The inclusion of women in peace processes is a prerequisite for enabling an environment where the interests of ordinary civilians are addressed. The failure to identify the importance of gender issues, gender-specific data and gender-focused analysis exacerbates the probability of a breakout of violence in a recuperating society
Today, conflicts are a global phenomenon. There is no state or country in the world that can boast of total immunity against conflicts. The role of women in preventing a resurgence of such violence and providing public security to develop the basic functioning of society is most often overlooked. As countries recuperate from the aftermath of war, it is essential to include women in equal proportion in post-conflict reconstruction. Women's contribution in the sphere of post-conflict reconstruction has been most impactful in the enlargement of political rights, improving participation and involvement in reconstruction and promoting human development.
The goal of every society involved in post-conflict reconstruction is to improve health, nutrition, reduce infant mortality, and in building a robust self-sustaining community. Recognising that social, political and economic participation by women is highly imperative to this development and growth. Supporting the participation of women means giving them equal opportunities in decision-making. By not identifying and integrating the role of women in the process of reconstruction, the development of societies inevitably stagnates and fails to transition into a functioning society. While there has been an increase in the participation of women in post-conflict development and promoting peace, they tend to fade into the background when peace negotiations and economy rebuilding become an official exercise primarily because of the lack of recognition. This lack of recognition hampers evaluation and implementation of their agenda in post-conflict settings.
Participation of women in post-conflict reconstruction has been hampered constantly due to various factors. The prevalence of rape and sexual assault generates fear and silences campaigns for socio-political and economic rights. The lack of awareness, poor access to education and employment opportunities, and cultural pressures against women engaging and participating in the public sphere are some of the main causes of poor women turnout in post-conflict resolution. There have been successful cases of post-conflict reconstruction initiatives taken up by women in the past.
The Truth and Reconciliation Committee of 1995 in South Africa was set up to help the nation uncover truths about human rights violations that occurred during the apartheid period. The committee built a victim friendly model and ensured that the women who testified against gross human rights violations had safe and accepting environments. Women were recruited as commissioners, activists, and beneficiaries, who aimed at bringing an impactful change to their society.
The Liberia Mass Action for Peace movement, which started out as a prayer meeting for Christian and Muslim women, soon turned into a movement for peace. These women fought against the dictator, Charles Taylor, who invaded the country and was responsible for the war. Their post-conflict reconstruction process had three fundamental objectives: narrowing the gap between the participation of men and women in the reconstruction process, improving the representation of women and addressing their needs, and acknowledging the presence of existing support given by women and utilising it. Women used their numerical strength and platforms such as public spaces and the radio to mobilise around key issues and organise protests. This caught the nation's attention and they used this opportunity to rise against exclusion and achieve their goals. These initiatives by women have improved involvement in post-conflict reconstruction and promoting development.
However, they have been met with roadblocks and limited successes in places like Afghanistan and Syria. A critical point to be noticed at this juncture is that there is a certain pattern to the successful implementation of post-conflict reconstruction by women. Women in South Africa, Liberia and Bosnia have reaped successes by implementing forms of protests, public demonstrations and awareness campaigns to make themselves heard. However, in cases such as Syria, Sudan, and Afghanistan, its failure could be attributed to the lack of education, awareness, and development, constant ostracisation of women, poor channeling of economic resources and perhaps the constraints of Islam as a religion. Another reason why post-conflict reconstruction by women has failed in Muslim dominated regions could be that these countries have failed to adopt changes. Secularisation and increased respect for human rights have led to a decline in violence in other parts of the world. Their justification for treating women poorly can be traced back to the fundamentalist interpretation of the Quran which is often taken out of context. Hand-picking Islamic teaching from the Quran and interpreting it according to their own patriarchal interests has led to men asserting their dominance over women. The line separating religion from customs and traditions has become blurred, with societal norms being mistaken for religious doctrine. The seven-year-long war in Syria has reinforced and exacerbated gendered vulnerabilities and social norms that existed pre-war as well. The underlying issue with getting one's opinions in Syria heard is that, there is a huge gulf between what is happening on the ground what is being discussed on international tables.
Although engaging in peace talks can seem ambitious for women considering the resistance they face from the male members of the Muslim society, the challenge is to formulate a set of policies that consistently promote women's development even though it may collide with other strategic objectives. The failure to identify the importance of gender issues, gender-specific data and gender-focused analysis exacerbates the probability of a breakout of violence in a recuperating society. Formulating policies starts with acknowledging women as capable actors and the role they play in working towards peace and reconciliation. Governments develop quota systems and grant women socio-political and economic rights, but they often run into obstacles in the implementation of these laws consequently slowing down the process of development. When countries and economies do not support women in the growth and advancement of their societies, they tend to stagnate economically and fail in the transition of a functioning society. In conclusion, the inclusion of women in peace processes is a prerequisite for enabling an environment where the interests of ordinary civilians and their communities are heard. Conflict-ridden societies need the settlement that can be derived from the inclusion of women on the road to peace.
(The writer is a researcher at International Affairs at the National University of Singapore)