Inclusive Security: Taking Women Seriously

Numerous institutions have sprung up dedicated to women, peace, and security in recent years. This includes centers at Georgetown, London School of Economics (LSE), U.S. Institute of Peace, UN Women, and the Institute of Inclusive Security. LSE’s Centre on Women, Peace and Security was recently in the spotlight for deciding to hire actress Angelina Jolie as a professor for their new master’s program, but the program and the work being done is more than just a tabloid story. Including women in peacebuilding can have a real impact on the world in which we live.

Courtesy of Ryan Brown, © 2016

Courtesy of Ryan Brown, © 2016

In October 2000, the United Nations Security Council adopted Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security. It recognized the disproportionate impact conflict and post-conflict situations have on women and girls as well as the importance of including women and gender perspectives in preventing, managing, and resolving conflicts to maintain international peace and security. In summary, while women make up roughly half the population and often are more affected by a conflict than their male counterparts, they only make up 9% of negotiators and 4% of signatories at official peace talks.

Women in peacebuilding is nothing new. In the play Lysistrata by Aristophanes, written in 411 BC, women refuse to sleep with their husbands until a peace treaty has been signed, with both sides of the conflict having to work together. Eventually the husbands become frustrated with the sex strike and end the war. Although this comedic play is over 2,400–years old, the plot still resonates today. Women are tired of watching their lives be destroyed by conflict started by men and want to be actively engaged in rebuilding peace.

Women and security does not just include national security but also personal security. In conflict zones, women often have fewer resources to protect themselves and their families from physical violence. Women and children make up the majority of refugees and displaced persons; where they are often subjected to gender-based violence. Rape has been used a weapon of war for centuries and sexual violence in refugee camps predominately affect women and young girls. For many of these women, staying in conflict zones means facing rape or death by soldiers and sexual violence if they flee to a refugee camp.

Gender has become almost a fad in foreign policy; it’s talked about at major conferences and events but isn’t always taken seriously.  If you attend any event on gender issues, the room is entirely women. It’s an important element in international relations and national security. In order to create a better society for themselves post-conflict, women need to be at the decision making table. These women can’t do it alone and international actors both inside and outside the conflict need to be involved and invested in promoting women in peacebuilding.

Organizations like the Institute for Inclusive Security work to encourage women to run for elections in their countries, equipping female leaders with the skills they need to make a difference in their communities. Women need to participate on economic, social, and political levels in order to have their voices heard to create a safer world. Men cannot be left out and should use their voices to advocate for better gender equality and inclusion. Outside actors like the United States and the United Nations have the ability to influence policymakers and should educate them on how including women can lead to better outcomes. When all facets of society are involved in peacebuilding, there is a greater chance of success. Involving women can improve peacemaking and peacekeeping, foster democratic transitions, and mitigate humanitarian crises—saving lives and money.

Looking at the conflict in Syria, PeaceWomen have laid out their suggestions for integrating gender issues into a future peace agreement. They suggest ensuring that 30% of negotiators are women and that gender be included at all levels of reconstruction. Afghanistan is a perfect example of the struggle for including women. The Council on Foreign Relations reports that the American government was discouraged by experts from focusing on women’s involvement as it might alienate some of the anti-Taliban forces whose support was need for counterterrorism measures. Women’s issues are often sacrificed for national security but human rights and women’s rights are too important to ignore. The United States later advocated for the inclusion of women in reconstruction conferences and that work has continued. In 2014, USIP held a national conference in Afghanistan with more than 220 women leaders in civil society to discuss upcoming elections and to define what they expected from a future president. Muhammad Nooristaini, chairmen of Afghanistan’s election commission said, “It should not only be in words that we say women comprise 50% of the society,” adding, the country must “really give them a chance to participate.”

Hillary Clinton once said that “human rights are women’s rights and women’s rights are human rights,”—and although she spoke those words twenty years ago, they have never been truer than today. While great progress has been made to include women in peacebuilding, it should not be looked upon as a celebrity fad but instead taken seriously as an important tool to create a safer world.

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