By Nikhat Sattar
March 04, 2019
IN a world of widespread conflicts, wars
and political upheavals, the need for individuals and groups who can play their
role of peace builders, negotiators and mediators is more urgent than ever
before. A large war infrastructure has been built, through the manufacture and
sales of arms and ammunition. The countries that have experienced war on a
large scale have now grown into major exporters of war weapons. They call for
peace among nations on the one hand, and promote cultures based on phobias and
mistrust on the other.
In this situation, it is imperative that a
peace ‘infrastructure’ be created and sustained. This can comprise of peace communities
and networks, both women and men, who interact across ethnic, political and
social divides to bring people together in dialogue and debate, provide
assistance in listening more effectively and in resolution of valid disputes.
The UN Resolution 1325 on Women, Peace and
Security, adopted in October 2000, calls for the increased and consistent role
of women in the prevention of conflict and in peace building, negotiating
settlements and mediation as well as in handling post-conflict issues. Of the 193
member states of the UN, 185 have adopted this resolution.
Almost two decades later, research data
shows that women constituted two per cent of mediators, 8pc of negotiators and
5pc of witnesses in all major peace processes between 1990 and 2017. Of 1,500
peace and political agreements, only 25 discussed the role of women in their
implementation. A very small number use gender-sensitive language or possess
gender inclusive aspects. Studies also show that involvement of women results
in more durable peace and there are greater chances (35pc) of implementation.
The dichotomy in the effort to ensure
participation of women in peace mediation is based on the assumptions that
conflicts can be managed and peace achieved while half the population that has
been probably one of the most affected groups is left out of decision-making
and that women can, at best, address women-related (read soft) issues.
Many governments hesitate to involve women
because the latter can see the wider picture; they bring to the debate issues
that affect both sides and not just that of their own government. This is, in
fact, what mediation is about. Intuitively and with their ability for empathy,
women understand the ‘other’ point of view. They can create an environment
whereby issues can be discussed openly, analysed, options found, pros and cons
for all parties assessed and the most preferred for all agreed upon. As peace
builders, they are most effective in reconciliation and collective healing
processes. As one woman diplomat put it, empathy is within the DNA of women.
Unfortunately, we continue to see the
consequences of absence of women in the political, economic and social scene:
they do not usually make conflicts or start wars, yet they are utilised as
tools of war, suffer rape and are used as sex slaves. They suffer physically,
mentally and emotionally, not only during the times of conflict but also
afterward. Their access to resources and health and education services reduces
drastically, as has been shown in Afghanistan, Yemen, Syria, Kashmir and
Incidences of child marriages, selling of
girl children and human trafficking increase. But the points of view of women
are rarely taken into consideration when the warring parties come to the
negotiating table to talk peace and rehabilitation. The peace settlement that
excludes women is less than half as effective, and possibly even distortive.
Equally, involving women so that a box on
the gender-sensitive checklist can be ticked off, or to bring in only a
gender-sensitive perspective means that their role is only a supplementary one
and can be ignored if and when deemed convenient. There is the underlying
assumption that women cannot have the wide-ranging skills necessary for higher
levels of mediation.
A look at some examples where women have
played an active role shows just how wrong this assumption is. When both women
and men are provided equal training and opportunities, their level of interest
and commitment determines how far they can go in their chosen fields. Today,
there are women, although in small numbers, who are working as mediators within
communities, between communities and the corporate sector, across political
parties and between state and non state actors.
Noting the slow responses to action, the UN
has been re-emphasising the clauses of the resolution. Since 2017, there has
been increased support for networks of women mediators, including in Africa,
the Mediterranean and Nordic regions and across the Commonwealth. Members are
women who have been working in areas of conflict in various capacities and at
various levels and come together for peer-to-peer learning, provision of
expertise, strategic advocacy, participation in peace processes and mediation
at various levels. Many of them have experience of Track II (at civil society
level, supported by states), Tracks 4 and 5 (research and education) and some
in Track I (at state level) mediation.
As they build up their expertise further,
it is important for UN agencies involved in peace building and mediation and
states to interact and collaborate with these networks and use their members’
expertise. There are already efforts to involve women in the peace talks
between the Afghan Taliban, Afghanistan, the US and Pakistan. These need to be
implemented and sustained substantively. Similar processes need to be followed
in the Middle East and South Asia, particularly if and when dialogue opens
between India, Pakistan and Kashmir. The continuing coldness between Pakistan
and Bangladesh might gain from a reconciliation process initiated by women.
Within countries too, ethnic and political strife may benefit by including
women with an understanding of issues in multi-group dialogues.
Nikhat Sattar is a freelance researcher in peace and security issues and
a member of the Women Mediators across the Commonwealth.