Less than 10%: The Failed Promise of UNSCR 1325 to Increase Women’s Representation in Peace Talks

I couldn’t have said it better: “Allowing men who plan wars to plan peace is a bad habit”. So who should be involved? Or put another way, whose voices should be represented when decisions are being made about peace and post-conflict reconstruction?

Afghanistan National Security Advisor, Dr. Rangeen Dadfar Spanta at the Forum on Women, Peace and Security. (UNDP Afghanistan)

Afghanistan National Security Advisor, Dr. Rangeen Dadfar Spanta at the Forum on Women, Peace and Security. (UNDP Afghanistan)

In our book Peace and Security: Implications for Women Elisabeth Porter and I argue that “as peace builders, survivors, victims, and in some cases, ex- combatants women have a big stake in this process.” Why? Rachel Mayanja, the Special Adviser of the UN Secretary‐General on Gender Issues and Advancement of Women, has the answer, “Women’s participation enriches the [peace] process, as women are likely to put gender issues on the agenda, set different priorities and possibly bridge the political divide more effectively”. A good example of this is the participation of the Northern Ireland Women’s Coalition (NIWC) in the Northern Ireland Forum for Political Dialogue in 1996. As a result of the NIWC’s place at this dialogue, victims’ rights, integrated education, housing, child care, youth employment and a civic forum became touchstones in the referendum campaign.

Yet, progress in ensuring women’s representation has been abysmal. In 2010, reviewing progress on the goals expressed in UNSCR 1325, UN Women found that “there has been little appreciable increase [in women’s presence at peace negotiations] since the passage of the resolution [UN Security Council Resolution 1325]. Only 4 per cent of signatories, 2.4 per cent of chief mediators, 3.7 per cent of witnesses and 9 per cent of negotiators are women”. Despite the Colombian President Juan Manuel Santos’s public statements on the impact of armed conflict on women and their role in achieving sustainable peace, women have been excluded from the 2012-2013 peace talks between the government and FARC.

There are number of reasons for this poor representation – two stand out as very significant. Women’s experiences during conflict reflect broader security concerns that strike at the heart why conflict occurs – inequalities in access to socio-economic and political opportunities for development and increasing militarisation. However, there is no room for these concerns on an agenda that defines peace as ending violence focussing almost exclusively on ceasefires, political arrangements, and conflict management.  It doesn’t end there. Very often questions are raised regarding women’s legitimacy in participating in formal peace processes – i.e. who do you speak for? Where’s your constituency? As Sanam Anderlini says “women only seem to quality if they are simultaneously prominent leaders with experience in high level negotiations and grassroots activists with a large constituency. Meanwhile, the qualification for armed actors is their capacity to wreak violence”.

The women we spoke to during the course of our research are not just asking to be included; it’s NOT an “add women and stir” approach that they are demanding. Women want to transform peace negotiations. They want an integral part in setting the agenda. This can only be achieved if we look beyond numbers to substantive representation of women’s perspectives. I am not discounting the importance of having a critical mass number of women participating in the all aspects of peace and security reform. However, more women or 30% women may not lead to women’s concerns and interests being represented in peace processes. One of the limitations of ‘critical mass’ perspective is that it inadvertently bolsters essentialist stereotypes, i.e. only women can represent women’s issues. There is an assumption that a consensus exists amongst women regarding what constitutes ‘women’s issues’ – women have diverse views on significant issues such as abortion for instance. The diversity in views is often used as an excuse to claim the lack of cohesive constituency which brings into question the legitimacy of concerns being articulated.

A focus on critical mass can also not explain for instance why some women’s issues gain traction while others do not. In the Bonn+10 Conference on Afghanistan, held on December 5th 2011, which focussed on troop withdrawal and the transition to an Afghan led security sector as well as potential negotiations to seek a peace agreement with the Taliban,  33% of those who participated were women. However, Selay Ghaffar, one of the few women who was invited to participate in the talks, noted that women were excluded from “crucial pre-conference preparations, where agendas are shaped, documents drafted and alliances built.” She expresses concerns that women’s concerns over reconcilliation with the Taliban, will remain unheard, despite a seat at the peace table.

So while we need to keep up our advocacy for temporary special measures (such as mandatory gender quotas aimed at increasing the number of women participating in decision-making) we need to start thinking about what substantive representation means in the first place. We need ask how the substantive representation of women and their perspectives occurs; instead of querying what women can do, we need to broaden our view to what diverse actors (agencies, men and women who play different roles as legislators, members of civil society organisations and political parties as well as bureaucrats) can do to promote women’s perspectives. This way of thinking about substantive representation has been articulated by Sarah Childs and Mona Krook. Adapting their framework to address the participation pillar of UNSCR 1325, we need to recognise that the substantive representation of women’s perspectives in all aspects of decisions around peace and security is a process, where achieving a minimum representation of women at decision –making levels might be one agenda that we strive for but certainly doesn’t not end there!

The peace table is not a single event but spans the entire process of negotiations before declaration of conflict and after conflict as communities’ transition to peace and stability. In Uganda, Anne-Marie Goetz, points to the creation of a women’s caucus, the largest organised caucus in the national assembly, which included ‘representatives of workers, the disabled, and a category of men labelled “Gender Sensitive Males” by women’s caucus members’. While she suggests its influence has been limited, the caucus has been successful in bringing women across party lines together to work on issues such women’s rights to land ownership.

We need to set our sights on ensuring that the substantive representation of women becomes embedded in policy debates, formulation, implementation, monitoring and evaluation on a sustained basis —- otherwise sustainable peace will remain a pipe dream.

Anu Mundkur

Associate Director of the Gender Consortium, School of International Studies, Flinders University