Magazine article Forced Migration Review

If Women Are Left out of Peace Talks

Magazine article Forced Migration Review

If Women Are Left out of Peace Talks

Article excerpt

The narrative of war commonly portrays women as victims only, taking away their agency and leaving them voiceless in the reconstruction of their country. However, women's experiences as victims of violence and women's active participation in peace making and peace building are not mutually exclusive, and both aspects need to be recognised when negotiating peace.

During the peace process that preceded the signing of the Dayton Peace Agreement in 1995 not a single woman participated, whether as lead mediator, witness, member of the negotiation team or signatory.1 This absence of women in the formal peace process has had concrete consequences both for the society as a whole and also for women as a distinct group in the society and their ability to be recognised as agents of change in later processes.

In Dayton, the space at the negotiating table was open only to men who had the power of armed forces behind them. Under the pretence of securing human rights, those male elites succeeded in agreeing the formula for the division of territory. Today, BiH is paralysed by the disfunctionality of the central state apparatus and the ethnonationalistic politics that are the common drivers for the two entities created by Dayton.2 There has been no serious attempt by the domestic political elite to include women's perspectives in discussions regarding constitutional reforms, nor were women able to get support from the international community involved in facilitating these talks. The rationale - or excuse - is that women are defacto included through participation in BiH political and institutional life, including their membership of political parties. However, the reality is different, and women are not sufficiently or adequately represented.

The absence of women during peace negotiations is not unique to BiH. In 2012 UN Women published a review of 31 peace processes, showing that only 4% of peace agreements had women as signatories. More recently, at the Geneva II peace talks for Syria, despite support from states and international NGOs and the existence of UN Security Council Resolution 1325 (UNSCR 1325) on women, peace and security,3 Syrian women were kept out of the peace talks. Not only is this patently an affront to international legal obligations but it is also quite simply a tragic waste. Yet, when prominent women's international and local Syrian organisations asked the UN to ensure the inclusion of women in the Syrian peace negotiations in 2014, they were told that the "political situation is complicated". We know that. But the solution is not to perpetuate the divisiveness that led the country into war in the first place. Research clearly shows that the only peace treaties that have brought sustainable peace are those which have been drafted with the participation of women and with the clear inclusion of a gender analysis in drawing up the framework for the conclusion of conflict, for transition, and for the future path of the nation.4

Creating space for inclusion and participation

Sharing women's experiences concerning peace negotiations and post-war life has become an imperative for feminist peace activists in order to create spaces for women's meaningful inclusion and active participation in the making of peace. Since 2013 a number of women's organisations and women activists in BiH, facilitated by the Women's International League for Peace and Freedom, started to work to counteract the exclusionist mentality of the political elites through an initiative called 'Women organizing for change in Syria and Bosnia and Herzegovina'. The starting idea was that the hard lessons learned by Bosnian women - both during the war and afterwards - need to be analysed and used to develop new, improved strategies for the active and meaningful participation of women in peace processes. This knowledge could be shared with other women in similar situations so that mistakes can be avoided and good practices considered and contextualised. …

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