That time has come. On September 25, the countries of the UN adopted the 2030 Agenda for Sustainable Development, which expresses determination to “ensure that all human beings can fulfil their potential in dignity and equality” and to “foster peaceful, just and inclusive societies that are free from fear and violence”.

Two days later, 72 heads of state and government attended our global leaders’ meeting to underline top-level support for gender equality and commit to specific action. And, on October 13, the Security Council celebrated the 15th anniversary of resolution 1325, which aims to inject new energy, ideas and resources into women’s leadership for peace.

In a world so afflicted by conflict, extremism and displacement, we cannot rely only on the ripples of hope sparked by the extraordinary acts of ordinary people. We need the full strength of our collective action and the political courage of the leaders of the international community. Anniversaries, after all, must count for more than the passing of years. They must be the moment for us to turn words into action.

  Phumzile Mlambo-Ngcuka is the UN under-secretary general and executive director of UN Women



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