From Ukraine to Afghanistan, gender perspectives in peacebuilding are being routinely neglected throughout the world. Unfortunately, high-level discussion on the topic has not yet yielded any substantial progress. It is high time this changed.
Peacebuilding aims to address root causes of conflict and develop strong institutions and social relations in order to construct a more peaceful society. Carrying out successful peacebuilding requires accounting for gender relations before, during, and after conflict and integrating women and gender perspectives into the way forward.
Women have the right to participate in peacebuilding efforts as citizens and members of the community affected by the conflict and the post-conflict situation. Integrating women and gender perspectives also strengthens the peacebuilding process and improves the chances of sustainable peace, particularly considering that inequalities spur instability.
However, over and over again, we see the relevance of gender and women’s perspectives neglected in peacebuilding. This oversight severely inhibits efforts to make and keep peace, while also passing up a unique opportunity to enhance gender equality in a time of transition. Key global players, including the United States, have taken note of the importance of integrating gender considerations and women into peace processes. Unfortunately, the recognition and rhetoric at the highest levels has not translated into gender-informed peacebuilding processes in the crises we see around the world.
Women and men, girls and boys, all experience conflict and post-conflict differently, but overemphasizing traditional gender roles does not help us create meaningful progress. While policymakers should take gender roles into consideration, they must also understand the multiplicity of roles that women and girls play before, during, and after conflict, along with the various forms of increased risk that they face at different stages. The success of peacebuilding will be restricted if we limit ourselves by thinking of women only as victims, mothers, and peacemakers. Doing so limits the agency and potential contributions of women, simplifies gender relations that are often even more complicated and troublesome after conflict, and detracts from the fact that women have the right to participate and do not need further justification to do so. Both the process of building peace and the peacefulness of a society are improved by women’s empowerment and participation. Similarly, accounting for inequalities and taking active steps to address them is a critical component of building stable, just, and productive societies.
Since 2001, when the United States began its war in Afghanistan, women and girls have been referenced and invited to engage in the peacebuilding process to varying degrees. Women’s burqas have been used to justify military intervention, relegating them to victims, and women’s voices have often been excluded, ignoring their existing and potential contributions. However, policymakers and security and development practitioners have also done more to engage women and improve their wellbeing and rights in Afghanistan than they have in previous efforts.
Over the last decade, local and international actors have worked to enhance the consideration of women’s perspectives in the peacebuilding process by putting policy directives in place, hiring gender specialists, and advocating for women’s involvement in peace negotiations. Despite these positive steps, most of the groups responsible for making peace have included no or very few women, often only in a token role. The few women present were sometimes asked to not only represent the views of all Afghan women, but all civil society perspectives as well.
The United States, European countries, the United Nations, and other major players have also advocated for women’s rights and attempted to strengthen local groups aiming to help achieve gender equality, yet their efforts were too scattered and small-scale to have real impact. Policy doctrines, such as The United States National Action Plan on Women, Peace and Security and the United States Agency for International Development’s Gender Equality and Female Empowerment Policy, aim to create more widespread change, but their implementation remains inconsistent and gender mainstreaming requirements have at times been cut to hasten programming. Additionally, gender relations as a whole and their role in the ongoing violence have received very little attention. The full execution of these policy doctrines and consistent analysis of evolving gender relations would enable more sustainable peace for all Afghans and their regional neighbors.
Today in Afghanistan, one of the main problems remains enforcement of laws aimed at enabling women to live safe, productive lives and ensuring that women are actively consulted as their country attempts to transition out of conflict. The government of Afghanistan is under attack from international activists for not protecting women human rights defenders. Women in public life continue to face threats and attacks on a daily basis, while women in the home are subject to violence and unequal treatment. As the international community attempts to wrap up its protracted, politically difficult war in Afghanistan, there continues to be enormous concern that gender relations and women’s rights will be neglected. The enforcement of policies that protect women’s right to fully participate in peacebuilding and their societies are essential to the long-term wellbeing of the country.
The role of gender has been given significantly less attention in the Ukraine crisis that has unfolded over the last year, both in discourse and policymaking. Like in Afghanistan and elsewhere, gender perspectives must be considered as the international community attempts to make and keep peace. Women continue to play active roles in social movements surrounding the crisis, but they lack vehicles to add their views to the official process and face physical threats in their attempts to make their voices heard. That the majority of refugees and internally displaced people from the unrest are women is often noted, but the gender relations that lead to this trend and women’s role in addressing the migration situation, and the larger conflict, are not being discussed. Policymakers are also not addressing the conflict’s impact on gender relations, such as the increased rates of domestic violence in the country, which affects the lives of women and men, but also the fate of peace and stability for decades to come.
Comprehensive plans to integrate gender perspectives and ensure women are heard throughout peacemaking are vital; the absence of these strategies will inhibit peacebuilding and efforts to equalize gender relations. The Organization for Security and Co-operation in Europe’s Senior Adviser on Gender Issues, Ambassador Miroslava Beham, has noted that steps have been taken to create a Ukrainian National Action Plan for implementing the United Nations Security Council Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and Security, which calls for the integration of women into all stages of peace processes, as well as the adoption of gender perspectives in peace operations, negotiations, and agreements. However, it is not clear when the National Action Plan will be finalized, adopted, and implemented.
Through the examples of Afghanistan and Ukraine, we can see that gender perspectives are neglected in peacebuilding efforts around the world. To reverse this unfortunate trend and enhance effectiveness, peacebuilding strategies must account for the gendered nature of conflict, its causes, peacebuilding institutions, and overarching power structures. At the same time, they must examine and address gender inequalities to help create lasting peace. The international community has begun to recognize the importance of gender in peacebuilding, but high-level discussion and policy has not yet translated to the ongoing peace processes where the integration and prioritization of gender considerations is really decided and implemented. And thus, the quality and success rates of peacebuilding efforts still have a long way to go.
Jessie Durrett is the Gender in Foreign Policy Discussion Group Co-Char at Young Professionals in Foreign Policy.