20 Years After Resolution 1325: Why are women still excluded from peace processes?

by Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery, Alexa Fedynsky, and Dr. Solange Bandiaky-Badji   October 1, 2020

This piece was written by Ashleigh Subramanian-Montgomery, Alexa Fedynsky, and Dr. Solange Bandiaky-Badji with research assistance from Nadira Saraswati

On October 31, we will celebrate the 20th anniversary of United Nations Security Council Resolution (UNSCR) 1325. In reinforcing conflict and war’s disproportionate impact on women and girls, this landmark Resolution recognizes their crucial roles in transforming conflict and calls for their participation and inclusion in peacebuilding and decision-making processes at the local, national, and international levels.

Globally we have made some progress toward implementing the Resolution over the past 20 years. For example, 86 UN Member states have adopted National Action Plans to implement 1325 domestically according to the Women’s International League of Peace and Freedom. But by and large, women continue to be excluded from peacebuilding processes – this despite substantive findings showing women’s inclusion leads to countries reaching peace agreements quicker and sustaining peace longer.

Research from UN Women’s Global Study on the Implementation of United Nations Security Council resolution 1325 and the Council on Foreign Relations (CFR) ‘Women’s Participation in Peace Processes’ shows that:

  • Women’s participation in peace agreements increases the likelihood of peace agreement lasting for two years by 20 percent and increases the likelihood of peace agreements lasting for 15 years by 35 percent.
  • Civil society’s participation in peace agreements decreases the probability of the peace agreement failing by 64 percent.

Even with this overwhelming evidence, CFR notes  that between 1992 and 2018 women were still hugely underrepresented in peace processes, comprising only 3 percent  of mediators, 4 percent of signatories, and 13 percent of negotiators.

But we know these statistics. We know the data points. We know that including women strengthens international relations, makes states safer and more secure, and is simply smart foreign policy. These are the numbers Women, Peace, and Security activists, advocates, academics, analysts, and policymakers leverage as a rallying cry for change.

In light of our stalled progress, the Women, Peace, and Security Team at PartnersGlobal aims to answer the why. Why are women still excluded from peace processes, despite the research showing their inclusion leads to quicker and more sustainable peace? What will it take to change this reality?

Below are 5 key barriers we identified and our recommendations to close this gap and realize 1325’s vision.

1.      Structural Exclusion

One of the main reasons women are still not included in peace processes is structural exclusion from decision-making positions. Women are held out of leadership positions in government, non-state entities, warring parties, political parties, diplomacy, and mediation. Even the few women within these leadership spheres are excluded from decision-making power.

Further, the criteria for both who is granted a seat at the negotiating table and how these positions are selected play a key role in compounding this structural exclusion. As the International Civil Society Action Networks’ ‘Better Peace Tool’ shows: “The qualification for armed actors is their capacity to wreak violence.”

In other words, the same actors responsible for creating conflict are then entrusted with the decision-making roles in ending conflict. Conversely, the same qualifications do not apply for those working to prevent and resolve violent conflict, namely women, who instead are left behind in decision-making. It is unfortunate but unsurprising that this structural exclusion perpetuates the “conflict trap,” in which countries that have experienced violent conflict face the highest rates of relapse into conflict.

2.      Devaluation of Women’s Role in Informal Peace Processes

Those with decision-making power continue to exclude women in peace processes by not paying enough attention – or giving credence to – women’s roles in informal Track II peace processes. The Georgetown Institute for Women, Peace and Security defines Track II processes as “diplomatic or consultative processes between or among groups who may not be principal parties to the conflict, and who are concerned with contributing to war-ending negotiations.”

While women continue to face exclusion from “official negotiations between warring parties”, or formal Track I peace processes, the Georgetown Institute’s findings show women’s groups inclusion in 71 percent of Track II peace processes. Formalizing and mainstreaming Track II processes into Track I peace processes would elevate the important roles women play in conflict resolution at the local level.

3.      Hegemonic Masculinity and Patriarchal Norms

While women in conflict face rape, sexual exploitation, and gender-based violence, these crimes  are often presented as ‘women’s issues,’ viewed as having little relevance to peace processes at best or as a distraction from them at worst. This dismissal of the gendered dynamics of conflict and war, a result of harmful patriarchal norms, hinders women’s participation.

This perspective fails to recognize that hegemonic masculinity is institutionally entrenched within peace processes. Patriarchal underpinnings control this space so thoroughly that, as Annika Kronsell notes, “Because such norms are dominant in the institution, they do not require any explicit politics. Masculinity does not need to be thematized. Instead, masculine standards and ideals continue to be reproduced simply through routine maintenance of the institutions.”

The gendered dynamics of conflict are only labeled as such when they pertain to ‘women’s issues.’

4.      Funding

Funding constraints present a tangible barrier to women’s inclusion and participation in peace processes. Financial support would open up opportunities for women to effectively prepare to impact negotiations and mediations, but funding is almost always insufficient  to meet this need.

Peace processes traditionally take place in a neutral location far from the actual conflict, so to even get to the location one must pay for travel and accommodation. These costs are often prohibitive.

To add to the financial strain, less than 25 percent of National Action Plans include a budget upon adoption, making implementation for these plans near impossible. Funding also presents a looming challenge for Track II processes whose informal nature are even less prioritized for financial backing.

5.      Pressure to speak with one voice

Women face additional criteria for inclusion in peace processes, which are expected of almost no other actors. For example, women are expected to form mobilized coalitions that speak in a united voice.

PartnersGlobal prioritizes women’s coalition-building and the power of collective action and voice and recognizes that women’s coalitions that present and push for issues as a unified front are much more likely to make it to the negotiating table and have their recommendations listened to.

Our work supports and upholds establishing cross-border women’s forums, defining common women’s agendas, and creating women’s local, national, and global networks as key contributors to lasting peace.

We celebrate the Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative and UN Women findings that “women’s coalitions have pushed for agreements to be signed more often than any other group of actors,” while also acknowledging that almost no other group of actors is asked to form coalitions to be included in a peace process to begin with.

Filling the Gap: Approaches for Women’s Effective Participation in Peace Processes

As we approach the 20th anniversary of Resolution 1325, where do we go from here? How do we ensure real and meaningful progress in advancing women’s inclusion in peace processes?

Findings from Inclusive Peace and Transition Initiative and UN Women show that women are included in peace processes in countries:

  • with seasoned women’s civil society organizations, which bring expertise in mass mobilizing and organizing;
  • with existing gender inclusion provisions or commitments, which provide a pathway to the negotiating table and prevent those in power from completely leaving women out;
  • with support from international and regional women’s networks that provide support to domestic and local women’s groups; and
  • with active women’s networks, groups, and movements.

Building on existing findings, PartnersGlobal proposes a series of approaches to advance progress on the Women, Peace, and Security agenda:

  • Fund new and existing women’s local, regional, and transnational consortiums, coalitions, networks, and movements in conflict-afflicted, fragile, and post-conflict states to institutionalize women’s decision-making roles in mediation, negotiation, mass mobilization, and peacebuilding, and in monitoring the implementation of peace agreements.
  • Support local women peacebuilders in: coaching on mediation approaches to proactively address and reduce violent conflict; creating the space and opportunities for women to engage in conflict resolution; and building women’s knowledge and capacity in conflict management, mediation, arbitration, negotiation, and communication.
  • Increase resources, training, and visibility for women mediator networks at the local and regional level to enhance inclusion in peace processes at the national and international level.
  • Mandate gender-inclusive criteria for each delegation participating in a peace process.
  • Expand pathways and programs for women’s leadership and decision-making roles in government, diplomacy, mediation, and political office in times of peace and stability.
  • Educate traditional mediation and negotiation actors on the effectiveness of informal Track II peace processes and integrate informal peace processes into formal peace processes.
  • Develop monitoring mechanisms to uphold the commitments in UNSCR 1889 calling for women’s inclusion at early stages and throughout peace and post-conflict recovery processes.
  • Create and adopt gender-inclusive provisions, policies, and laws that promote gender equality and address the root causes of conflict that lead to sustainably peaceful societies.
  • Fund 1) Track II informal peace processes; 2) logistics for women’s participation in peace processes; and 3) NAPs at the time of adoption.

The data and statistics we have leaned on for the past 20 years are so much more than just numbers; they are the stories, experiences, and lived realities of women working to resolve conflict in extraordinary circumstances. We will one day arrive at the year 2040, and we will once again have to account for the progress we have made on this agenda. Though we have yet not come far enough, there is unending potential in how far we can go.